Now that the countdown to Christmas is truly in full swing and the days are actually getting cold (I am on the South coast so it’s rarely properly cold!), I’ve been raiding the beer stocks for some comforting winter warmers. A coupler of days ago I re-discovered my supply of Summer Wine beers I bought a couple of months back and then criminally neglected. Of course, this time of year is just about right for a Calico Jack (8.6%ABV), the Imperial Caribbean Ginger Stout from Yorkshire. As black as the heart of Davy Jones with an aroma reminiscent of black treacle, spices and burning pirate ships, it was a pretty satisfying stout with yummy chocolate and zing. However, I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t really detect much ginger in the aroma or flavour but I don’t tend to go for subtle when it comes to ginger!
Since that was a work night, I was pretty well-behaved and saved the main beeryness for the weekend’s festivities. Today was a special day in the Bierebelle household. The day of the pre-Christmas warm-up dinner where the OH and I enjoy a big roast with absolutely no sprouts. It’s essential stomach preparation for the real thing and a treat for just the two of us. As a reminder of the meaning of Christmas, we decided to open a bottle of our Tsjeeses (10%ABV) Belgian X-Mas Ale Brewed with Spices by De Struise Brouwers. It’s billed as a ‘jolly blonde
winter ale….with hints of fruit, spices, refreshing herbs, and noble hops. OK it’s not that blonde, more a dark golden colour but it sure is beautiful with its delicate white lacing and treacley clovey, herbal aroma. As I’ve come to expect from the ‘Sturdy Brewers,’ the flavour packs in a sleigh-full of complex flavours and a body so bootylicious you can almost chew it. The warming fruit and alcohol is almost like mince pie filling with lively hoppy bitterness. There’s a tiny Christmas tree pine in the finish and a lot of burnt wood and molasses.
Never ones to be content with making an awesome ale to enjoy in its original state, Struise have also aged some of the Tsjeeses in different barrels to further enhance the wonderful flavours. I had the Tsjeeses Reserva (10%ABV), Vintage 2011 aged in Port barrels but there is also an Oak Aged and a Bourbon Barrel variation. This one had so much flavour sitting in there it was bursting to get out of the bottle (literally – my poor table cloth!). It had the same cloudy deep sunset amber colour with a finer smoother light head and a similar smell, albeit a little funky. There’s the same fullness in the mouthfeel but the complex flavours are richer and there’s cherry thrown in the mix with more of the woody aftertaste. The hops aren’t as obvious and the alcohol is warmer, or maybe it’s the lovely spices.
To round off the pre-Christmas Christmas beers, we opened our bottle of the lovely Bristol Beer Factory Bristletoe (4.3%ABV) which we picked up along with our 12 Stouts of Christmas at their recent open day. It’s spiced with coriander and ginger and it’s a lovely, warm, cloudy deep orange colour with a gingerbread and marmalade aroma. At a relatively low ABV (compared to the Tsjeeses!) it still packs in a massive amount of warming spices, orange peel, dark malts and a hella bitter but spicy lingering warmth. It kinda reminds me of a Christingle (who else made those in school?). It’s like one of those comforting woolly jumper ales you wish you could come back to on any cold evening.