Continuing my odyssey of beer exploration,this week I try to embrace the joys of Christmas…
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Each year I notice Aldi gets in special Christmas themed beers, and last year I bought one because it would count towards my distinct beers challenge. Generally though, I found the way the beer industry tries to tailor itself to different holidays or events… a bit annoying. Especially Christmas though. In the same way that the media seems to think the only music you want to listen to at Christmas are 20 Christmas themed hits from the past and things that involve chimes, jingling sounds and choirs of children, and restaurants think that you want turkey and things with cranberry sauce, the alcoholic drinks industry seems to think you want irish cream (which, frankly, you do), gluhwein (which, should be banned), port (likewise), eggnog (which, excuse me North America, is minging) and beer that tastes a bit spicy because that represents the flavour of Christmas pudding.
Look, can we have a rule here? If you don’t want it at any point during the rest of the year, you can’t have it at Christmas because, clearly it ain’t so special. Here are a few examples to illustrate this.
Mince pies. I like mince pies, but you can only get them at Christmas. Why? I’ll tell you why: would you buy them at any other time of the year? No, because there’s only so many you can eat, and you eat both of those at Cristmas. So we don’t need em.
Turkey. Look, turkey’s just a massive, dry, tasteless chicken. I get that you tend to have more people to feed at Christmas so you need something bigger, but can I suggest goose instead?
Christmas pudding. What is this even for? Let’s pour a shitload of brandy on to a cake and set it on fire! Howabout, let’s drink the brandy and get a cake in that peple actually like? And if you like fire: cigars.
Gluhwein. Hot alcoholic cordial. Are you shitting me?
Band Aid. I just don’t know how I feel about this anymore, except I have an instinctive aversion to it.
Walnuts in shells. Why do people want to crack their own nuts at Christmas?
Christmas trees. Taking up space, presenting a fire hazard.
Works dos. I’ve covered these in an earlier post, and I can’t remember what I said about them. I might’ve been trying to be positive that day, but it’s more llkely I was sarcastic and disparaging. So I’m just going to say, if no one wants to go out with everyone they work with on a regular basis, it’s inhumane to make them do it in a shit bar or restaurant where a number of the previously mentioned examples are likely to be present and a bunch of other works are on dos at the same time.
TV Christmas specials. I know you can’t show Christmas specials at any other time of the year, but really: they’re all the same. Maybe if I was a kid, wall to wall Christmas themed TV would ramp up my excitement even further, but I’m not. I’m an adult. I don’t need to see popular chat show hosts and comedy characters dressed as Father Christmas. I don’t need to know anything about elves (unless it stars the delightful Will Ferrell), angels (unless it’s It’s a Wonderful Life), reindeer, or ghosts of Christmas past, present or twatting future. You get me?
Which brings me back… to Christmas themed beer. I would normally avoid these like anything with Piers Morgan in it (unless it was Piers Morgan being dunked repeatedly in a bowl of shit), but as I said, the distinct beers challenge (coupled with the arrival of Christmas) convinced me to just try all the Christmas beers. In the same way that I decided to read one of Piers Morgan’s books just to confirm how much of a bellend he is, I decided to try all the Christmas themed beers I could find to confirm it’s pointless. Let’s see shall we, what they’re like and whether there are any thematic similarities?
As I got started on this, it actually turned out that there weren’t actually that many Christmas themed beers, though I did come across a lot of things that were termed Winter Ales. I decided to look up what this was, and found that it tends to refer to things like stouts and porters because they often aren’t available in summer. It may be true that they aren’t always available in the summer, but as we’ll see, a lot of the winter ales I came across weren’t actually stouts or porters. Similarly, I don’t see all that much that can be deemed wintry about some of these ales. But nevertheless, a-delvin’ we will go. [it turns out that plenty of stouts and porters are available in the summer months. A look at the bottles available at Urmston’s Prairie SchoonerTap House on the 5th of June revealed there were no less than 10 porters or stouts in stock. It also turns out that the existence of winter ales stems more from the kind of beers that could be brewed in winter – you know, like in the old days – rather than any thematic intentions.]
I bought the rest of the Christmas themed ales that were available from Aldi and a few that I could find in Tesco. Asda didn’t have any Christmas themed beers at all, which I found very odd. I did pick up some winter ales in Sainsburys, and elsewhere, I tried to buy Christmassy or winter ales whenever I went to the pub – which is quite a lot in December for the various band Christmas dos, golf Christmas dos, work Christmas dos…
First was Wychwood’s Bah Humbug which has 5 ABVs (though the website claims there are only 4.3) and features a cartoon impression of Scrooge on the label in the inimitable Wychwood goblin style. I’m quite a big fan of the Hobgoblin – probably their most famous product – and I can see I’ve given Bah Humbug with its spicy fruit flavours 3 stars. That’s not bad – in fact I have to admit I rather enjoyed it.
