Jingle-Belles, Jingle-Belles….

As usual, the flights up North for Christmas really should have come with a health warning or possibly an in-flight detox on the return journey. There’s so much choice of real ales and craft beers in the many many pubs that every day feels like a beer festival. Having spent a day enjoying the fabulous pubs of Leeds, we caught the train to York where, there in the station, is one of the best pubs in Yorkshire, the York Tap. It was just my luck that after I had been trying to track it down for so long, the Tap were serving Marble Earl Grey IPA (6%ABV) brewed in collaboration with Emelisse. It looked pretty much like an IPA, smelled like an IPA, albeit an IPA that  had a little stroll in a floral meadow. The taste was initially typically hoppy and satisfyingly bitter, but there was this beautiful gentle bergamot and orange blossom drifting in and the tea itself glides in at the end and leaves a slightly over-brewed bitterness which totally compliments the hops. Worth tracking down!

No sign of the Apocalypse yet!

No sign of the Apocalypse yet!

Of course, one of our first stops is normally the bottle shop on Stonegate for hotel beers. However, we had procured some hotel-room refreshments already at the lovely Beer Ritz in Leeds. The beer we selected to toast the morning of the End of the World was To Øl Moccachino Messiah (7%ABV), a classic breakfast beer. It could have been mistaken for Coca Cola on its deep red-brown colour and  a fizz to almost match. If those four horsemen were to actually show up, I felt that this exceptional dark roasted espresso wake-up call was a good way to start the day. There was a slightly harsh bitterness at the end but the  lactose sugar lightened it up and smoothed over any sharpness.

Since being absolutely spoilt in Canada for delicious pumpkin ales, I’ve been missing them so much that I have brewed my own! Naturally I was delighted that when I visited the cozy Pivni to see that they had a Pumpkin PA (6.8%ABV) on which is the result of a collaboration between Tempest and Cromarty. It certainly looked like the real deal with a really lovely cloudy amber colour (maybe helped with the addition of carrot juice to the brew) with pumpkin and vanilla in the aroma. The first flavour to hit was the pumpkin and at first I didn’t really get much spice but once it had a chance to build up, there was a definite spicy cinnamon and ginger spice which warmed the throat along with cracked pink peppercorns. This was the proper smooth, thick pumpkin ale I had been missing so badly.

A ray of sunshine

A ray of sunshine

One of the biggest surprises of our trip came from Sunbeam Ales which I had never even heard of before, but that’s not surprising since they are the ‘smallest brewery in Leeds. Seriously, go to their website and look at the pictures. This guy makes 50 litre batches in a regular kitchen in a back-to-back terrace and has picked up several home-brew awards. No wonder if the Honey & Lavender (4.9%ABV) I tried was anything to go by. What a joy even to look at, such clear, golden, straw-coloured liquid sunshine with a beautiful honey aroma. The honey sweetness stood out and the lavender (from brewer Nigel Poustie’s garden!) was so delicately lovely. It made the bus out to Beer Ritz all the more worthwhile.

No trip to York would be complete without a visit to the Maltings, conveniently situated about a two minute walk from our hotel Of course if the river level had come up any further we may have had to swim to it. Despite the flooding of the cellar, we still managed to get ourselves a bowl of some of the finest chilli and chips in Yorkshire and more importantly, an exceptional Old Ale (8%ABV) courtesy of Kirkstall, with a little help from Doug of Colorado brewery Odell.who just happened to drop in on a trip to Leeds! I feel slightly bad mentioning this beer here – landlord Shaun had kept his cask for a year so it was pretty unique as far as I’m

You can't argue

You can’t argue

aware (although I’m still wondering if it was also available under the name Aquitane). What a beer!  It was complex, strong and fruity, almost like a beer version of a dark rum with a red wine aroma and a slight woodiness. .

For our last night in York, we cracked open the Hardknott Rhetoric Edition 1 (10.2%ABV) chilling out in the hotel and what a special yet ever so unusual beer that was. Beautiful beery dark gold with an exceptional aroma-sweet sweet treacle and star anise like a festive spiced bread. It was malty and sweet up front with an almost minty, kind of metallic cool freshness. The exotic star anise after taste had received a light sprinkling of cinnamon which made me recall a distant memory of some Chinese pork dish I can’t quite remember but certainly enjoyed.

Christmas is always a busy and sometimes stressful time of year, rushing around to get around all my friends and family. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have such a brilliant choice of pubs and bottle shops in and around the city I grew up in so I can relax with real treats in the time I have for myself. They don’t call it God’s Own Country for nowt!

Santa’s Little Helper

Sorry Santa this one's mine

Sorry Santa this one’s mine

It’s my last Sunday in Southampton before I go back to the beautiful North for Christmas. I’ve wrapped my presents, posted my cards and I’m almost packed – that calls for an extra special festive beer. Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper 2012 (10.9%ABV) sure looks the part in its elegant 750ml bottle, topped off with red foil like it wants to be fancy champagne. I didn’t know what to expect since, as is often the case for Mikkeller, there’s not a lot of information other than the ingredients on the label! It’s a Belgian, strong, dark ale and it’s a deep opaque black with almost a reddish hue. The aroma is malty and fruity with some of the alcohol coming though, think boozy Christmas cake. The taste is just on the right side of candy sweet with a juicy mix of plump raisins and cherries, orange, nutmeg and cinnamon smothered in smooth chocolate. The warm glow at the finish is reminiscent of a fine Venezuelan rum. Exceptional. I’ll definitely be looking to buy another for Christmas Day and I’ll be looking forward to next years incarnation! If you have a little more discipline than me, I imagine this would be lovely to age for a while.

 

Christmas time, mistletoe and…beer!

Captain Ginger Beerd

Captain Ginger Beerd

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

Favourite Tsjeesus? Baby Tsjeesus?

Favourite Tsjeesus? Baby Tsjeesus?

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.

Bristletoe and beer

Bristletoe and beer

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.