Saturday, 7 December 2013

Twelve Beers of Xmas

Day 12 - Adnams Tally Ho 2012 (7.2% ABV)

It's 2014 and for my first beer of the year I am going back to 2012.  Adnam's Tally Ho (7.2% ABV) has always been one of my favourite Winter ales since way back when I was lucky to find a pint of it on a visit to Southwold.  You may now have to search long and hard to find a bottle of the 2012 vintage but I'm sure the 2013 vintage will be equally satisfying.          

Once I had sourced this bottle I knew it would be the last beer of my 12 beers of Xmas.  It has always been a classic barley wine and I'm sure I will not be disappointed.  It is also a firm favourite with my wife so if I have to fight her for it I will regret not getting a second bottle.

This beer is almost black but it has a lovely deep ruby tinge around the edges.  The aroma is rich and sweet with many hints of seasonal fruits.  The flavours coming from it are full of sweet rich fruits with fig, raisin and blackcurrant dominating.  It is not overly sweet like some barley wines can be though.  It really is beautifully balanced enabling all the flavours to come through without being overpowered by the others.  My wife felt it was the best of the 12 and I cannot argue with that.  It is a truly stunning beer and it easily achieves top marks.  Happy New Year indeed !!

Day 11 - Imperial Extra Double Stout - Harveys (9.0% ABV)

When I bought this beer I was really looking forward to it.  Then I read the following tweet from the distinguished beer writer Melissa Cole.

'This'll be contentious but Harvey's Imperial Stout: unadulterated horse manure, baby puke and shitty nappy'
Well that's one way of looking at it.  On the other hand, it is included in Roger Protz's '300 Beers To Try Before You Die' where it is described as a 'brilliant re-creation of a 19th-century beer'.  Could be one to try out on the wife first I think.  I have had two brilliant stouts already in my 12 Beers of Xmas so I have those to compare against.      

When pouring, it seems to have a viscosity akin to engine oil.  Very thick.  The aroma is not too pleasant.  A stale ash tray perhaps?  It certainly reminds me of how some pubs used to smell prior to the smoking ban.  Time to pass it on so my wife can have first taste.  She hated it.  It's not looking good.  My first taste was one of incomprehension.  There is a rich fruity note in there but it is somewhat buried by a harsh bitterness that does remind me of stale tobacco.  This smoky bitterness dominates the finish although the balance improves with each sip.  It is drinkable but not one I'd go back to.  The bitterness is too harsh and smoky for my taste and it is somewhat cloying in the mouth too and I'll give it a score of 5/10.  When it comes to Harveys I will happily stick with their amazing Old Ale from now on.  I've had many lovely stouts this year and I have another one lined up for later which is even stronger than this one (Hopshackle) but this is probably the first stout I've had this year that has scored this low.       

Day 10 - Nogne Imperial Stout (9.0% ABV)

For beer no.10 I'm heading to Norway.  I discovered this brewery when I worked in Denmark and the supermarket carried bottles of their excellent beers.  I then managed to source some of their beers from Cotteridge Wines in Birmingham and I was a happy man once again.  The brewery was formed as recently as 2003 and the name can be translated as 'Naked Island'.  They use the British term 'real ale' to describe their beers as they are all bottle-conditioned.      

This imperial stout weighs in at an impressive 9.0% ABV.  It is jet black with an aroma that gives off masses of coffee bitterness along with a distinct smokiness.  It certainly smells fantastic.  The taste is as great as the aroma.  It is full-bodied with a lovely richness to it with plenty of black treacle notes alongside the strong bitterness.  The bitter coffee taste gets softened throughout and the finish is pleasantly bittersweet.  It is probably not quite as smooth as the Thornbridge St Petersburg I had last week but this is still a very impressive stout that I absolutely love and I award it a score of 9/10.  

Day 9 - Rochefort 8 (9.2% ABV)

Day nine takes me back to Belgium and one of my favourite Trappist beers.  All Trappist breweries are very spartan in the beers they produce. Rochefort produce three simply named 6, 8 and 10.  The higher number has a greater strength and I chose the 8 which comes in at 9.2% ABV.  There seems to be no experimentation with new brews.  It's as if they are saying we have brewed the perfect beer and we bring it to you in three different strengths to fit your mood.  Choose one and whichever it is you won't be disappointed.       

The beer has a lovely appearance.  It is not as dark as it appears above.  In truth it has a lovely deep copper colour to it with a nice small head after pouring.  The aroma is rich, malty and with hints of dark fruits.  The taste is simply full of these rich dark fruits with raisin particularly dominant.  It warms you through from first sip to last.  It is obviously brewed year round but I consider it to be a perfect Winter beer.  One to be savoured slowly in front of a roaring fire.  Liquid Christmas cake and a perfect accompaniment to this festive treat.  There is nothing too complex about it.  There are no flavours bursting through at different stages.  It is simply a superb sweet, malty beer.  I would give this beer top marks.

