Thursday, 31 January 2013

                           Fresh As ?
Three U.S. Craft Beers In Cans Reviewed:
New Belgium - Ranger India Pale Ale 6.5%
Flying Dog - Snake Dog IPA 7.1%
Oskar Blues Brewery - Dale's Pale Ale 6.5%

"Our original fear was that people would think that it (craft beer in a can) was a gimmick. We knew it wasn't but how do we convince them? We needed to put the beer in front of them and ... get them to try it." - Dale Katechis, founder of Oskar Blues Brewery

January 24th 1935 is a landmark day in beer history.
On that day the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger's Finest Beer and Krueger's Cream Ale to it's customers in Richmond, Virginia, the first time beer in cans had been produced and sold. The concept caught on very quickly and other breweries soon saw the potential of canning their own beer. In fact by the end of 1935 more than 200 million cans of beer had been made and sold in the US alone. In the UK the Felinfoel Brewery near Llanelli in Wales, was also quick to see the advantages with a nine ounce can of it's India Pale Ale being produced in December 1935.
 Canning food itself goes back to 1806 when Frenchman Nicolas Appert first exhibited this method of preservation in order to win a 12,000 franc prize offered by the French military.The main advantages of canned beer initially, aside of increased longevity, were that the consumer did not have to pay a deposit on the bottle, and retailers found them easier to stack and therefore display.
Moving forward in time beer in cans, particularly in the UK, has suffered a bit of a bad press. I am old enough to remeber my Father and Uncles opening the huge drum of a flat, malty caramel beer that was Watneys Party Seven at family parties in the 1970s. Couple that with the image of the old drunk in the park supping from his can of Tennant's Super and the 'tinny' flavour experienced when drinking poor quality beer direct from the can, the curse of the summer barbecue when you've forgotten to bring your own and the glassware has gone AWOL, you can see why it isn't particularly viewed with affection.
I was very much a sceptic when it came to buying and tasting 'craft beer in a can' but having tasted, and reviewed such beers as Brookly Brewery's Summer Ale, Butternuts Beer and Ale's Moo Thunder Stout and Maui Brewing Company's La Perouse White and Coconut Porter, I am most definitely now a convert.
Late last year my good friend and fellow beery blogger Matt Curtis came back from visiting his Father in Fort Collins, Colorado  (which I urge you to read about here if you haven't) with two of the three cans I'm drinking here (the Ranger and the Dale's) as he had been converted long before I had even considered drinking beer in tinned form ever again. These are not yet available in the UK, however with the current 'beer boom' we are experiencing I hope it won't be too long before they are. Incidentally the Flying Dog was picked up at Utobeer in Borough Market.
The advantages of canned beer to todays beer geek/connoisseur/afficionado/enthusiast or whatever you want to call yourself, is that it keeps the beer beautifully contained in it's own light and air free environment. Add to that its lightness and robust superiority to bottles, and that aluminium is easier to recycle than glass then we could be seeing more and more tins of your favourite tipple in the near future. The biggest downside is the initial cost involved in setting up a canning facility, but if this can be overcome then perhaps we'll all be drinking brewery-fresh 'craft' beer as a matter of course within a few years.
Let's crack on and get drinking.