I see Wychwood actually do a whole host of seasonal ales – one for each month. I don’t know whether to be moderately impressed or incredibly annoyed about that. I’ll decide later. It is later; I have decided now that I like it, as it means there are more distinct beers to look out for.
Next was St Peter’s Christmas Ale, which comes in a snazzy flask with a label that depicts a typical cottagey British winter scene. It’s a hearty 7% and is described as smooth, fruity and full-bodied; the perfect companion for Christmas savouries, sweets and snacks. I scored it an average 3 out of 5.
I see St Peter’s also have a slightly extended range of seasonal beers, including a winter one and they all come in that impossibly cool flask.
Jenning’s Redbreast contains four and a half ABVs and rather than showing a lady’s sunburnt bosom on the label, comes adorned with the slightly more predictable image of a robin in a hat and scarf, whistling out a few notes. This is Jenning’s’ December release, the January one being Cockle Warmer, which I expect I’ll get to shortly. I scored the Redbreast another average 3.
On entering Yule Love It! Into Untappd, I was surprised to find three other beers going by that name. That suggests a dearth of imagination, doesn’t it? Nevetheless, this one is by Thwaites Brewery and clocks up a stilted 4% ABV. It is described simply as an amber Christmas ale and I can’t really add anything to that, other than that I actually scored this an extra half a star on the others, making it the best so far. You might take that with a pinch of salt though, as other Untappd members thought it had a generic hoppy taste with a hint of water or that it was tasteless. I thought the hoppyness was actually an improvement on the blandness of all the other Christmas themed ales I’d tried so far. As for a hint of water… all beers contain that – usually up to around 95%.
Hardys & Hansons Rocking Rudolph notches 4.2 ABVs and is part of Greene King’s seasonal ale range. A cartoon reindeer with an Elvis wig and a guitar (hilarious), potentially bursting out of a snowglobe decorates this one… and it’s back down to 3 stars because extra points are not awarded for the number of components an image possesses.
Old Miserable Git, another by Thwaites is the second beer in our list to reference those of us who might have a slightly grumpier reaction to Christmas. That doesn’t mean I appreciate it anymore than the others – in fact, I don’t. It’s another 3 stars. It’s 4.1% and is presented with a cartoon image of a cigar chewing grouch.
Christmas Plum Pudding from JW Lees is quite different. It’s 4.8% and described by the brewer as “Christmas in a glass”. It sure is fruity and smooth and I have to say a little odd tasting. It went down quite easily though (as in fact did all the pints I had on the evening I consumed this one), and I was enjoying it by the end. I only gave it a 3 though.
With Sainsburys Taste The Difference Celebration Ale by Black Sheep (6% ABV), the supermarket giant has adopted branding that belies its own brand identity. In fact, through a set of uninteresting circumstances I came into possession of two more Taste the Difference offerings in the form of the equally well branded American Pale Ale and Tap Room IPA(both by Genesee Brewing Company). I’m not sure how I feel about this since I tend to avoid own brands wherever possible (unless I’m in the market for cheap spirits), but you’ve got to give them credit for sourcing these products from reputable brewers. That they make no secret of who the brewer is encourages one to buy, but also to feel cheated when one realises one has paid full price for a supermarket own brand… of sorts – which wouldn’t be a problem if the products were any good, but these aren’t. While I should only be concerning myself with the product that is described as “a rich, dark winter warmer” on its label, it’s worth mentioning that I scored all three a derisory 2 stars out of 5. The American Pale Ale in particular I remember recoiling in horror at a weak and toiletty aftertaste.
Out of all of the beers listed above, only the Celebration Ale proclaimed itself a stout or porter (stout, to be precise). I did drink one or two of that ilk over the period, but they weren’t labelled Christmas or Winter ale, so I don’t think you can count them.
What have we learned then? Well, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I can see, as long as it is an ale and not a lager, there’s nothing to stop something from being classed as a winter or Christmas-themed ale. As long as you can convince people it is rich, spicy or warming and you stick a wintry scene on the label or call it a comical wintry name, you’re all right. If you want a more informative, fact-laden account than I can [be bothered to] give you, try this link. The thing is, despite the traditional origins of winter ale and the seasonal nature of what is called Winter Ale, it seems to me that you can buy similar products all year round – these days at least. Now that I’ve done my initial research, I suppose it’s time to put that to the test – at least it will be when it ain’t winter no’ mo’. [I can confirm that I did manage to buy a winter ale in July, Dunham Massey’s Winter Warmer, though I don’t remember where I got it from.]
As ever, I’m learning as I go along, and hopefully you’re having a nice time and can say you’re learning with me. Sure, you could go to someone who already knows all about it, but how much fun would that be? Exactly. No fun at all.
This then, marks my last post of the year. I hope you’ve had fun joining me on my various adventures. I’ll be back in the new year as ever, returning with a run down of my favourite three spirits from 2015. In the meantime, if you need something to read, I’m sure there are plenty of backposts you haven’t read. I promise though, that there will be plenty more to read about in the new year. Till then, have a great Christmas.