Last year the guys from the Beer O'Clock Show encouraged their followers to choose a dozen beers for Christmas and drink one each day beginning on December 20th and ending on New Years Eve. It was such a success they have done it again and I think there are many more taking part in this bit of festive fun this year. Everyone seems to have spent countless hours deliberating which beers to select and there are many classic beers that have been chosen already as you can probably imagine. It really is easy to take part. Buy twelve beers and drink them. Add your comments on their website and/or follow it on Twitter #12BeersofXmas. If you are a blogger then you can also write a review of each beer too so we can all imagine the finer points of the beers you are enjoying.
My selections have been made and as usual I have come up with twelve beers that I have largely never had before. So with no further ado here is my lineup for this year.
Saturday December 20th - Cluster's Last Stand (8.6% ABV)
I woke up this morning aching all over after fighting the beginnings of a cold for the last few days and I was wondering how I was going to survive the 12 Beers Of Xmas. I even thought of swapping days 1 and 3 so I could start with a 330ml bottle rather than the ambitious 660ml. The Anadin kicked in though and I am raring to go!
The pictures will get more festive as I go along perhaps! The 12 Beers of Xmas is going to be much bigger this year I sensed so I had to visit the Bitter Virtue in Southampton, a stupendous bottle shop, to add one or two special bottles to the ones I already had. This one took my eye as it was a collaboration between the infamous Stone Brewing Co and the Smuttynose Brewing Company of Hampton in New Hampshire, which I am familiar with from my travels to New England. The bottle does not indicate the strength or beer type but nothing ventured nothing gained.
The beer apparently recreates an original, right-after-Prohibition Ballantine IPA recipe as found in Mitch Steele's book on India Pale Ales (Mitch has been Brewmaster at Stone's since 2006). The hops are mainly English. The American Cluster hop is combined with the English Brewers Gold and East Kent and it is dry-hopped with the English Bullion. An interesting combination.
This beer poured a clear golden colour and Untappd suggested it is an 8.6% ABV American APA although the Smuttynose website suggests 8.3% ABV. The aroma is a little perfumed and fruity and my wife had first taste. She liked it but thought it might be a little aromatic for me. Not so. Yes it is a little aromatic but there is so much more to this beer too. There are tropical fruit flavours with pineapple particularly evident. The beer is sweet and syrupy but there is a dryness and peppery edge to the finish that I particularly loved. It is also warming and boozy which is something I needed tonight I think to keep my cold at bay.
A very nice beer to start with and one of just a few of my twelve that is not a darker beer. My wife gives it a 7/10 but I am much more generous and it gets a 9/10 from me.
Sunday December 21st - Ogham Ash (10.5% ABV)
For my second beer I am heading to Wales. Back in the 80s Welsh beer was either 'Feeling Foul' (Felinfoel) or Skull Attack (Brains SA). I actually liked Double Dragon but today I wouldn't cross the road for it. Nowadays it is Tiny Rebel and The Celt Experience that I get excited about when it comes to Welsh beer. When I saw this 10.5% ABV Celt Experience Imperial Russian Porter available from Ales By Mail I knew I had to try it.
Ogham is some secret code initiated amongst the druids of Gaul it seems, bestowed upon the poets of primitive Ireland and Wales. The transcription reflects tree folklore where the sequence of the letters reveal the archaic 'seasonal calendar of tree magic'. Ash is a tree whose mass, height and deeply imbedded roots are all metaphors for the spiritually minded reflecting mastership and power. I don't really understand it but a beer has to have a name and they managed to fit all of this information onto the label which is quite a feat in itself. More interesting perhaps and something it doesn't mention is that the ash gives off a sugary substance and it has been suggested that this was fermented to create the Norse Mead of Inspiration,a mythical beverage that bestows knowledge and intelligence. Ha! That will do for me.
This particular beverage I'm sure can do all of that. It is rich, black and potent. A boozy inherent sweetness that comes from the strength but does not totally dominate over the rich flavours of coffee, dark chocolate, dark fruits and liquorice that come from the hops and seven malts that are used to create this magical beer. Yes it is boozy but it is also flavoursome and warming and I wish I had a couple more bottles of it. This beer easily scores top marks from me.
Monday December 22nd - Ot The Explorer (8.7% ABV)
My wife is out tonight so I get this one all to myself. She is not a particular fan of IPAs though so that's probably not a bad thing. For day two I headed to Wales and met up with some Celtic druids. Today I am in the Netherlands and drinking a beer in praise of the king of all Dutch beer hunters - Ot Louw. Ot likes them bitter apparently so this double IPA is packed with American hops (Colombus, Simcoe and Centennial).