New Belgium Brewing Company - Ranger India Pale Ale 6.5%
Opened in 1991 following founder Jeff Lebesch's desire to take his home bewing passion to the next level, New Belgium Brewing Company is possibly most well known for its Fat Tire beer and associated Tour de Fat cycle event. Situated in northeast Fort Collins, it's limited release experimental  'Lips Of Faith' series of beers are much sought-after.
Ranger IPA was first brewed in February 2010 and has an abundance of Cascade,Chinook and Simcoe hops, with Cascade added again at the dry-hopping stage. With a bitterness of 70 IBUs the brewery recommends pairing it with goats cheese, grilled peaches and honey-glazed grilled chicken or chipotle chocolate-dipped waffles. I will be having it on its own however.
Pouring a dark amber with a big fluffy white head, a wave of honeyed vanilla cream overlayed with pine and grapefruit hits you full in the nose. Over the tongue I was really expecting a sharp hop bitterness but this is far more subtle, and rather clever. Sure there's an initial sharp hit of bitter pine but this mellows quickly into some light honey-comb, possibly milk-chocolate covered but only for an instant. This flows into some fruity caramel with maybe some watermelon before back comes that pine and grapefruit that I expected to be totally overwhelming, drying to an apple-peel and grape finish before, wait for it ... here come that tongue-sucking bitter pine. This is a really delicious and delicate beer in many ways, for despite its undeniable bitter hoppiness there's some wonderful nuances that set it apart from the usual palate-wrecking hop monsters. Like I said, clever.
Flying Dog Brewery - Snake Dog India Pale Ale 7.1%
Aspen was founded as a mining camp during the 'Colorado Silver Boom' of the 1880s but is now more famous as a ski resort and the home of the world renowned Aspen Music Festival and School. The author and Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson settled there, working out of a hotel for a time, and in 1990 it is where George Stranahan set up his Flying Dog Brewpub. With British artist and Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman designing the beer labels, Flying Dog has become one of the most recognised breweries outside of the United States. Obviously having a fantastic label on your can or bottle doesn't guarantee fantastic beer on the inside, but Flying Dog consistently deliver on all fronts.
The Snake Dog IPA is available year round and brewed with Warrior and Columbus hops to impart a smooth, earthy citrus bitterness.  I'm sure many of you have had this beer in its bottled form many times, however finding it in the can gave me a little touch of giddiness, and I was anxious to see if sealing this fine liquid in a capsule of aluminium made an already great beer even better.
A little lively out of the can, it pours a beautiful sunset gold with a half-fingers-worth of nicely carbonated beige head. Sharp citric orange and grapefruit aromas, flushed with mango and a hint of lemon balm waft invitingly from the glass. An initial light tingling on the tongue gives way to an explosion of grapefruit, pine and lemon bitterness with a flash of white pepper, clashing then combining with a honey caramel earthiness, giving your palate a grating, stinging, purging workout leaving it raw and alive. Some gorgeously watery watermelon that comes washing through soothing and caressing, licking at those hop-inflicted wounds leaving a finish of burnt sugar and charred pineapple that leaves you licking your lips, kidding your brain into thinking that you've just had a wonderful dessert.
This really is good. Really good. It hides its 7.1% abv alcohol by making you enjoy the flavoursome twists and turns that you forget its there. Only after finishing the glass and basking in the afterglow of this heady hop-hit of a beer do you really appreciate its strength. The question that you need me to answer though is: Does this beer benefit from being canned? I'd have to answer yes, yes, oh yes indeed!

Oskar Blues Brewery - Dale's Pale Ale 6.5%
Oskar Blues Bar and Grill opened in Lyons, Colorado, often referred to as the 'Gateway to the Rockies' in 1997 serving Cajun, Creole and Southern-style comfort foods alongside its own beer. Dale Katechis, owner, founder and another keen home brewer turned who turned his hobby into his job, recalls that when he first had the idea of putting the beer he first brewed whilst still at college, Dale's Pale Ale, into cans in 2002 that "It was too far-fetched for anyone to believe, even in our industry ... some people laughed it off". Now, more than ten years later, they can't make enough of the stuff and it continues to sell out every summer.
Using Northern Brewer hops for bittering, Cascade and Columbus for flavour, and the addition of Centennial at the dr-hopping stage for aroma, Dale's Pale Ale is un-arguably the company's flagship beer. A 'hearty' (their word, not mine) 6.5% abv and 65 IBUs it includes 'hefty' amounts of European malts, 'squeezing a big brew into a little can ... because' they feel 'fun in the great outdoors calls for a great beer'. I'll be drinking it indoors today but I have to agree with the sentiment.
Pouring the colour of "Golden Shred" marmalade, and a little cloudy too, this beer seems to radiate an amber glow from beneath its thin off-white head. Hints of orange blossom and lemon peel wax and wane, fighting for supremacy with a grassy soapiness in the aroma before pine and grapefruit assert themselves, putting an end to such frivolity. Rolling across the tongue, carpeting it with a thick orange marmalade this beer then springs and dances all over the palate sprinkly a fine dust of malted-milk biscuit crumbs in a random and delightful way. Pine, bitter pink grapefruit and lemon peel cut through with a stinging dryness, grabbing, clawing and scraping all the way to the back of the throat and beyond leaving behind a lemon and honey cough drop finish, filling and coating the whole mouth like a viscous fog.
This is an extraordinarily good beer, fresh, alive and with enough vibrancy to give any confirmed hop-head an enormous grin from ear to ear. At times playful and at others palate-wreckingly serious this beer is a sheer delight, and although it was the first 'craft beer' to be put into tins it has set an exceedingly high standard showing beyond a doubt that canned beer is most definitely a way of preserving both freshness and flavour that a bottle just can't quite match.
These are three exceptional cans of beer, and maybe I'm just saying this because I'm a hop-craving lip-smacking bitterness junkie but I genuinely believe that I've had these beers as near to perfection as I could reasonably expect to get on this side of the Atlantic. I stated earlier in this post that I am already a can convert and while I could lament the absence of these particular beers here in the UK that isn't really the point of this post. I wanted to take three beers, all of which have been recommended to me at one point or another by beery friends and acquaintances whose opinions I value, and see if I could taste a degree of 'freshness' that might have been retained due to this particualr method of packaging. The 'freshness' I'm referring to means, to me specifically, a degree of subtlety, nuance and balance to the flavours, being able to pick out hints and explore depths of taste and character that may not be so apparent in a beer that is not so well preserved. These three exhibit all of the qualities that I was hoping to find in my personal 'quest for fresh', and I would encourage you to give good canned beer a go if you haven't already done so.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Billericay Brewing Co. - Mayflower Gold 6.5%

