Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Seasonal Tipples

As I said in an earlier post I went for quality rather than quantity in my selection of beers for drinking at home over Christmas and the New Year. I didn’t actually have any beers with Christmas in the name, but I still managed to pick beers a fine and well-varied selection. The odd one or two didn’t live up to expectations, but most were enjoyable, some were excellent, and one or two were spectacular. Here’s what I drank, along with my random tasting notes/thoughts on the individual beers and, in some instances, the types of food I enjoyed them with.

 Robinsons Old Tom 8.5% - More bitter, and with a slight lactic taste than I was expecting, but this was a bottle left over from last Christmas (Best Before May 2014). Still an excellent beer, I will buy another and taste it fresh.

Pilsner Urquell 4.4% - Chilled and refreshing, with good hop bitterness from the Saaz hops. This classic, original pilsner made the perfect accompaniment to our Christmas Eve finger buffet of smoked salmon, prawns, cheese straws, spring rolls and savoury rice.

Fuller’s London Porter 5.4% - Rich, dark and flavoursome. Packed full of roast and chocolate notes from the crystal, brown and chocolate malts used in the grist, and perfectly balanced with spicy, earthy Fuggles hops, London Porter proved the ideal nightcap on Christmas Eve.

Meantime Raspberry Wheat Beer 5.0% - A light wheat beer with raspberry juice added at the maturation stage. Fruity with a refreshingly sharp kick, the beer turned out to be the ideal aperitif, prior to Christmas dinner.

Fuller’s 1845 6.4% - Big, full-flavoured, and the perfect accompaniment to a traditional turkey dinner. Hit all the right notes, with lots of juicy malt flavours balanced by equal amounts of earthy, peppery hops.

Brakspear’s Bitter 3.4% - I can’t think of another beer which packs in so much flavour at such a modest strength. The beer formed the perfect late afternoon pick-me-up, after a large Christmas dinner and a surfeit of Christmas pudding and mince pies.
Back in November Lidl were selling this excellent beer at just 99p a bottle. I stocked up for Christmas by buying two cases.

Sharp’s Quadrapel Ale 10% - No.1 in the brewery’s “Connoisseurs Choice” range, this bottle was from the 2011 vintage, and was left over from last year’s Christmas stash. The extended maturation hadn’t harmed the beer, so far as I could tell. It poured clear and well-conditioned, with a deep ruby colour, an alcoholic fruity aroma and a full, rich bitter-sweet taste. This was definitely a beer to savour, and I enjoyed it with some strong, well-matured cheddar, plus a bit of Stilton. Full marks to head brewer, Stuart Howe for coming up with this one.

Meantime India Pale Ale 7.4% - I left this one chilling too long on the back doorstep, so it developed a slight chill haze. It’s still an excellent beer though, full-bodied with lots of chewy malt, expertly balanced with oodles of Fuggles and Golding hops. What’s more it doesn’t come in pints; it comes in 750ml champagne-style bottles!

Westmalle Dubbel 7.0% - A nice beer to follow the Christmas pudding. Dark, reddish-brown in colour, formed a very thick, but quite loose head when poured. Lots of sweet caramel from the malts and the candy sugar used in the beer, but still well-balanced and eminently drinkable. Not too strong for a Belgian beer at 7.0%.

Shoreditch Blonde 4.5% - A bottle-conditioned beer from Redchurch Brewery, which unfortunately failed to deliver. Pale in colour, but a bit thin and lacking in body. Quite bitter, but overall rather disappointing, although might be more appropriate for summer drinking.

Adnams Southold Winter IPA 6.7% - Brewed exclusively for M&S. A bit too drinkable, given its strength. Lots of juicy malt, balanced by plenty of hops. A complete contrast to the previous beer.

Bernard Svetly Lezak 4.7% - A lovely, clean tasting and refreshing, un-pasteurised pale lager, from one of the Czech Republic’s best brewers. Nice juicy malt, balanced by background bitterness from the Saaz hops. Very drinkable and most enjoyable.

St Bernardus Abt 12 Abbey Ale 10.0% - Classic, dark, Belgian Abbey Ale, rumoured to be brewed to the same recipe as the world renowned, and very rare, Westveleteren 12. Dark reddish-brown in colour, with tremendous depth of flavour, definitely a beer for sipping, rather than supping.  Best Before July 2018 – how’s that for an extended shelf-life?