I took to Dutch beers in a big way over the summer during my World Cup of beers. The best of these was an imperial passion fruit white IPA (7.8% ABV) and yes it is as good as it sounds!! This beer was not 100% Dutch as it was a collaboration between Ilkley Brewery and the two Dutch brewers of Rooie Dop and Oerseop and this was more than good enough to win my golden pint award for best collaboration of 2014. It also meant I was determined to add a beer from Rooie Dop into my 12 Beers of Xmas and this one from Beer Hawk sounded perfect.
Rooie Dop was born in 2012 by Mark Strooker aka The Dude. He experiments in a wharf cellar in Utrecht and the big batches are then brewed at De Molen in Bodegraven so until he gets his own big plant he is a bit of a gypsy brewer. They are already exporting to twenty countries and doing collaborations all over the world so The Dude must be a busy man.
Enough of all this talk. Time to test this 8.7% ABV double IPA. I have built this brewer and beer up so much now it had better not be crap. To be honest though with this cold it will have to be potent for me to smell or taste anything. However, this is a really nice beer. It has a lovely fruity aroma of mango and pineapple. There is a sweet malty boozy base over which the tropical fruit flavours swirl around before you reach a somewhat bitter finish. A perfect double IPA even with impaired senses so another 10/10 beer from me.
Tuesday December 23rd - Ola Dubh 12 Year Special Reserve (8.0% ABV)
For my fourth beer I am heading north of the border. Tonight it is our local CAMRA social evening and it is my turn to drive so this beer is a lunchtime check-in. The alternative is to open it when I get back in around midnight which I do not fancy doing particularly. So the brewery today is one of my favourites from Scotland. Harviestoun have now been brewing for over 30 years and have now grown to a 60-barrel plant. I particularly love their Old Engine Oil and for today I am sticking to the black stuff.
Old Dubh (Gaelic for 'Black Oil') is a black beer matured in whisky casks and it comes in three variations. Old Dubh 12 (8.0% ABV) is matured in old casks of Highland Park 12 year old single malt scotch whisky. You can also get Old Dubh 16 and Old Dubh 18 and I think these are self-explanatory. Highland Park is an award-winning distillery from the Orkney's and the Highland Park 12 won a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2007.
I am not a whisky drinker, in fact when I visited a Scottish distillery I was unable to finish the free sample! Having said that though I did love the smells of the distillery. The addition of whisky notes to beer though is something I have not had a problem with in the past and I have high hopes for this particular beer.
I don't want to mention this damn cold on every post but if this beer doesn't kill a few germs then nothing will. It poured black and thick and there is definitely an earthy peatiness to the aroma even to my limited senses along with a distinct booziness. I particularly love the chocolate notes in this beer. This is proper dark chocolate and not your milky stuff. The finish has a distinct earthy bitterness from the whisky which my wife did not like at all. For me though this beer is another Christmas cracker and it gets a 9/10.
Christmas Eve - Santa's Darkside (4.4% ABV)
This beer was not chosen for it's recognised excellence in the world of beer unlike many of my others in my 12 Beers. My boy has to leave a bottle of beer out for santa each year and the name and picture on the label is more important than anything else. My suggestion for the beer to leave this year got overwhelming approval so this beer is already a winner.
I think this is my first beer from Naylor's Brewery in any form. Naylors began in a pub in 2005 and they moved to a new site a year later. In 2009 they expanded further but remained where they still are, in the village of Cross Hills in North Yorkshire between Skipton and Keighley, where there is also a shop and bar on site. Good brewing country indeed.
I'm not sure what kind of beer Santa's Darkside (4.4% ABV) will be but I'm expecting a dark wintry beer. It looks black in the pic but it actually poured a nice dark brown and it gave off a distinct aroma of toffee. My wife was a bit bored by it. A little bitter she said but felt that any taste quickly disappears. Bah humbug. It's certainly not as malty as I was expecting. There are caramel notes in there for sure but a spicy hoppy bitterness comes through in the finish that is a little dry. I think it needs more dark malt in there but it's a pretty decent bitter. More of a brown ale than an old ale really but drinkable. I would give it a score of 6/10 and I hope santa appreciates the remains of it later on.
Christmas Day - White Stout (7.2% ABV)
When it comes to bottled beer there is nobody better than Durham Brewery as far as I'm concerned. It has been quite a few years since I first picked up some of their strong bottled beers for the festive period and Christmas Day is never complete for me now without one or two of their beers. They have brought out a few new beers this year which I am keen to try but I could not find any of these locally but I could find an old favourite so this is my choice of beer to accompany my xmas lunch.