"Can I have some beer?" was apparently the first thing said by Samoset, a Native American, on the first encounter with the Pilgrim Fathers. What's more, it was said in perfect English.

In addition to this, it is said that the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock due to a shortage of beer. They'd planned to sail further south but, as the beer had run out, they landed in order to brew more. It must be remembered of course that beer was a much safer to drink than water so was by far the better option.

The Pilgrim Fathers, or Pilgrims as they are more commonly known in the US, were the early settlers in the Plymouth Colony in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, escaping the growing religious liberalism in Europe. You can read more about them here should you wish.

A meeting of these pioneers is said to have taken place in the Chantry House in Billericay, Essex prior to their sailing, and indeed four local people were on board. Their connection is remembered in the names of many Billericay businesses, Mayflower school and even the town sign has the Mayflower on it.

It has also been remembered in the name of inaugural beer by the Billericay Brewing Company.

The Billericay Brewing Company was set up and started brewing in 2012 by semi-retired school teacher Trevor Jeffery. His father was a keen home brewer and wine maker, but it was a brewery experience day at Brentwood Brewing Company that was a particular inspiration. A one day brewing course with Nigel Sadler at Learn2brew and avid reading of Ted Bruning's The Microbrewers Handbook helped him decide that this was the path he wanted to follow.

Mayflower Gold was brewed with the help of Canadian Andy Skene of Pitfield's Dominion Brewery Company and is an American Style Pale Ale. The Pilgrim Fathers connection is also here in the masses of Pilgrim hops used for bittering. Willamette was added to the last 10 minutes of the boil to add some fruity and floral notes, with Cascade, imparting it's distinctive grapefruit and citrus aromas, added in the dry-hopping stage. Nottingham ale yeast, with pale malt and caramalt making up the rest of the dry ingredients, with the 1000 half-champagne bottles being corked and caged after a 7 day fermentation.

Pouring a medium amber with a fluffy carbonated white head, the aroma has touches of spicy grapefruit, tangerine and lemon. This is a beer that lets you know it has arrived in the mouth as it explodes like a big tangerine and honey cough drop, dripping some gooey lemon, grapefruit and spicy yeast infused marmalade liberally around. There's a slight feeling that you've swallowed a whole satsuma, skin and all, that follows but this isn't unpleasant in any way. The aftertaste has sharp pithy caramel-citrus that lasts for a long time, rather like finishing an orange spongue pudding.Truly delicious.

This is a fantastic first offering from a new brewery. Rather than go for a bland brown bitter, Trevor has made a tasty 6.5% pale ale incorporating a (albeit in name only) nod to Billericay's history with the use of the Pilgrim hop. The beer is available around Billericay in Cellars Off-Licence, the Rajmoni restaurant in Brentwood, and at the Ale House in Chelmsford. It can even be tasted whilst getting your hair cut on a Tuesday evening at The Hair Company in Brentwood. It will also be available on cask at the Chelmsford Winter Beer And Cider Festival 2013.

New premises have been found and, pending the necessary permissions, a beer shop will also feature.
I wish Trevor every success in this venture and if you can get this beer I urge you to try it. I'm looking forward to much more from the Billericay Brewing Company as we head into 2013.
I'll leave you with a picture of Trevor and his beer.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Six Of The Best ?
Some Classic British Ales Revisited

"What two ideas are more inseperable than beer and Britannia?" - Sydney Smith

British Beer. Brown, warm and flat. This was apparently once the view of our American cousins, possibly due to the ice-cold fizziness of their adjunct laden pseudo-pilsners. Now however, both countries are producing wonderful, diverse and boundary-pushing brews. You only have to read some of my blog entries and particularly those of those on my 'Blog List' to the right hand side of the page to see that this is indeed correct.
It's a fascinating and exciting time to be drinking beer. New breweries, pubs and bars are opening all the time offering more choice and varieties than any of us can remember in our lifetimes. Twitter, facebook and various smartphone applications enable us to find out when and where new beers are released, and improved distribution means that some of the best are obtainable by more of us.
It doesn't seem that long ago that discovering such beers as Nethergate Old Growler and Hopback Summer Lightning were things that were shared excitedly amongst my beer-loving friends.
With so much choice it's sometimes easy to bypass some beers that were once favourites. Christmas at work means 'Secret Santa' and even though I may be the easiest person to buy for; "It's beer again. Fantastic!" , I have been given the opportunity, via the medium of a classic ales gift box from the Martson's stable, to revisit some beers that I haven't had for some time.
Enough of the nostalgia, lets get drinking those beers.

