Beer Background
Beer Hall at Hawkshead Brewery #2

Yule tide over with great festive beers

Added: Wednesday, December 12th 2012

One of the exciting developments in the world of beer is the growing understanding that our national drink is as good a companion at the dining table as wine. Many pubs now hold regular beer-and-food matching events, while restaurants – such as Quilon in London (see post below) – have beer as well as wine lists.

With Christmas fast approaching, it’s a good time to put my theory to the test. Thanks to online shopping, it’s easy to order specialist beers that will go well with hearty and robust meals – and they may impress your guests and encourage them to seek out well-crafted beers in the New Year.

The Real Beer Box company specialises in delivering beer and it has a Christmas Box with an excellent range of ales brewed for the season. For £38 you get two each of the following:

Bristletoe (4.3%), which is spiced with coriander and ginger; Dorothy Goodbody’s Christmas Ale (6%), a strong ruby ale that’s especially good with Christmas pudding; Ember (5.2%), made with dark roasted malts and Cascade and First Gold hops; Otley O Ho Ho (5%), a full-bodied ruby beer made with the addition of blueberries; Dasher the Flasher (4.5%), a complex, flavoursome red ale; and Red Nose Reinbeer (4.5%), a copper-coloured beer with toffee, chocolate and nut flavours from well-roasted malts.

The choice shows that the modern generation of craft brewers share a strong sense of humour as well producing fine beers.

Beers of Europe Christmas Box, 12 beers, £26.99, includes Bateman's Rosey Nosey, Cotleigh Red Nose Reinbeer, Harviestoun Mr Snoballs, Hogs Back Advent Ale, Hook Norton Twelve Days, Mighty Hop Christmas Cracker, Panther Festive Panther, Ridgeway Bad Elf, Shepherd Neame Rudolph's Reward, Stoud Ding Dong, Wagtail Jumping Jericho and Woods Christmas Cracker.


Shepherd Neame is England’s oldest brewery, founded in 1698 in Faversham, Kent. It’s still run by the Neame family, is immensely successful, draws its hops from the surrounding fields, and celebrates Yuletide with a special Christmas Ale (image above). This year, the amber coloured beer is 7% alcohol and is brewed with crystallised fruits as well as malts and hops. It’s rich, complex and a fine companion for desserts.

The brewery has also launched two bottled beers of historic significance. Brewer Stewart Main discovered some old brewing books from the 19th century that contained recipes for Double Stout and India Pale Ale. Stuart was keen to reproduce them but there was a problem: the recipes were written in code. This was done to stop rival brewers stealing Shepherd Neame’s recipes. With the help of John Owen, the brewery’s archivist, the codes were broken, the ingredients were listed and Stewart was able to brew the beers.

Double Stout is 5.2%, is jet black, and has luscious aromas and flavours of coffee, chocolate and liquorice from the use of dark, roasted malts. The IPA, 6.1%, is a fascinating example of the pale beers brewed for export to India in the 19th century to refresh soldiers and civil servants stationed there. It’s a pale gold colour and has a big hop aroma with tangy orange and lemon fruit in the mouth. It’s wonderfully refreshing and it makes an excellent companion at the table for cheese.

All three beers are available in bottle. Twelve bottles of Christmas Beer cost £25, while a case of Double Stout in £30 and IPA is £35.

This Saturday, 15 December, the Chiltern Brewery in Terrick, Buckinghamshire, between Aylesbury and Wendover, will stage a Hamper Day between 10am and 5pm. Visitors can choose their own beers from the Chiltern range and can also fill their hampers with cheese, pies, chutneys and fruit wines made by local producers.

The brewery’s 300s Old Ale and Bodgers Barley Wine would be my choice for superb beers to enjoy during the holiday period. And a visit to the brewery shop will enable you to also pick up a case of the special Anniversary Amber Ale. I’ve mentioned this beer before but, as I was involved in drawing up the recipe and starting “the mash” back in August, I will bang the drum again.

The beer was brewed to celebrate the 40th annual edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide. Brewer Tom Jenkinson has used all English ingredients, including the finest Maris Otter malting barley, with crystal malt, wheat and oats. The complex hop recipe includes Fuggles, Goldings, Pioneer and Whitbread Goldings Variety.

Fuggles and Goldings have been grown since the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. Whitbread Goldings were phased out in the 1970s but were brought back to life in the 1990s. Pioneer is an example of the new breed of “hedgerow hops” that grow to only half the height of traditional varieties – 12 feet instead of 24 feet. As a result they are easier to pick and are less prone to attack by pests and disease.

The beer is deep, complex and makes both good drinking and a brilliant addition to the dining table. It contains live yeast and will age and mature for several years. I would recommend sampling some while they’re young and then laying some bottles down. A case of five bottles plus a commemorative glass costs £24.95 from the shop of £34.95 if delivered:


Xmas Ale