Hurry down the chimney for Xmas beers
Added: Tuesday, December 10th 2019
A review of beers for Christmas has to begin with Old Tom, the grand-daddy of barley wines. It’s not specifically aimed at the Christmas period but at 8.5 per cent and rich in vinous flavours, it’s the perfect fireside cheese-and-crackers beer.
It’s also celebrating 120 years since Frederic Robinson’s first brewed the beer in their Unicorn Brewery in Stockport. It was devised by the head brewer, Alfred Munton, who was in a powerful position in the brewery as he had married Emma Robinson, daughter of the founder.
Munton drew a sketch of a cat in his recipe book and called the beer Old Tom. This was not the name of the resident brewery cat at the time but the name and image probably paid tribute to all brewery cats that keep malt stores free from attacks by rats and mice.
The beer has been a fixture as both a draught and bottled beer ever since. Today, thanks to the success of Trooper, the beer brewed by Robinson’s for the heavy metal rock group Iron Maiden, Old Tom is now sold around the world. It’s brewed with pale, crystal and chocolate malts with a touch of caramel. Just one hop, the East Kent Golding, is used. The beer has a rich aroma and palate of port wine, chocolate and peppery hops.
It’s available on draught in Robinson’s pubs and in supermarkets throughout the North-west. It can be bought online from www.robinsonsbrewery.com.
Camden Brewery’s annual vintage is Beer 2019 and is an exceptional beer. The brewery dubs it an “Imperial Pilsner” and it weighs in at an impressive 11.5 per cent. It has been aged for six months in classic oak barriques used to make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. The hops used are Hallertau Blanc and Enigma. The beer has a dry palate with honeyed malt, oak notes, bitter hops and lemon fruit. The beer is exclusive to Waitrose and should be bought soon while stocks last.
Shepherd Neame never disappoints with its annual Christmas Ale (7 per cent). This year the beer comes in an attractive bright red presentation box. As always, the beer is flavoured with hops from the Kent fields close to the Faversham brewery. They combine with pale and crystal malts to deliver a fruity beer with notes of crystallised winter fruits and peppery hops. The beer is available in supermarkets in the South-east and can be bought on online from www.shepherdneame.co.uk.
The Chiltern Brewery near Aylesbury will celebrate 40 years of brewing in Buckinghamshire in 2020, a fact proudly displayed on the impressive bottle for its 4.6 per cent Christmas Ale, which comes with a handle and a swing-top stopper. Chiltern restored brewing to the county, which lost all its breweries, including the large Aylesbury Brewing Company (ABC), swallowed by the national group Allied Breweries.
Chiltern is run by the Jenkinson family who have just been granted planning permission to extend the brewery, based on a former farm, in order to boost production of their beers that include Chiltern Pale Ale, Beechwood Bitter and Bodgers barley wine. The bottle-conditioned Christmas beer is brewed with pale and crystal malts, with roasted barley, and is hopped with English varieties.
It’s worth visiting the brewery at Nash Lee Road, Terrick, Bucks, HP17 0TQ, where beers can be bought in bottle and polypins along with bread, cheese and other food stuffs from local producers. The beers are also available at Chiltern’s pub, the King’s Head in Market Square, Aylesbury. Christmas Ale can be ordered online at www.chilternbrewery.co.uk.
Marks & Spencer offer Southwold Christmas Ale (4.2 per cent), which the small print tells you is brewed, of course, by Adnams. I can’t understand why M&S persist with this out-dated “own label” marketing and would surely sell more bottles if the label proclaimed the name of the brewery. The luscious, fruity beer is brewed with pale malt and roasted rye and is hopped with English varieties.
Morissons has three Christmas beers: Dartmoor Brewery’s Dragon’s Breath (4.4 per cent), brewed with barley malt, treacle, caramel and liquorice, with English hops. Wychwood Brewery, best known for its Hobgoblin beers, has Black Wych for Christmas. It’s described as a porter but apart from “dark malt” the label is disappointingly short on ingredients. Wye Valley in Herefordshire does a better job with Eskimo’s Kiss (4.4 per cent) with a list that includes Maris Otter Extra Pale malt, Munich, amber and crystal malts, with Olicana, a new hop variety grown in the county that delivers strong notes of mango and passion fruit.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Rosey Nosey from Bateman’s in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire. This fabulously rich and fruity beer (4.9 per cent) is brewed with pale, crystal and chocolate malts and is hopped with English Challenger and Goldings. It has a rich aroma and palate of raisins, sultanas, biscuit malt and spicy and peppery hops. It’s on draught in Bateman’s pubs in Lincolnshire and surrounding counties and in bottle from Lincs branches of the Co-op. It can be bought online from www.batemans.co.uk.