Brakspear Brewing Company - Brakspear Bitter 3.4%
Once brewed in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, production moved to the Wychwood Brewery after their redevelopment in 2002. Brewed using the 'double-drop' fermentation process where the partly fermented beer is moved to a second, lower fermentation vessel to finish. This leaves the fermented sediment from the first brew behind ensuring a 'cleaner' beer and a cleaner yeast crop for the next fermentation.
It pours an amber-brown colour with a thin off-white head. The aroma has lots of yeast bread dough and is rather inviting. The initial bitterness on the tongue is replaced with a wash of caramel and maybe the merest hint of butterscotch, however the bitterness crashes back in quickly bringing a touch of raisin and some meatiness too. The finish is bitter and dry with a little fruity caramel in there for good measure.
This beer is refreshingly bitter, you may have picked up on that from the description, and lightly sweet. It's not bold or brash but that's the point, it's not trying to be however there's enough flavour here to keep you happy to the bottom of the glass. It's a satisfactory session bitter, and sometimes that's just what you need.

Marston's Brewery - E P A English Pale Ale 3.6%
Marston's PLC is in control of five 'traditional' breweries. If you don't know which they are then it's this one (its own in Burton On Trent) and beweries all the beers here which encompass this box are brewed. Its most famous beer is of course Pedigree, slightly sulphurous, fruity and malty, brewed in the 'Burton Union' oak casks. I fondly remember the 'Head Brewers Choice' range of ales from the nineties where a new and interesting beer was introduced seemingly each month, totalling forty-four different beers in all.
It is with these memories of Marston's beers that I take the bottle out of the box to find to my horror that it's in clear class. Not the best start, however as it has been kept in the dark I surmise, then it shouldn't affect the flavour. It pours a medium amber with a light, fluffy white head and there's not much of an aroma here, possibly some malty citrus but it's very slight. This is confirmed with a wash of watery malty citrus, followed up by ... well nothing really. The dry bitter finish reminds me of nothing better than a flat bitter shandy. The abv might be slightly higher than the previous beer but most of its flavour appears to have gone AWOL. More of an English Pale Imitation than an English Pale Ale sadly.
Banks's - Banks's Bitter 3.8%
Brewed at the Park Brewery in Wolverhampton, Banks & Co. started as a firm of maltsters in 1840, before moving into brewing in 1874. The bitter is billed as an 'easy drinking beer' although I've yet to see the session beer that claims to be difficult and challenging (although I'm sure Brewdog are working on it). It's quite a while since I've drunk this so I'm anxious for a sip.
It pours a very inviting darker gold/copper with a 'proper' bitter maliness, bold and bready, this is exactly as I remember it. The taste has a raisin and caramel bitterness, dry and cutting, scrubbing the tongue clean. The yeasty malt loaf comes through next leaving pleasingly lightly burnt toast finish.
Of the three beers I've had so far, this is probably the closest to being called a classic, if only for it's flavour. This is the taste I associate with an English Bitter and is a good example of the style.
Jennings - Cocker Hoop 4.2%
Founded in the village of Lorton on the edge of the Lake District in 1828, the brewery moved to Cockermouth in 1874. Acquired by Marston's PLC in 2005 the brewery claims that pure Lakeland water is still used for brewing, possibly in the same way that Coors uses pure Rocky Mountain spring water.
Cockerhoop is brewed using Styrian Golding hops, and derives the name from both its location on the banks of the River Cocker and Cock-a-Hoop the 'old custom' (their words) of removing the cock (or spigot) from a barrel and resting it on the hoop of a cask before a 'drinking bout'. No mention of the cockerel shown on the bottle but I suppose that imagery was too good to resist.
Pouring a light copper colour, not quite the golden suggested on the bottle, it has fluffy off-white head with a fruity cookie-dough aroma. A hint of bramble comes through which has a slightly metallic edge, but that isn't enough to kill the fruitiness. This is a beer that rewards a big gulp as some honey notes are revealed. The finish is dry and a little sweet, and I'm actually enjoying this more than I expected. It may not be the greatest beer in the world but it's very drinkable and possibly my favourite Jennings beer.
Ringwood Brewery - Fortyniner 4.9%
I first encountered Ringwood Brewery beers in the cathedral city of Winchester visiting my good friend and future best man, Mike Ratcliffe during his employment at King Alfreds College. There was a certain hotel bar, whose name escapes me, opposite the bus station that carried beers from Ringwood and Flowerpots, and rather good they were too, as were the kebabs nearby from what I recall. Good times.
A relatively new brewery, founded in 1978, with Fortyniner being one of its first brews. It was purchsed by Marstons in 2007 for £19.2 million, but production and the beer range so far remains unchanged.
It pours a dark amber with a thin white head and has a delicious malty toffee apple aroma. There's some caramel, fudge and toffee apple here too, although they're quite lightly accentuated in this pale beer. The finish is sweet and more-ish, and as delightful to drink as any in their range.
This is a genuinely good beer and it's nice to see it included here.
Wychwood Brewery - Hobgoblin 5.2%
This is the last beer in the box, and the highest in alcohol. It's also a beer that has some fond memories for me. When I first started seeing my future wife she was studying to be a teacher in Bath, and this meant frequent trips to the ex-county of Avon. One of the pubs we visted regularly, partly on account of its locality to her accomodation and partly as it kept its beer well and had decent guest beers, was the Hobgoblin.
Brewed with chocolate and crystal malt, and Styrian, Goldings and Fuggles hops, this is Wychwoods flagship beer. Sadly reduced in strength to 4.5% in the cask from the beer I used to drink in Bath, the bottle still packs a healthy 5.2% punch.
Pouring a deep ruby red with a medium beige head, there's some pleasing muddy toffee and vine fruit notes in the aroma. Coffee, raisin, toffee caramel and perhaps the mention of a little cabernet grape in the taste. The finish is fruity and rich, it's certainly not a beer you'd drink a lot of but it really is rather good.
I've rather enjoyed my diversion into the ghost of beers past. Of course, some or most of the beers in this selection don't really compare to the big flavoursome monsters that are being produced all over the country and all over the world right now, but what they do provide is, to me anyway, just as essential. The memories that they evoke of a time when cask beer in the UK was the only real alternative to bland fizzy lager are absolutely priceless. I formed many friendships over good, tasty beer many of which I still have, and was one of the things that my wife and I found we had in common at the pubs we both drank at. I'd like to thank my 'Secret Santa' (LJ) for buying me these beers. Cheers.



