Its December again which means we have the inevitable slew of Christmas themed ales upon us. Some breweries rebrand a regular, some release seasonal specials of common or garden bitters and blonde ales and some push the boat out with stronger, often spiced ales. I've lined up a selection thsis year, thoughts below.
I received the same Box Steam "Big Big Train" press release that Pete did and I too ended up being sent their two Christmas beers. I'd had the Christmas blonde before and found it to be an enjoyable golden ale with thick white head.Fairly pithy aroma with grassy malt, a grapefruit tang and long sweet malt/bitter finish. Not at all Christmassy however. This recent bottle had lost all of the hop freshness and become quite dull because of it, can't really recommend it.
Where Box Steam usually excel are their dark ales; so was looking forward to a taste of Christmas Box Dark. This one isn't quite as enjoyable as some of their others but makes a better Christmas ale than the blonde. Spicey, dark berries aroma, lots of roast barley in this, becomes a bit astringent followed by rich blackcurrant, (bramling cross maybe). Its half stout/ half brown ale and worth a go if you find it.
Also arriving on my doorstep recently was Shepherd Neame's Christmas ale. This 7% beer actually makes the best of Shep.'s house character to produce a rich and warming attractively copper hued beer. Flavours of sticky malt and jammy plums are hampered somewhat by a oxidised papery note on the nose which makes me wonder if my bottle suffered on the journey as other writers seem to have enjoyed it, but I really didn't.
What was much more enjoyable was Brewdog's hoppy Christmas, a single hop Simcoe IPA. Better than their recent batch of IPA is dead single hoppers this beer is packed full of fresh resinous and tangerine peel Simcoe aromas. Pithy hops, bitter yet balanced with deft malting for balance makes this a beer I'll certainly;y be returning to.
Also new from Brewdog is Santa Paws, described as a Christmas Scotch Ale. Now I'm sure you're all aware I'm not a fan of malt led beers, but the heather honey added to this one adds an extra layer of complexity and puts it into mild/ brown ale territory. Certainly preferable to the rehash of dogma anyway.
So a bit of a mixed bag really, I'd like to see brewers put more thought into their Christmas specials, rather than rehashing regular beers to cash in on a Christmas market. I think some of these beers have achieved that whilst others haven't, make up your own mind.