Saturday, December 31, 2011

War of the Christmas Novelty Ales, 7th Day of UK Christmas

This post seems appropriate for New Year's Eve. I hope everyone has a good time and takes proper care if they are drinking! Rest assured, I didn't drink all of these in one night. Though maybe next year....

Every year, various companies try to boost their holiday sales by marketing some "Christmas" version of their usual products. M&M's come in green and red (and mint flavor too!). Oreos come with red and green filling. The beer brewers of England are no different and have offered a few seasonal ales for Christmas. But which is the best? Here are some of the contenders that I've been able to sample.

Contender #1: Christmas Ale from Shepherd Neame

The brewers write it up thusly on their web site:
There's a spicy signature to this incredibly complex cockle-warming winter ale. The nose is reminiscent of raisins, dates and molasses while the palate is vinous with tannin-like notes of leather, vanilla, apricots and a hint of rustic Armagnac on the finish. An awesome after-dinner drop.
It was a very warming and pleasant ale, though I am too modest to comment on any "cockle-warming." I did enjoy it on the ferry to Bruges after dinner and it was the first inspiration for this blog post.

Contender #2: Rudolph's Revenge Winter Ale from Cropton Brewery

The write up on the web site goes like this:
Our ever popular Christmas beer. A unique hoppy beer with a fruity aftertaste. Just the thing to leave out for Santa to have with his mince pie on Christmas Eve.
The text on the bottle is much more entertaining:
By the time Rudolph and his chums had pulled the fully laden sleigh all the way from Lapland to North Yorkshire in the freezing night air, the weary reindeer could be forgiven for making the diversion to the village of Cropton, where he was delighted to find ample supplies of a new beer named in his honour. Santa however was less than delighted to find his key worker's nose glowing even redder than usual, and presents delivered to the wrong addresses, if they got there at all.
As for the flavor, it is a dark bitter with almost too much bitterness for me. But not too much. This revenge is definitely more bitter than sweet, but it doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth like those Greek revenge cycles do. The nutty flavoring is nice and it finishes smoothly. I did not have any minced pie to go with it, though it would probably go well. 

Contender #3: Shepherd's Watch Natural Winter Warmer from Wold Top Brewery

The web site describes it thusly:
A rich dark Ale, ideal for keeping the chill of Winter at bay. 

The roasted barley and pale chocolate malt give a deep red hue, the hop combination of Progress, Styrian Goldings and Cascade give bitterness with a soft spicy yet fruity edge, resulting in a winter beer that is well balanced, with an underlying maltiness, and a subtle fruit aroma, excellent with Yorkshire Parkin, Christmas Pudding, Rich Fruit Cake and Mince Pies.

The above text is reprinted on the bottle. The only thing the bottle has to add about this ale is that it is "world famous."

This beer reminds me of the first time I had a Guinness. I drank about half of the pint of Guinness before it started tasting like an ashtray. Nowadays I am used to the flavor of Guinness and enjoy an entire pint. Sometimes even two pints. My youthful tongue did not really understand. Shepherd's Watch gives me the same initial reaction, "This is interesting but tastes a little too much like ashes or dirt." It's as if the roasting went on too long or was too hot. Instead of imparting a nice smoky flavor, the taste of burnt comes through instead. At 6% alcohol, it definitely delivers some winter warmth. If only it didn't feel like I got burned in the process.

Contender #4: Stocking Filler from York Brewery

Strangely, this brew is not mentioned on their web site, though the bottle makes this claim:
The City of York has a long tradition of festive markets and traditional traders during the Christmas period.
York Brewery has continued in this festive vein with this special Christmas beer, Stocking Filler.
Brewed within the city walls, this brew is a dark, rich, full bodied ale, having a distinctive finish of roast malt and chocolate. The addition of seasonal spices helps to add a hint of spice in the aroma and lingering on the palate giving us a robust and satisfying beer.
This ale is dark and lovely. It's not overly flavorful on the tongue but there's a hint of smoke in the flavor and a nice aftertaste that lingers like a welcome guest. The taste isn't big and flashy; it's a nice companion during a friendly conversation or with a good pizza. The ale fulfills the promise of its name. It isn't the big present under the tree but it is a nice surprise in your stocking.

So, who is the winner? I could go by process of elimination, but Shepherd's Watch is the only one obviously to fall by the wayside. All the others have strengths and weaknesses. But which has the strongest strengths? Which has only the smallest weaknesses? The definitive question really is, if I were offered Stocking Filler, Rudolph's Revenge, or Christmas Ale, which would I choose, knowing what I know now?

The answer is Christmas Ale. It was very delightful to the palate and made a relaxing evening even more laid back. But the others are worthy contenders and are welcome any time in our home.

Stocking Filler gets the John C. Wright* prize for the label with the most va-voom on it. In case you missed the detail above...

It's nice to see her drinking her own ale! What, you didn't see that bottle in her hand?

*You have to scroll down in the hyperlinked article to appreciate the joke fully.

Also, anyone that was hoping for some Bud Bowl-type action in this war will have to wait until my animating skills are good enough AND I have plenty of spare time, which should be right after the kids go to college in 16 years. Just be patient. If you haven't heard of Bud Bowl, here's a teaser trailer from 20 years ago:

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