OK so I am probably a little late with my Christmas post and I was wondering if I should bother at all. Then I remembered Christmas is just about the Bierebelle’s favourite time of the beer year. As a Northern lass living in the South of England, I do get a little bored by the prevalence of hoppy session beers. When it comes to ales, I am very much drawn towards the dark side. Porters, stouts and black lagers are this girl’s preferred brews. So Christmas brings a bounty of treats for me. My Christmas is usually split between the beautiful and historic city of York and beside the sea at Whitley Bay.
The North of England really is spoilt for choice when it comes to breweries and bars. Legend has it that York has more than one pub for each of the 365 days of the year. Whether or not that is true, I do know that there is an unusually high number of quality real ale pubs for such a small city. A good place to start is the York Tap (http://www.yorktap.com/), not just because of it’s convenient location in a beautifully restored tea room within the train station but also because of its 20 (yes 20) real ale pumps on the spectacular circular bar. Expect to see Thornbridge, Manchester Marble, Ilkley, Hardknott… and that doesn’t even account for the amazing selection of keg and bottled beers. The Tap is also one of the few places you can sample beers from the Czech brewers, Bernard. My favourite is Bernard Dark, a lager similar to (but I think nicer than) the dark Budvar. Lucky for York, the Tap also has a sister bar, Pivo, where you can find a similar offering in a slightly more intimate setting in the heart of the city.
Of course no visit to York is complete without sampling a pint or two from the only brewery within the city walls (http://www.york-brewery.co.uk/). They own a few pubs in the city but this Christmas I only had time to visit the Yorkshire Terrier on Stonegate where I made the most of being able to drink the amazing Centurion’s Ghost Ale straight from the cask. It’s a very drinkable dark ruby with a subtle fruity taste – just the thing for catching up with old friends. If you are ever interested in learning where Ghost Ale got it’s name, please feel free to ask any York native you meet. It’s a fascinating tale.
Also on Stonegate, there’s a new kid on the block. The bohemian little brother of the Evil Eye cocktail lounge, The House of Trembling Madness, has quickly captured the hearts of the discerning drinkers of York (http://www.tremblingmadness.co.uk/). This beautiful medieval bar above a rather well-stocked bottle shop is small but has an enviable selection of real ales alongside craft beer from the US and the continent. This is where I tasted my new favourite Christmas beer – Gourdon Carolus Christmas. If you only have one beer next Christmas (goodness knows why), this should be it. It crams every delicious taste and scent of Christmas into one dark, irresistible drink. It’s spicy, complex and rich with cloves, citrus, aniseed…this is what they probably kick back with at the North Pole on Boxing Day. And because they really do know how to spoil us at Trembling Madness, this wasn’t the only Christmas Special on tap. I could also highly recommend Gordon Christmas, Delerium Noel and La Chouffe Christmas. Don’t worry if you have too much of the strong stuff…there is a badger on the wall and he will wink at you when it’s time to go.
I would love to tell you more about my Christmas beer adventures and I’m sure I’ll get around to it soon. As I said, the North is blessed with many great breweries and bars. I still haven’t told you about Guy Fawkes, The Lamb and Lion, Brigantes, Koko… And there’s still the Briar Dene of Whitley Bay and the illustrious pubs of Newcastle. All in good time readers…