Sunday, 6 January 2013

Christmas 2012
Words And Pictures

So 2012 has been and gone. The world didn't end (did you really think it would?), which is just as well as I would have missed out on a wonderful Christmastime. I had a bit of a blast to be honest. It was a fantastic time spent with family and friends, and my children called it 'The Best Christmas Ever' which is something I'm sure every parent wants to hear.
This is, as I'm sure (hope) you're aware, a beer blog and if you follow me on twitter or facebook then you may have noticed that I've had a bit of fun putting the beers I've been drinking in suitably festive surroundings. Even though most weren't seasonal beers and even though it's a little self-indulgent I thought I'd put them all in one place in one post (hopefully) as a record as much for me as anyone else. I'll be using my Untappd notes to help me along.
Let's get cracking:
Brouwerij De Ranke - Pere Noel 7%
This was the first beer I had for the #SeasonsTweetings online event organised by @Filrd which was the day before the #CAMRGB #XmasTweetings event (that was some weekend!). This seasonal favourite has a beautiful balance of sweet malt and peppery hoppiness with a hint of apricot for good measure. Great depth of flavour makes this a sure-fire winner.
Inveralmond - Santas Swallie 4.3%
Actually thinking about it this may have been first for #SeasonsTweetings, but it doesn't much matter. Golden and spicy with a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg. An easy-drinking beer with suitably festive flavours.
 Anchor Brewing Company - Our Special Ale 2012 (Christmas Ale) 5.5%

This was a bit of a stunner. I was slightly disappointed by the 2011 edition (the recipe changes slightly every year in case you're wondering) but this was a real return to form. Hoppy, slightly smoky, sweet pine, cinnamon, nutmeg, hint of ginger heat and some milky chocolate to finish. This is some beer.
Brouwerij Slaapmutske - Slaapmutske Christmas 7.4%
This is a beautifully deep Christmas-cake fruity deliciously rich Belgian Ale. Sweet, but not cloying, this is a dangerously drinkable beer with a touch of class.
 Nogne O - Underlig Jul 6.5%

