Sunday, 1 January 2012

Christmas Beers and Beers for Christmas

I find it difficult to think of things to ask for at Christmas and this year was no different. I sent out a list of out-of-print books and vouchers for homebrew sites.  Luckily Claire intercepted, made some suggestions and added a few new books. Christmas morning arrived and Saint Nick left me some great beery gifts. Garrett Oliver is the Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, the brewery which gave me my US beer epiphany. He is also a successful author and I received his Oxford Companion to Beer. A couple more Brooklyn beer gifts came my way, the history of the business, written by the two founders of the brewery and a bottle of my favourite Brooklyn beers, Local 2.
I've started to collect the labels of special beers I have drunk. Some of these can be pretty tricky to get off the bottle but  I have a special technique that works with most. 
Local 2 is Brooklyn's take on a Belgian beer. It's made with European malts, honey, orange peel and fermented and bottle conditioned with Belgian yeast. From the moment you open the elegant champagne style bottle, pour a glass and take a big sniff it feels like a Christmassy celebration. Waves of winter flavours wash over your tongue, dried fruits, honey, liquorice and caramel all blending together to make a warm Belgian Christmas pudding of a beer. Great for sharing and brilliant for pairing with foods that require something a little fruity.

The second label in the picture is from a beer I probably should have shared with someone else. Santa's Little Helper from Port Brewing is an imperial stout that comes in a 1pt 6floz bottle and clocks in 10%ABV. Out of the bottle it comes like black gravy into the glass, no head and no apparent carbonation. I lifted it up to the light and peered into it's impenetrable darkness, it revealed nothing to me. The first taste is powerful with burnt cola, coffee and caramel. Luckily there is some moderate carbonation and a little liquorice and aniseed flavour to lift this beer from what could be a treacly chore to drink. But still to attempt the whole bottle in one sitting is foolishness and I was that fool, by the end of the glass I poured it was beginning to taste like Marmite. I had to leave some of the bottle for the next day and when I tasted it the following afternoon it seemed to have opened up a little more but it was still a powerhouse of a beer and thoroughly enjoyable. 

My Mum often searches out local beers for me from where she lives in Wales. The bottle on the right is the dark roasted beer from Jacobi brewery in Caio. This was by far the best of the range which I tasted and represented this style of beer very nicely with lovely coffee and chocolatey stout like flavours. Others in their range suffered from a little too much diacetyl and not enough body and hops. 
My Mum also gave me the beer on the left, and I've included it here because I think that beers with ginger in have become one of my favourite hangover cures. The ginger seems to settle my stomach and the mild buzz form the alcohol sets my head straight. Ginger Beard from the omnipresent Wychwood brewery is a good example of style. My personal favourite is Brodies ginger beer from the great east London brewery.
I wanted to mention these beers because I think beer is a great gift for Christmas. Local seasonals and special beers are wonderful with food and warming this time of year. I also received some nice Bath Ales from my sister, including one of my favourite seasonal ales Festivity.

I'll wrap up now with a brief mention of these two beers from the attention seeking brewing pranksters Brewdog. Not that they need any extra promotion from me. 
Abstrakt is Brewdog's range of more experimental beers that tend to be high in alcohol and flavour
Mark Dredge recently blogged that anyone with an AB:03 should probably drink it now because it won't be getting any better. So I decided to drink both AB:03 and my last bottle of AB:01. AB:03 is a two year aged imperial ale infused with fresh raspberries and strawberries. When I last opened one of these I thought that maybe it was infected. It still had the powerful, almost sickly berry fruit flavour but it erupted from the bottle and had an acidic and brett like tang that didn't really suit it. The good news is that this latest bottle was nothing like that. The fruit had subdued and although it still had acidity it was balanced and refreshing. I still don't think that it's as good as other fruit beers but it's certainly the best in this style I've tasted apart from brewdog Zephyr. But seeing as this style is really only made by Brewdog that isn't surprising.

AB:01 is a Belgian quad infused with vanilla. It's designed for keeping up to two years and I opened it after 18 months. To me it had very little Belgian qualities and no vanilla discernible at all. It was a nice beer but that's it and I think it was an overpriced disappointment.  

I'm probably not going to buy any more of the Abstrakt series. I don't think the quality or volume of the beers justifies the price and the annoying plastic corks are a bitch to get out. As a hint what other breweries can achieve as a limited beer check out Local 2 above from the brilliant Brooklyn. That bottle cost less than an Abstrakt and that was imported from the US. 

I hope that 2012 is the year that Brewdog calm down a bit a make some more of the brilliant Paradox series of beers.

Anyway this post has taken me much too long to write so I will sign off here, hope you had a lovely Christmas and wish you a wonderful new year. May 2012 bring you lots of fantastic beers and joyous fun!

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