White Stout (7.2% ABV) is a beer I only tried for the first time earlier this year and I could just put the link to that review here and say good night one and all. However I won't because it is worth a second review. Untappd describes it as an American Pale Ale so firstly let's talk about the categorisation and the name. This beer is nothing like a stout as in the modern meaning of the term. Two hundred years ago porter brewers had not hijacked the term and a stout beer was simply a strong beer. Durham have recreated this style with modern American hops (Colombus) and Maris Otter malt. So yes it could be described as an American Pale Ale and there are plenty of sweet tropical fruit notes which you would expect. Mango and mandarin notes are detectable before a spicy bitterness kicks in along with some soft aromatic notes which all leads to a beautifully rounded bittersweet finish. This beer gets top marks from me yet again and I am delighted to say that my wife loved it too. She has excellent taste.
Boxing Day - Chimay Bleue (Grande Reserve) 2014 (9.0% ABV)
Christmas would not be the same without beer from Belgium and for my first Belgian beer this year I have gone for a large corked bottle of Chimay Bleue. Chimay is the largest of the Trappist breweries and probably the most famous. It was founded within the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Scourmont in the Belgian municipality of Chimay back in the 19th century and the beer has been available in bottled form since 1885. Annual production is now in the millions of litres and about half of their output is exported.
Chimay comes in three colour-coded forms. These are, in increasing strength, Rouge (7.0% ABV), Blanche (8.0% ABV) and Bleue (9.0% ABV). The Grand Cru versions come in the Bordeaux-shaped bottle and this year I chose the Grand Cru version of the Bleue which is known as the Grande Reserve. After removing the wire cradle the cork is carefully removed with a champagne-like pop. It is advised to let the beer breathe after opening. This allows some of the natural carbon dioxide produced during bottle fermentation to dissipate.
This beer is a classic dark ale. The has a gorgeous vinous fruity aroma. This carries through into the flavour in a big way. Initially it was a little fizzy (I didn't let it breathe!!) but this does disappear afterr a while. It really is Christmas cake in a glass and it was indeed first brewed as a Christmas beer which explains the presence of a 'vintage'. Lots of rich heavy fruit flavours along with some caramel and despite the strength it isn't particularly boozy. Very drinkable, quite dry despite the richness and quite a spicy hop character in the finish. It is a beautiful beer that I never get tired of drinking.
Saturday December 27th - Kasteel Tripel (11.0% ABV)
I'm staying in Belgium today because Christmas is not complete without a Belgian tripel. This particular one is from the Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck. I know nothing about the brewery or this particular beer so I've done some reading. The brewery has been owned and operated by Xavier Van Honsebrouck, the fifth generation of Van Honsebroucks in Ingelmunster, since 2009. The history of the brewery dates back to 1865 but it was in 1900 when Emile Van Honsebrouck, the son of the founder (Amandus) moved to the current location in Ingelmunster where they built the Sint-Jozef Brewery. It was renamed to the family name in 1953.
Plenty of history behind the name then and this particular beer, a potent 11.0% ABV Tripel, was launched in 1995 although the recipe has recently been changed to include more aroma hops and there is certainly a strong aromatic aroma with fruity and floral notes to the fore. The tripel is my favourite Belgian beer style but this one doesn't really grab me as much as I was hoping. My wife thought I was giving her a strong cider to drink. It is probably a little too carbonated too.
The beer is a pleasant looking blonde and after experiencing the strongly aromatic aroma and remembering I am not drinking a cider the first thing I detected was a sweet malty base which was a little biscuity. The fruity notes consist of apple and oranges with some pear drops in there too. In the finish there is a gentle floral bitterness but this never takes control with the fruit maintaining a strong presence throughout. Not a bad beer but there are better Belgian tripels for sure. This one would get a 7.5/10 from me I think.
Sunday December 28th - Brutal India Pale Ale (6.0% ABV)
Back over to the US for this IPA from Rogue.
Monday December 29th - Gales Prize Old Ale (9.0% ABV)
This corked bottle of the much loved old ale from the former Gales Brewery is 10 years old. Fingers crossed it has lasted well.
Tuesday December 30th - Cantillon Geuze 100% Lambic Bio (2014) (5.0% ABV)
I have never tried this famous lambic beer before. Yet another corked bottle.
Wednesday December 31st - 12/04 Barrel Aged Traditional Porter (8.5% ABV)
This substantially sized bottle from Brew By Numbers should help me see in the new year.
After that little lot I will be ready for 2015. Each beer will be reviewed when they are consumed so check back each day.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.