Deep and spicy with typical Christmas flavours of nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and a little star anise, this is beer is based on the Norwegian drink 'glogg' a mulled wine. I found this a bit too sickly sweetly spiced for me and slightly disappointing. This was my final beer for the night. Five was enough for me.
Weltenburger Kloster - Winter-Traum 5.2%
This, the first of two German beers in a row, is a wonderfully deep rich fruity caramel Marzen. The biting sweet finish lingers awhile like sugar-plums on the tongue. Winter-traum translates as winter dream and it's very apt. Delightful.
 Leikeim - Wintertraum 5.4%
The second 'Wintertraum' in a row, but slightly less dreamy than its predecessor. There's still plenty to enjoy however with some fruity, smooth honey and malty flavours combining rather nicely in this drinkable Dortmunder/Helles. A snappy then mellow finish rounds it off nicely.
 Tiny Rebel Brewing Co - Hot Box (Indian Smoked Ale) 5.7%
As you can see from the (admittedly deliberately inserted) props this actually was a post-present-wrapping treat. Present wrapping is a job I hate, however this is a beer I absolutely love. Smoky, sharp with sweet milk chocolate and pine, all 'wrapped up' with an arid dryness. Tiny Rebel were my Brewery of 2012 for my Golden Pint Awards that I put up on twitter and as far as I'm concerned they've yet to put a foot wrong. If you see their beer, buy it.
 Brewdog - Cocoa Psycho 10%
My second Christmas Eve-eve beer, I opened this just before midnight on the 23rd December. This was part of Brewdog's latest Prototype series and by far the best of the four in my opinion. Initial dusty cocoa powder becomes a big boozy drinking chocolate beer with a dry dark chocolate finish. What's not to like? It was Christmas-time after all.
 Tiny Rebel Brewing Co - Chocoholic 6.8%
My first beer of Christmas Eve, and what a cracker to start off with. Lots of dark Belgian chocolate, a little macchiato and  a dry sweet malty finish with the merest hint of the alcohol within. I've read some mixed reviews of this beer but as chocolate Stouts go it's a big hit with me.
 Petedrinks - #AG4 Double Trouble 8.8%

