When you reach adulthood, Christmas changes. With two small kids I now find myself having the entire family over for the day (14 this year), my focus is on the little guys and my gifts include the classic socks and pants combo. That’s why I squirrel away a few bottles of beer in the run up to December, so I can join my children in driving my wife mad with our relentless, excitable countdowns to the big day. From Christmas eve onward I then enjoy them with friends, take a few minutes out to try one that is new to me or experiment with which goes best with the invariably excessive meals on offer.
This year was a chance to revisit some favourites and to encounter some completely new beers. The full list is at the bottom, but the ones that stood out were Wild Beer Co’s Black and Blue, Chorlton’s Dark Matter 2016, Thornbridge’s Serpent and my own dopplebock (but for very different reasons).
Black and Blue – This beer formed part of the 2016 Rainbow project in which 7 UK breweries are paired with an international one, this year all being from New Zealand. I’ve been holding on to this box to share with my brother-in-law to be, as he returns from a year away in Rotorua. It’s another style-expanding offering from the Somerset outfit that provides sharp, tangy acidity with a subtle peppery finish – it’s described as raw, having been neither boiled nor hopped and aged in bourbon barrels to let the various cultures do ferment and change the beer.
Dark Matter – A dark, stronger interpretation of a soured, salty German gose this was wonderful. Drunk over an evening with friends, each of the roasted malt, citrus sour or salt elements had the potential to dominate but none did, with the beer remaining balanced, smooth and effortlessly enjoyable.
Serpent – Yes, there is a theme here. Whilst I dearly love traditional darker beers, pales and lagers, recent years has seen the range and quality of sour brews increase to the point where I am continually greeted with exciting new approaches and Serpent is no different. Brewed by the benchmark for contemporary quality that is Thornbridge, this 9.5% collaboration with Brooklyn starts life as a Belgian tripel before being mixed with cider lees (yeasts) and barrel-aged for a year. The end result is astonishing: it maintains the rich, sweet body of a strong Belgian beer but adds a complex, fruity acidity with a very dry finish that blurs the boundary between beer and cider.
Finally, my own bock. A 6%, dark amber lager, this had been fermenting in my beer fridge for 2 months in the run up to Christmas and, as the third in a series of homemade lagers, was much anticipated. On opening it was well carbonated but very fruity, something was not right with the yeast and it completely lacked the crispness you would expect from this family of beer. I hadn’t got enough sediment to drop out following the first part of fermentation and the clouds of yeast that launched from the bottom on opening were not good. It was just about drinkable but not what I was hoping for, a world away from the other 3 beers listed above.
It was, however, a reason to go back to the drawing board, review what went wrong and try again so that by next year I’ve got it perfected and the 2017 variant will keep it’s place in this list, but for the right reasons.
The full list:
- Wild Beer Co: Black and Blue
- Chorlton: Dark Matter 2016
- Thornbridge: Serpent
- Me: Utter failure (bock), success (shwarzbier)
- Hawkshead: Kia Moanna Gose
- Electric Bear: Cherry Blackout
- Omnipollo/Buxton: Yellow Belly and Texan Pecan Pie
- Northern Monk: Festive Star
- Chorlton: Mandarina lager
- Odyssey: Grievous Angel