I might be a bit belated with this post, considering Christmas has passed and New Year’s Eve is around the corner, but ah well. It’ll still be winter in the UK for a good little while now, so here it goes.
Not only have the holidays given us an excuse to eat with abandon, but they have also given us an excuse to drink with impunity.
(Save for the hangover you might get the following morning.)
(Or afternoon, if your “morning afters” are anything like mine.)
One of my favourite things about the holidays and the winter season in general are the holiday beers, festively decorated with holly, wreathes, snowmen, Santa hats and other bits of seasonal and sometimes silly design motifs appearing on bottles, glasses and handpump clips.
Many breweries, such as St Feuillien and Huyghe, who make Delirium Tremens, opt for darker ales for their holiday beers. Frequently spiced and conjuring notes of raisins, dried fruit, malty sweetness and nom, these darker holiday ales make a lovely companion to Christmas pudding, fruit cakes, chocolate and richer meats. Some of them, particularly the Belgian beers, tend to be quite strong. Examples of this are the Delirium Noël (see a review from Beer Geek Nation), the St Feuillien Cuvée de Noël and Anchor Christmas Ale, the latter of which has a recipe that varies every year, but it is generally a dark spiced ale from my experience.
However, some holiday beers buck the darker trend. My favourite example of this is Scottish Fyne Ales’ Holly Daze, a light, clean antidote to some of the holiday heaviness. If any pubs around you are serving this up in cask, I recommend giving it a go, as it’s absolutely lovely. Also on cask is the Festival Ale by Dark Star Brewing Co. It is, as the website says, a strong bitter ale, with a higher ABV than most bitter session ales at 5%, but still thoroughly drinkable and enjoyable. I had a pint at the Cock Tavern in Hackney Central not too long ago, and since Dark Star is quite popular among London-area pubs, you are likely find it in pubs that have a good range of beer.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is another wonderful example of lighter festive beers, as it’s a fantastic American IPA that is very heavy on the citrus and pine notes from the hops. It’s a good one to enjoy, and can sometimes be seen on draft in craft beer pubs here in London, or in bottles next to their Pale Ale and Torpedo. Don’t miss out on this one.
Back to the dark side, there are several other dark beers that crop up this time of year. One of the ones I really enjoy is the Black Chocolate Stout made by Brooklyn Brewery. Darkly chocolate with roasted dark malts and an alcoholic content that’s just asking for trouble, this is an excellent example of an Imperial Stout style. If you want a lovely chocolate stout flavour maybe with about half as much of a booze punch, the Redwillow Heartless Stout, available from December through March, is one of my favourite beers with its chocolate notes and flavour, without being overly sweet. It’s just a magnificent beer.
There are many more beers out there, such as winter bocks, porters, stouts and other seasonal lagers and ales that make wonderful companions during the winter months, whether you’re out celebrating or tucked in warm and cosy somewhere. Anyone have any favourite holiday and winter beers they’d like to share? Or not share, as the case may be? Give a shout to your favourite Christmas ale, seasonal stout or other winter beer in the comments section.
Also, who has spotted the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale here in London? Or the St Bernardus Christmas Ale, for that matter? I’m on the lookout!