This is a beer that I was lucky enough to have a acquired on the last stop of the night on the #CAMRGB #XmasTwissup Secret Santa/Pass The Parcel/Silent Night-athon at the Euston Tap . It is a dark double IPA brewed by the excellent @petedrinks Pete Favelle and you can read how it was brewed on his blog right here. He states at the end that he'd be keeping some back for Christmas, so if it was good enough for him then it was good enough for me. Lots of boozy prune and fig in the aroma gave way to chocolate, more alcoholic fig and a hint of liquorice in the taste. It really was a stunning beer and I'd love to try more of his homebrew.
 St Peters - Christmas Ale 7.0%
This Christmas Ale from Suffolk based brewery St Peters was a bit of a novelty, and one I was anxious to track down. Only available from the brewery directly or a limited local release I managed to pick up a bottle at Utobeer. The taste has a real depth of plum and chocolate, quite rich but slightly too carbonated however the dark fruit cake finish is quite satisfying. The brewery says this is the perfect companion for Christmas savouries but I paired it with a mince pie and left the sherry for Father Christmas.
 Worthington's White Shield Museum (Molson Coors) - Czars P2 Imperial Stout 8.0%
I'd had this for a little while, waiting for the right time to open it. Last drink of Christmas Eve and I wasn't disappointed. Brewed in very limited numbers I read that its mellowness comes from its long maturation time. All I know is that this is an exceptional beer. There is a spicy caramel, date and stewed apple aroma giving way to lots of deep rich and spicy vinous fruit and berries. Blackberry and black cherry merge smoothly into liquorice and black treacle then back again, finishing with some delicious black cherry coffee bean fruity dryness. Possibly the best stout I had in 2012 and I'll be looking to be getting another bottle very soon if I can.
 Brasserie Cantillon - Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio 5.0%
It's Christmas morning! Last year we started the day with a Brouwerij Bosteels - Deus Brut des Flandres which is a fantastic beer but as I was unable to obtain a bottle for less that £26 I came up with this admirable substitute. What's more, I had the whole bottle to myself. I think that a Gueuze is a great appetiser and it's a lot easier to get on with cooking the Christmas dinner after a bottle of this than a few glasses of Champagne. It has a spritzy deep cider apple freshness with a sprinkling of white pepper. It's not overly dry either and is simply a wonderful beer.
 Beavertown - Smog Rocket 5.4%
The turkey is in and the table is set, time for another beer. This smoked Porter is from another of my favourite breweries of 2012 and it's not at all heavy, perfect for all-day drinking. Smoky sweet chocolate with a hint of coffee, caramel and raisin, it's rather yum!
 Tiny Rebel Brew Co - Fvde 4.9%
We've had our starter, but due to a slight under-estimation of the cooking time of the turkey there's plenty of time for another beer before the main event. This is a dark spiced Belgian style wheat beer named in honour of the Belgian international and sometime West Ham United striker Francois Van der Elst by @liberty_bear from Liberty Beer. Lots of sweet sticky raisin and prune, light and dark at the same time, the finish is clean dry and fruity too.
 Billericay Brewing Company - Mayflower Gold 6.5%
The first beer from Billericay Brewing Company . I'll be doing a full and more comprehensive review shortly but I will say that the traditional Christmas dinner of roast turkey, ham, bread sauce et al. really brought out the spicy citrus of the hops. It's a very promising start.
 Hoppin' Frog Brewery - Frosted Frog Christmas Ale 8.6%
This is a beer that I'd waited very nearly a year for. I picked it up at the Euston Tap a week or two into 2012, and it was recommended to me as a mince pie in a bottle. I'm a big mince pie fan (which sounds a little odd, but isn't .. is it?) so I was sold. I'd bought a bottle to share, again at the Euston Tap on the #CAMRGB #XmasTwissup on 15th December so I knew what I was in for and it really has all the sweet flavours of Christmas. There's plenty of mince pie-ness here but also some Christmas pudding too with plenty of sweet sweet cinnamon,raisin, ginger, allspice and fig on a light bready malty base. If you like your Christmas beers warming spicy and, above all, sweet then you won't go far wron here. This lasted me most of Christmas night, it's definitely a sipper not a gulper.
 Brouwerij De Molen - Vuur & Vlam 6.2%
Boxing day, and my first beer is one that my wife @esseemason bought for me for Christmas in what I have to say is an exceptionally fantastic case of beer. Vuur & Vlam is Dutch for Fire & Flames, and this beer is late hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Simcoe and Amarillo hops, and it sure does show! A beautiful clementime tart aroma with a tangerine, lychee, honeyed pine and white pepper taste, this is simply a very very good IPA.
 Beavertown - Black Betty 7.4%
I love Boxing day lunch! Cold meat, pickles, mashed potato, salad crisps, pies, flans and all sorts of savouries. A table full of wonderful food piled high and eaten and picked-at from lunchtime until late into the evening and what better beer to have with it than my favourite bottled beer from 2012. This black IPA has citrus and pine combined with a dark malty bitterness with some toffee covered pineapple bite in a beautiful glass of beer. I've drunk a lot of this beer and I plan to drink a lot more into 2013.
 Brouwerij Bosteels - Tripel Karmeliet 8.4%
What could be better with some late-night cheese and biscuits than this beautiful Belgian Abbey Tripel. A complex taste of grassy hoppiness, banana, light toffee caramel, white pepper and cookie dough is the perfect foil to strong and creamy cheese. This beer is an absolute delight.
 Brewdog - Christmas Paradox 2012 15%
It's going to take a big beer to round off a fantastic Boxing day and this certainly has the credentials. Aged in rum barrels for 12 months this is a late night sipper par excellance. It's like a rum-drizzled dark-chocolate-coated digestive biscuit, deep, rich, big and boozy, with liquorice, espresso and black cherry and plum touches the flavour just builds and builds. More boozy rum flavoured berries in the finish round of a staggeringly good Christmas cracker.
 Otley - O6 Porter 6.6%
Thursday nights for many of us is Beer Bods night. The chance to share and review a beer on twitter with other subscribers, describing and discovering the flavours together. This porter was the beer of choice on 27th December and I found it a little on the thin side. It has a muddy chocolate aroma with hints of liquorice, chocolate, black cherry and ashes in the taste. This beer inspired a healthy online discussion on the differences and similarities of porters and stouts. If that sounds like your sort of thing then give them a try, you won't regret it.
 Brouwerij De Molen - Molenbier 7.5%
Another from my Christmas case, and another treat. Aroma is like a bready fruit cake underpinned by a really earthy hoppiness. The taste has oodles of zesty toffee and sweet blood-orange caramel drying to a delicious date finish. I'm really warming to De Molen beers, having avoided them after my first experience a poor bottle of Bed And Breakfast. I've had some great beers since and it's really a brewery I'd like to try more from in 2013.