Day 8 - Unser Aventinus - Schneider (8.2% ABV)

I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to German beer but I do know something now.  I will never drink this beer again.  This is in fact my first German beer of 2013.  I can see it is highly rated on Untappd but I could only manage half of it before pouring the rest away.  

Perhaps I got something wrong here.  Did I use the wrong kind of glass?  When I opened it I lost some of it because it bubbled up out of the bottle flooding the worktop.  That was a blessing in disguise.  After pouring it looked like brown sludge and it had a nasty medicinal aroma.  My wife hated it and quickly handed it back to me.  There was a sweet malty taste initially but the aftertaste was full of nightmare spices.  Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, coriander.  It really is quite horrible.  I know some people love these spices and some people even love root beer (which is what it reminded my wife of) but it isn't for me.  I have tasted some beers where the spices are even more overpowering so I guess this does get one above my lowest rating so I give it a 2/10.  I'm now going to break into my stash of Durham Brewery beers to wash this taste away.

Day 7 - Robinsons Old Tom (8.5% ABV)

Robinsons Old Tom has long been a Winter favourite of mine.  Back in the 1980s I would go to the annual Strong Beers and Winter Ales Festival held at the White Horse Parsons Green in SW London.  The festival is held each November and is still going strong.  I would fill my boots with lots of lovely dark strong Winter beers and Robinsons Old Tom would always be available alongside many others.  The beer is now available all year round in local supermarkets alongside newer versions Chocolate Tom and Ginger Tom.  I've never tried these two as I'm sure the original cannot be beaten.  The label says it is the World's Best Ale as this is one of the many awards it has picked up over the many years it has been brewed.

It is now many years since I have had the cask version of Old Tom but I do ensure I always pick up a bottle or two each Christmas so this was near the top of my list for the 12 beers of Christmas.  It has a lovely very deep red, almost black, colour to it and the aroma is full of malt and rich dark fruit.  There are plenty of flavours coming through.  My wife said it tastes very strongly of black treacle which is certainly in there.  It has chocolate, plenty of rich dark fruits like blackcurrant and raisin.  There is also a spicy bitterness that comes through too.  It is a challenging drink to be enjoyed slowly in front of a roaring fire with a slice of Christmas cake.  I still absolutely love it and I will award the beer a score of 9/10.  

Day 6 - Chimay Rouge (7.0% ABV)

I don't drink Belgian beer as often as I should.  I usually reserve them for Christmas and this year I have bought a few as usual.  Chimay is the largest of the Trappist breweries and probably one of the most popular.  Chimay Rouge is the lowest strength of their tricolour output at 7.0% ABV.  The Blanche comes at 8.0% ABV and the Bleue is a further percentage point higher at 9.0% ABV.  All three come in identical bottles with the label colour the easy way of determining which is which.   

It's quite a while since I've tried the Rouge so I'm looking forward to it.  It certainly has an attractive copper colour to it.  The aroma is quite malty and slightly sour.  There is perhaps a little tartness initially but a caramel sweetness comes through once this initial tang wears off.  The sweetness continues and there is very little bitterness coming though at all.  The beer is actually not as complex as I remember it though and, although it is perfectly drinkable, it hasn't got the appeal it once had sadly and I will award it a score of 7/10.   

Day 5 - Temptation - Durham Brewery (10.0% ABV)

It's Christmas Day and a box of Durham Brewery beer has arrived courtesy of Santa (well my mother-in-law actually) along with a lovely looking glass.  That box is being left to settle and here is one I bought earlier.  I have reviewed this beer previously this year so perhaps I'll be lazy and put in my link here so you can read it without me having to write anything further.  

So there you go.  A magnificent 10/10 beer, from my favourite brewer when it comes to bottled beers, that I am going to spend time enjoying rather than writing about.  

Merry Christmas.

Day 4 - Christmas Ale - St Peters Brewery (7.0% ABV)

It's a long time since I've tried any beer from St Peters.  This Suffolk brewer is famous for the distinctive green bottles their range comes in and it is amazing to think that the brewery has now been operational for nearly 18 years as I clearly remember visiting the brewery in their formative years.  It is housed in the agricultural buildings adjacent to the impressive St Peters Hall which dates from 1280.  This semi-moated medieval hall houses an impressive bar and restaurant and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

The beers of St Peters have always been easily drinkable.  I have rarely found them available in cask so my main experience of them has come from their bottled beers.  Christmas Eve is a time when it is traditional for my son to leave a mince pie and a bottle of beer for Santa (not forgetting the carrot for the reindeer of course) and I always choose a festive bottle.  This beer fits the bill perfectly.  Let's hope Santa appreciates it!

