Well the last minute shopping is complete, the presents wrapped, and everyone's back safe and warm indoors. I was going to say the fire is lit as well, but the weather's been a little too mild for that, but with tea time fast approaching, it's time to crack open a few bottles.
There was a time when I'd order a polypin and would be broaching it around this sort of time, but with only me to drink it, I found the beer wasn't always quite at its best by the time the contents were exhausted. I also found considerable variation in quality between different beers; and over the years I had a fair few. None were off or even approaching undrinkable, but several were rather lacking in condition, meaning a flat and often uninspiring pint, and when you’ve got 36 pints of beer to get through that you’re not particularly enjoying, then it becomes something of an endurance test.
Bottles therefore, are a much better bet, as not only do they remain fresh until they are opened, but they can provide a lot more variety. And with so much good food and interesting flavours available over the festive season, variety is what's required.
Now I'm not going all puritanical here and insisting on certain beers to accompany certain foods, but there's no getting away from the fact that some beers do provide a better match with certain foods than others. So, as in previous years I've got a fair number of bottles to enjoy; a stash which has built up over the past few months.
This year I've got several bottles of St Austell Proper Job; a beer which in my view is one of the best bottled pale ales around. It's bottle-conditioned as well, but St Austell do this properly - hence the name (only kidding!). Proper Job is well-hopped, but not aggressively so, and there is just the right amount of juicy biscuit-like malt present to counteract the bitterness.
I've also got plenty bottles of Pilsner Urquell to hand. This classic and pioneering “original” pilsner, has just the right amount of aromatic hoppiness, from the lovely Saaz hops, which is set against some chewy toffee malt. For several years now it has become my go-to beer for every day, home-drinking. It's only 4.4% in strength, but still manages to pack in loads of flavour. It's also very reasonably priced; probably too reasonably, as £1.50 a bottle for a beer with this sort of pedigree, is far too cheap and is treating this Czech classic as a commodity, rather than a beer to be revered.
Then there's Fuller's 1845, 6.3% ABV; bottle-conditioned and packed with lots of ripe, juicy fruit and marmalade flavours. It goes really well with a traditional roast turkey dinner and, for as many years as I care to remember, I have always enjoyed a bottle of this excellent ale to accompany my Christmas dinner.
As for the rest, well I've got quite a collection of beers which have accumulated since last Christmas, including some which will need drinking soon. (Gadd's Imperial Stout, Dark Star Imperial Stout and Old Dairy Snow Top).
As I write, I getting stuck into a bottle of Meantime London Porter, ABV 6.5%. Packaged in a robust 75 cl bottle, complete with a wired-cork closure, this beer really is a splendid recreation of this classic London style. Porter was the beer which made the fortunes of the great London brewers (Truman, Whitbread, Barclays etc), so after completely disappearing during the mid-1970’s, it is good to see it making a deserved comeback.
The style is, once again, a cannon in the portfolio of many respected brewers, not least of which is Fuller’s; the last surviving traditional brewery in the capital. The company’s London Porter, is another personal favourite of mine. It is slightly lighter at 5.2% ABV, but no less enjoyable for that. As might be imagined, I’ve got several bottles of this excellent beer stashed away in my store.
Moving further afield, I’ve got a selection of six different bottles from the St Bernardus Brewery, in Watou, Belgium, to drink my way through. They range in strength from 6% up to 10% ABV. I wrote about these beers here, and obtained them via a colleague at work, who has a friend living in West Flanders; definitely a handy person to know!
Whilst on the subject of European beers, I’ve still got a few bottles of Aecht Schlenkerla; the classic Rauchbier (smoke beer), from Bamberg. These will need drinking soon, so what better time than over the Christmas period to finish them off? My son and I are off to Bamberg this coming May, in the company of a group of beer enthusiasts from Maidstone CAMRA, so there should be plenty of opportunity to enjoy a few Rauchbiers, whilst we are there.
Finally, I’ve still got a few other “oddities” kicking around, including a wire-corked, 75 cl bottle of Bush de Nuits, from Brasserie Dubuisson, which I acquired over two years ago, whilst in Belgium for the European Beer Bloggers Conference. It’s 13.0%, and aged in oak Burgundy casks, plus it's bottle-conditioned as well, so it’s a beer I will need some assistance in polishing off. I’ve also still got a few Dutch beers; also the result from another EBBC, but this one took place a year later.
Whatever you are drinking this Christmas may you so in the company of friends, family or loved ones. May your glass never run dry and, as the song says, may your days be merry and bright.
Merry Christmas everyone, and a healthy, prosperous and Happy New Year to you all.