Crabbies’s Spiced Orange Alcoholic Ginger Beer 4.0% - OK, not really a beer, but one I’d seen a while back, which caught my attention. Certainly refreshing, with a lovely orange aroma, but not quite enough ginger as far as I’m concerned. (I do like a bit of ginger, especially in a woman!). This drink is also rather on the sweet side, and I'd be concerned about ingesting too much sugar if I were to drink this product on a regular basis. However, on the whole it is a pleasant and refreshing alternative to the juice of the barley.

Batemans Mocha 6.0% - According to the label, this rich, dark creamy beer contains real Arabica coffee and Belgian chocolate. You can certainly taste both the coffee and the chocolate. Nice and smooth, and a past winner of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt. However, whilst not unpleasant this is not a beer I could drink a lot of. This would be one of the few beers which would go well with chocolate.

Rocky Head Pale Ale 6.5% - A complete contrast to the previous beer; amber in colour with oodles of New World hops evident in both the aroma and taste. A real stunner of a beer, and the brewery’s inaugural brew. Definitely a “desert island” beer.

Bernard Jantarovy Lezak 4.7% - This is Bernard’s Amber lager, which although very drinkable, wasn’t quite as good as was expecting. Dark amber in colour, with a caramel base and a very slight lactic taste present in the background. Nicely presented in an attractive swing-top bottle, it would be interesting to try it on draught.

Asahi Original Black 5.0% - Unlike Ashahi’s pale lager, which is brewed here under licence by Shepherd Neame,  Asahi black is imported direct from Japan. A deep reddish-black in colour, with a nice contrasting white foamy head, I remember drinking this beer by the Maß in Japan, last May. According to the label, it is brewed with the finest hops, roasted barley malt, rice and maize for a rich and smooth taste. I wouldn't disagree with that!

De Koninck Anno 1833 5.2% - Antwerp’s favourite home-grown beer. A top-fermented, dark amber coloured ale, with a pleasing hop-bitterness to counter the sweet juicy malt base. Good to taste this Belgian classic again.

Innis & Gunn Bourbon Stout 7.4% - A rich red stout, matured slowly over bourbon-infused oak. So says the label on the bottle, and this stout certainly has plenty of flavour, in particular some mellow vanilla notes from the oak. The red colour comes from the rye crystal malt used in the grist, whilst Whitbread Golding Variety hops provide the bitterness lurking in the background.

Pardubicky Porter - 19° Originalni Tmave Pivo 8% - A real winner from the Czech Republic in the form of this excellent, strong, dark porter, and a good one to finish up with on New Year’s Day. Rich, dark and full-bodied, with a well-balanced bitter-sweet taste. Dispenses once and for all with the myth that only Pilsners and lagers come out of the Czech lands.

I’ve still got quite a few beers left over, including six from the M&S range, plus five Cotleigh beers. Both of these selections were presents from work colleagues, and I intend to work my way through them slowly during the rest of January.  There are also several Meantime and Fuller’s beers remaining, along with a case of Brakspear’s Bitter. In addition, here are a few Belgian ales remaining as well, so I won’t run short of the strong stuff either.

So which were the outstanding beers, I hear you ask? By category, the following beers stood out:

Pilsner - Bernard Svetly Lezak 4.7%, followed by Pilsner Urquell 4.4%. I probably drank more of the latter than anything else, being fairly low in strength, but big on taste. It also complemented many of the foodstuffs I enjoyed over Christmas. In addition, several supermarkets were selling bottles at three for £5, which was too good a bargain to miss. The Bernard Svetly Lezak was, if anything, more enjoyable, being unpasteurised; it’s just a shame I only brought one bottle back with me from Prague.

Pale Ale - Fuller’s 1845 6.4% and Meantime India Pale Ale 7.4%. Both “big”  beers and both equally good in their own way. Excellent partners with the Christmas dinner, plus the cold meats and pickles on Boxing Day.

Porter - Fuller’s London Porter 5.4%, tops for all round enjoyment. Pardubicky Porter - 19° Originalni Tmave Pivo 8%, more of a treat for that special occasion, or the perfect nightcap. Fortunately, I’ve still got a bottle left.

Dark Ale - Asahi Original Black 5.0% and Westmalle Dubbel 7.0%. Like with the pale ales, both good in their own way, but with the Westmalle having the edge.

Strong Ale - St Bernardus Abt 12 Abbey Ale 10.0% and Sharp’s Quadrapel Ale 10%. Both at 10% abv, and both world class strong ales. As a special, limited edition though the Sharp’s Quadrapel was first past the post, but only by half a length.

All in all, some excellent beers which helped make Christmas that extra bit special.

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