Yo ho ho then here we go.  The aroma is not bad.  Promises of a warming rich fruit intoxication to come.  Deep ruby colour with a thin head with enough carbonation to make it enticing.  It has a deep rich malty base for sure.  Reminds me of Youngs Winter Warmer but with a smoother fuller body to it.  Santa would surely approve as this beer would be a perfect accompaniment to a mince pie.  It has all the same rich fruity flavours and there is also a slight biscuity inclusion to it to match the pastry.  The wife wonders where the Christmassy taste is with it because I am delighted to say it is a rich warming Winter beer without the hideous seasonal herbs and spices.  Yes it's a lovely Winter warmer and Christmas is in Winter so where's the problem?  My mum always drank sherry at Christmas and this has hints of that too so this is perfect to warm Santa up on his busy night.  The beer gets an 8/10 from me.

Merry Christmas.        

Day 3 - Empire Pale Ale - Burton Bridge (7.5% ABV)

I remember Burton Bridge from my early drinking days growing up in the East Midlands.  Their Porter was (and probably still is) a truly magnificent beer.  However, for years I have rarely found their beers available anywhere apart from an occasional visit back to the Midlands when I have struck lucky.  They have had a chequered history but have survived now for over thirty years doing what they do.  As an outside observer they do seem to be stuck in a time warp and even their website seems like it was created years ago.

This Empire Pale Ale is a recreation of a traditional India Pale Ale.  The label is a throwback to colonial days too and you get the distinct impression that you are consuming history with this beer.  It has a hoppy aroma for sure but these are traditional British hops unlike the modern generation of IPAs that are dominating the market.  This traditional beer though has won numerous CAMRA bottled beer awards so it is about time I gave this beer a try.

My wife tried it first and said it 'tasted disgusting'.  Oops.  There is a little sourness to it for sure which I wasn't expecting.  The aftertaste has quite a harsh bitterness to it too.  There are initial notes of oranges but this fruitiness disappears before giving off a very dry bitter finish which was more bitter lemon than orange.  It is certainly drinkable and challenging (must be the Challenger hops !!) but I much prefer the modern citrussy IPAs brewed with American or New Zealand hops to this.  All in all a little disappointing and I give it a score of 6/10.                

Day 2 - Saint Petersburg - Thornbridge (7.4% ABV)

I need to drink more Thornbridge beers.  Jaipur is in my top three all-time favourite beers.  I have tried the lovely Chiron in bottles a few times.  This imperial Russian stout is my third beer from this Derbyshire brewer and I am really looking forward to it.

Despite pouring gently it produced a lively looking head.  The aroma is quite gentle with a hint of roasted coffee.  Now I'm sure you all know what stouts are and how they generally taste but until you have sampled this particular beer you have not tried the perfect stout.  This is bloody fantastic!!  It does remind me of the superb Sadlers Mud City Stout but it does have a little more bitterness.  It has a lovely blend of initial sweetness with hints of raisin, liquorice, plum and chocolate.  There then comes tiny little hits of coffee bitterness that continues to be perfectly balanced by the sweeter notes.  It is rich, full-bodied and it clings to your mouth throughout and thereby refusing to release you from the fabulous taste.

Beer two is a no-brainer 10/10 beer.  I will be buying more of this beer before the winter is out and more from the full range of Thornbridge in 2014.  They are fast becoming a favourite brewery and this is close to being my favourite stout ever.  Thank you Thornbridge.

Day 1 - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year - Anchor (5.5% ABV)

Anchor Porter was the first American beer I fell in love with.  I was going to make that my first beer of Christmas but when I spotted their Christmas / New Year ale for 2013 I decided to give this a try instead.  It is more seasonmal after all.  This is their 39th winter special and the recipe changes every year.  At just 5.5% ABV it is the lowest strength beer of my twelve making it a nice gentle start.          

This black ale poured beautifully with a nice amount of bubbles clinging to the side of the glass.  This beer is full of the smells of Christmas.  Lots of rich fruit and spices come through and I can't wait to give it a taste.

Heavily spiced beers are not for me and this is not overbearing.  There is plenty of sweetness initially reminiscent of blackberries and redcurrants.  Then the taste of raisin and plum kicks in and finally a hint of seasonal spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger) to give a lovely warming finish.  There are even some subtle hints of orange marmalade to add a little sourness.  The whole thing is a real mix of Christmas pudding and rich fruit cake.  Every possible flavour is imparted from it.  An excellent start to my '12 Beers' and I give the beer a score of 8/10.
Happy Christmas drinking !!

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