Loose Cannon Brewery - Abingdon Bridge 4.1%
I had this bottle at the house of our good friends, david & Juliette King and their children in Billericay, and I couldn't resist pairing the red, green and yellow colours of the bottle with the reciprocal colours of their Christmas tree. This is surprisingly a very tasty, fruity, malty beer. Lots of glace cherry, raisin and plum fruitiness on a cookie-dough base. Sweet, slightly rich and satisfying.
 The West Berkshire Brewery - Christmas Magic 5.5%
Another beer at the King's house.This seasonal beer is heavy on the malt, with a scattering of berry fruits and some cinnamon spiciness.Although the maltiness is dominant the other flavours do sit quite nicely on top of it making for quite pleasant drinking late into the evening.
 Adnams - Shingle Shells 3.9%

 Waiting for us when we arrived at my parents in Beccles, Suffolk  just before New Year, was a mini-cask of Adnams Shingle Shells. I'd previously had this on cask and I'd really enjoyed it, so more of the same was most welcome. God old Mum and Dad! There's some dry berry hoppiness in the taste perfectly surrounded by some delightful maltiness and that little tang of saltiness that I associate with Adnams beers. Needless to say we had several glasses of this and I took pictures paired with various snowman decorations in my parents house. I've picked my favourite to show here.
 Sierra Nevada - Torpedo Extra IPA 7.2%
First beer of New Years Eve, and a great way to kick off the celebrations. Big deep hoppy pine flavours for a big night. I'm sure you've all had this beer many times, but if you haven't then I'd heartily recommend it, especially if you like your flavours big and hoppy.
 John Smiths (Heineken UK) - Newcastle Winter IPA 5.2%
I picked this up in my parents local Tesco, and to be frank I wish I hadn't. I purposefully put it in front of the'Let It Be Merry' Christmas card hoping, without any hint of irony that it would be 'Hoppy In The Dark'. It was't. In fact it wasn't very much of anything at all. The rear label states it is a 'Balanced Winter brew with a breamy finish' but that was nothing like what I was tasting. Without any shadow of doubt this was the worst beer I had over the entire Christmas period. I also picked up a bottle of the Newcastle Nocturnal which I'm informed is even worse. It stares at me from the kitchen shelf.
 Budweiser Budvar Ceske Budejovice - Tmavy Lezak Dark Lager 4.7%
Putting New Years Eve back on track with some milk chocolate maltiness and that Saaz hop bite. This really is a classy beer, and it's great to see it regularly available in the UK now.
 Meantime Brewing Company- India Pale Ale 7.5%
Seeing in the New Year with this full flavoured and hoppy special little beer from Greenwich's Meantime Brewery. The amount of Fuggles and goldings hops in here really show what you can do when you don't hold back on those beautiful British hops. deep bitter orange with a hint of grapefruit on a lovely biscuity base. This is another beer that I'd forgotten quite how good it actually is.
 London Fields Brewery - Harvest Ale 5.5%
A trip to Norwich and a trip to the relatively new and rather excellent Norwich Tap House furnished me this beer after a recommendation from that most agreeable chap @NateDawg27. In fact I bought all they had. There's plenty of crisp Autumn leaf mulch and honey-drizzled pear drop in the taste setting up an intensely dry biscuit finish. Superb.
 Robinsons - Dizzy Blonde 3.8%
This beer is a little golden treat. A dry zesty sugary citrus taste with a light golden syrup finish shows off the Amarillo hop off nicely if a bit too subtly. A decent enough beer but more hop presence would really work wonders here.
 Wells And Youngs - Youngs Double Chocolate Stout 5.2%
Getting towards the end of my seasonal beers with festive pictures but I'm having a beer that I never tire of. I tend to pick up a bottle of this now and again to remind me of just how good chocolate stouts can taste. A big milk chocolate taste has a hit of coffee roastiness and the merest murmur of cream soda in there for good measure. Creamy, full rich and smooth, this is near heaven in a bottle.
 Duvel Moortgat - Vedett Extra Blond 5.2%
Last two beers now and these are two of a kind ... sort of. First up is the lighter of the two. This pale beer has a honeyed grass aroma with more of the same in the crisp taste and finish. Perfect for the summer, it's going down rather nicely on a Friday in early January.
 Duvel Mortgat - Duvel 8.5%
A rather special beer to finish with, and this is the beer of choice of the chap who urged me to start writing a blog on beer about a year ago @stillmation Rob Mitchell, a British commercial photographer based in Belgium. You can check out his website here, it's well work a look. This beer has a beautifully warming sweet grassy hoppy bite with subtle white pepper and clove notes. It really is a classic, and this Christmastime has been one too!
I've come to the end of my beer and Christmas image odyssey. It's been a bit of a labour of love for me to be fair. I love great beer and I love Christmas so it really seemed like a natural thing to put the two together and have some fun in the process.
All that remain for me to do is wish you a fantastic 2013. I hope that it's happy, healthy, shared with great company and that you have some awesome beer along the way.
Cheers !