THE FESTIVE season is a time enjoyed by many people – including pub and club landlords and real ale lovers.
For us – as well as the wide selection of different beers we have come to know and love thanks to the increase in popularity of ales in the last few years – Christmastime also brings with it a few extra surprises and things to look forward to – seasonal brews.
Some people change the decor in their homes to reflect and embrace the winter months, we all change our wardrobes – ditch the shorts and t-shirts for jumpers and big coats – breweries do pretty much the same thing with their barrels and landlords with their pumps.
As a rule you tend to see less lighter beers and IPAs and more chestnut to dark ones, often with stronger alcohol by volumes (ABVs). Whether these actually ‘keep out the cold’ or ‘make us feel warmer’ is probably yet to be proved but testing out those theories is enjoyable all the same.
And, you will be pleased to hear, the Midlands plays its part in making this time of year more mouth-watering than most for beer connoisseurs.
You will no doubt be pleased to hear – if you indulged this time last year – that Birmingham’s Two Towers brewery has brought back Sleighed. This 5% ABV dark rich porter, billed as having hints of Christmas pudding, pays tribute to the Black Country’s Noddy Holder and Slade who are renowned for their festive hit ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’.
Sadlers Brewery in Lye has two festive ales – amber ale Reindeer which is also 5% and Winter Spice at 4.7%.
The brewers recommend Reindeer goes well with turkey, in gravy and with steamed puddings (quite fitting), while Winter Spice bucks the trend of the darker brews and is a Pacific pale ale brewed with Saison yeast for a ‘subtle spiced finish’.
Down the road at Wychwood in Oxfordshire – best-known for Hobgoblin which comes into its own at Halloween – brewers have reproduced their Bah Humbug. This brew, also at 5%, is a fantastic festive ale. It uses cinnamon, synonymous with Christmas, in its flavours and, although you may see this on draught while you are out and about, it is readily available in bottles – at Aldi, B&M Bargains and other stores.
Brakspear (also brewed at the Wychwood brewery) has a warming copper seasonal ale at 4% and the Hook Norton Brewery, also in the Cotswolds (down the road from Wychwood), has its own brew – Twelve Days. This dark brown beer is slightly stronger at 5.5%.
Church End has always produced some good ales and it also excels during the festive season.
Currently, among the ales available from this Nuneaton brewery are the pale Stocking Filler at 4.3%, the nut brown Silent Night at 4.5% and, for the adventurous, the ‘dark gold and tangy bitter’ Santa’s Blotto at 5%.
But these are just a few of the hundreds of Christmassy ales available at pubs, clubs and from off licences and shops this festive season. The best thing to do is to get out there and explore – you will not be disappointed.
And if you wish to try something different, you could always cast your net a little further. Over the last few years, particularly with the Frankfurt Christmas Market being held in Birmingham, wheat beer has come to the forefront as another tipple to be drank at this time of year. As well as numerous wheat beers, the Germans also create their own Christmas brews.
Aldi, for example, stock their own Weihnachtsbier (Christmas beer) which is well worth a try.
And it does not stop at yourself enjoying ales during the festive season at pubs and in bottles.
A few Crimbo ales could provide perfect stocking fillers or, as a quirky alternative, if you know a real ale lover, you could buy them a ticket to a brewery tour so they can discover more about the brewing process and history of the ales.
I, for a milestone birthday this year, took a few friends and a couple of tents down to the Cotswolds for two brewery tours which (as you would expect) provided a most enjoyable weekend.
And if you do indulge in real ales over the festive season – whether Christmas ales or others – it is well worth joining CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale.
You could join yourself as a Christmas treat, get someone to give you annual membership as a pressie or even make it a different new year’s resolution to the usual ones, such as eating healthier or getting fit.
Annual membership is as little as £24 and includes £20 worth of Wetherspoons vouchers (50p off a pint spread throughout the year), 12 monthly What’s Brewing newspapers, four quarterly Beer magazines and discounts to beer festivals, along with many other benefits. You will also be helping with (as the name suggests) the campaign to get real ale more widely available and be helping save pubs along the way (all part of the campaign).
Visit www.camra.org.uk for more.