Christmas Beers To Pair With Lockdown – Part 1

The Christmas season is different for a lot of us in 2020. Last year I blogged about a favourite tradition of a cold walk to the pub on Christmas Day; sadly not something that I’ll be able to do this year. To compensate somewhat, I have resolved to try plenty of Christmas ales at home, and over the coming weeks, I will be sharing some of my favourite festive brews of the season. Whilst there is no substitute for a cosy seat next to the fireplace of a bustling pub, that will have to wait until next year. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who will be a least a little relieved to toast the end of 2020 in a few weeks time.

Cheers all!

Bell’s – Christmas Ale
I loved the colour of this one as soon as I poured it. The deep, rich cranberry hue reminds me of hand-pulled pints of ruby ales in cosy pubs. This is quite a bit more boozy than a typical sessionable ruby ale at 7.5%, and is classified as a scotch ale. That said, it drinks easier and smoother than most scotch ales I’ve tried; not too punchy or overly rich. It has aromas of blackcurrant, and a long, fruity finish laced with subtle caramel notes with a full and rounded mouthfeel. Delightful.

Clausthaler – Holiday Brew
I was pleasantly surprised by the full mouthfeel of this for a non-alcoholic beer. Rich and warming, with intense lingering cinnamon and red fruit flavours. A perfect way to ease into a winter drinking session or take a break between heady brews.

Sierra Nevada – Celebration IPA
This is probably one of my favourite beers that I’ve tried for the first time this year, which might have something to do with the fact that my first sip was on the day of the US election result. Intense bitterness cuts perfectly across toast and caramel malt notes, for a long finish with hints of pine and melon.

Anchor Brewing Co – Our Special Ale
This sumptuous dark beer starts with a little bit of cinnamon on the nose, then black pepper and winter spices on the palate with a lingering hint of peppermint. Best consumed under a blanket for maximum warm, comfortable, tingly joy.

Clausthaler kindly sent me a sample to try. I was not paid by anyone for this piece, and the reviews above represent my own opinions.

You can’t stop progress

As Thomas Wolfe’s novel so wisely observed, you can’t go home again.

I spent my student years in Nottingham. It was here that one lunchtime during my first semester, a fellow philosophy student convinced me to try a pint of cask ale rather than my usual lager. The beer was Harvest Pale from Castle Rock brewery, a Nottingham institution. Shortly after, I graduated to the slightly more toothsome Screech Owl by the same brewery. The damage was done; I was hooked for life.

In the coming years, my passion for cask ale would evolve and my tastes would turn darker. I’d sample my first autumnal ambers, plum porters, spicy ruby ales and oyster stouts. But of course, the first cask ale I had ever tasted would continue to hold a special place in my heart.

The Castle Rock pubs were some of my favourites in the city. In particular the Keanes Head, squirreled away on an alley overlooking a beautiful church, and Canal House, with its quaint wood-panelled interior and outdoor terrace perfect for the summer months. Pints of Harvest Pale cost £2.50 usually, £2.30 with a Castle Rock loyalty card, and £2.00 on a Monday. I will remember these prices until I die. Fortunately, it was entirely possible to drink great beer on a student budget in Nottingham, and it remains one of the many reasons that I’m relieved to have gotten out of London to study.

I landed back in the Big Smoke eventually, and of course the prices were a bit of a punch in the stomach. But there was a silver lining; my beer obsession was dividing and multiplying fast, and with hundreds of new drinking spots to tap into, it was impossible to be bored.

I returned to Nottingham every year or so in an attempt to rekindle the special connection I felt with my university city. Each time, I felt that we had grown apart a little more. The changes to the place I had loved so dearly became increasingly apparent. Taps offering trendy keg beers had appeared in my favourite boozers. Charming ‘spit-n-sawdust’ pubs had gotten modernising face-lifts.

Of course, it’s wrong to expect things to stay the same for ever. But before, there was something nice about the fact that in a fairly compact city which boasted a huge amount of pubs, local was the focus in nearly every one. You could spend an entire afternoon wandering between watering holes, drinking a different pint in each, and never drink a beer that was brewed outside of Nottingham. Maybe if you were out for long enough, you could get a beer brewed in Derbyshire. Just to get really exotic, y’know.

Whilst these beers are of course still available, they now share so much more of the spotlight with many others from down south and from across the seas. It’s just not quite the same community drinking experience that it used to be, from my perspective.

Back in London, I decided to embrace the changing tides fully, heading to The Rake with an old drinking buddy. It’s a tiny little bar nestled in Borough Market, and it was an after-work favourite of mine when I worked in London Bridge. This place is the opposite end of the spectrum from my old Nottingham haunts; I’m fairly certain that I have never had the same beer there twice.

I arrived hoping to beat the after-work rush. But alas, gone are the days when I could nip in at 5pm and catch a table. At 4.50pm, it was already crowded. Their beer board was as diverse as ever, but what had changed quite a bit was the prices. A few of the pints on offer cost an eye-watering £8.00. My friend and I exchanged exasperated glances. This wasn’t our little secret anymore; we would have to keep moving with the times and find a new one.

 

Brewing a Hobgoblin Clone

This week, I decided to make a ruby ale, which should be ready to drink just in time for the chilly weather. Hobgoblin has always been my favorite British ruby ale – rich, warming, just a hint of spice. Perfect for curling up by the fire with a pint.

So, I decided to see if I could find a clone recipe online. I do love the homebrew community. It seems that no matter what I tap into the search engines, many results come back, with tales from fellow homebrewers who have asked the same questions previously. A wealth of information and suggestions were returned.

The recipe I picked called for Maris Otter as the main grain, with some dark crystal, carapils and chocolate malts, and some early and late additions of Fuggle and Styrian Golding hops.

I scaled down the recipe for my small 5L batch size for my small batch all-grain brew-in-bag method. I mashed at 153F for 45 minutes, and boiled for 50 minutes.

Now for the hard part – waiting to drink it when the first frost comes!