by Adrian Tierney-Jones Beer Writer of the Year 2017
Christmas beer: Tips for the seasonBeers that warm the soul
You might believe in Father Christmas and leave him a glass of beer by the chimney every December 24, but sadly there is no such thing as a Christmas beer style. I’m sorry to say that the beers suitable for the season of goodwill to all men and women do not get their own category alongside IPA, porter or stout. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that there are plenty of beers that are excellent accompaniments to Christmas.
Some might be rich and potent in their alcohol, moody and dark in the glass as well as being delicately spiced or masterful in malt. We’re looking at barley wines, potent imperial stouts or porters, beers that when poured in the glass suddenly gives a meaning to the idea of Christmas beer.
These are the kind of beers that warm the soul, spread the compliments of the season and provide amiable company by the fireside.
A potent Barley Wine
Here’s Emelisse’s Barley Wine for instance. This is 12%, an alcoholic strength that takes no prisoners, but this potency also gives the beer a depth and warmth that is the ideal on a dark and cold night during the Christmas season.
It’s fruity (think Christmas cake dried fruit), bittersweet, smooth in its application of toffee and caramel notes, and blessed with the kind of finish that lingers like the echo of the voices of the carol singers who have just been singing outside your front door.
The harmonious and spiritual side of Christmas beer
Of course, there is a spiritual side to Christmas, it’s not all eating and drinking and being merry, and for that reason we should also examine beers that appeal to this sacred side.
This is where Engelszell Gregorius Trappistenbier comes in, a devotional 10.5% quadrupel produced in a Trappist monastery in Austria. There is a harmonious and spiritual aspect that can be found in Trappist beers, especially if you let yourself be drawn in by the whole magic of beer being brewed in such a devotional place (whatever your beliefs).
This beer is vinous, alcoholic, chocolaty, leathered and blessed with a rummy, raisiny, burnt sugar sweetness before its crystalline finish.
A beer that’s not a Christmas cake in a glass
Now, let’s turn to another kind of Christmas beer. This time not so stygian in the glass, but lighter in its colour, amber or even bruised gold, sunny in its fruitiness, a reminder that summer will once again return.
What I’m thinking of is a beer for Boxing Day, a beer that follows a walk in the countryside or alongside the sea, that carefree attempt to budge the calories of Christmas Day.
Let us brace ourselves then and contemplate the imperious Double IPA Of Foam and Fury, from Galway Bay brewery. Apparently the first beer of its ilk to be brewed in Ireland, this is boldly flavoured and massively hopped, a wilful wake-up to the palate, a big brutish fruit bowl of grapefruit, mango, orange, pine resin and malt sweetness with layer after layer of flavour to be unwrapped like a late Christmas present.
The wide range of these beers is the joy of Christmas. Not all of them need to resemble a Christmas cake in a glass (though as we saw with the barley wine they can), or heaven forbid a roast turkey (now that would be downright ridiculous), but this diversity of beers suitable for Christmas is enough to bring a smile to the most Scrooge-like of people.
'Tis the season to be merry
And this being Christmas, let’s have one more beer.
This time I am thinking of Wild Beer’s Modus Operandi, the first beer that they brewed and a signal of their intention, being a blend of old and new beers and then allowed to sleep the sleep of the just in bourbon barrels.
At 7%, it’s a lush and generous beer with stunning aromatics that include an earthiness courtesy of Brett, plus milky chocolate, soft vanilla and sweet cherry. There’s a continuation of this lushness on the palate alongside a generous bitter finish.
And with all these beers in mind, there remains one more thing to say: Merry Christmas!