There have been very few highlights this year, but one of them even this virus cannot beat: that wonderful happy feeling when you are opening an aroma-filled flavor bomb of a Christmas beer! There is a long standing tradition of Christmas beers, which has largely nothing to do with all the varieties being labeled as ‘Christmas beer’ nowadays. But do we really care? For me festive means drinking the beer that you are in the mood for, be it a brut beer made with champagne yeast, a dark chocolaty stout or a juicy hop bomb. It definitely doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to make you happy. I have found a few in my local craft beer stores in Rotterdam that instantly put me in the Christmas spirit! By no means are the beers below a recommendation of what to do drink during Christmas, but hopefully they will put a smile on your face or give you some inspiration for a beery holiday. I think we really need that right now!
You can be merry without alcohol
I want to get something important out of the way first. It is a misconception that holiday drinks must contain alcohol to be festive. Not true! Most of us can be quite merry without alcohol and there are plenty of beers out there with low (or no) alcohol that are highly suitable for Christmas or New Year’s. One fun example is Sam’s Brown Ale (0,5%) by Samuel Smith, a very traditional English brewery making a non-traditional beer with a vintage label! It is Yorkshire’s oldest brewery (1758) and according to the manager of my local beer store Bier&zO they have been putting the vegan logo on their label since forever. I’m sold! For such a low alcohol beer it still has a beery flavor: malty and nutty. And quite a lot more sugar than its alcoholic counterpart Nut Brown Ale, but the reviews are good!
What is winter without a good cocoa drink! Thornbridge had the right idea when they made this chocolate porter (6,8%) – Cocoa Wonderland. Not overly sweet, with a nice chocolate flavor, a hint of roasty bitterness and natural mocha flavors from the malt. It was initially brewed in collaboration with the girls at Cocoa, Sheffield, to celebrate their 10th anniversary. The brewery was founded in 2005 by brewers Jim and Simon on the grounds of Thornbridge Hall (near Buxton). They are doing exceptionally well for such a ‘young’ brewery and now export to 35 countries. [Contains lactose.]
Christmas in Corona times
On the edge of chaos is when creativeness flourishes. So why not turn these perhaps somewhat spiritless holidays into more exciting times? Just because you are (together) alone at home, doesn’t mean it can’t be merry. Take some inspiration from this Danish brewery and share a Yule Juice hazy winter IPA – naked! This is their story of what Santa does those 11 months of the year when he’s not on the North Pole. He’s in Tulare, California, where oranges are plentiful, as they are in this beer. Amager Bryghus was started in 2007 near Copenhagen and they have a taste for naughty labels. In 2013, one of their labels for their beer Lust was censored by the Swedish state alcohol authority (Systembolaget), due to the depiction of a topless woman. This was considered unacceptable by Systembolaget and created a controversy about censorship. I wonder what they think of Santa parading around in a Speedo! Better not show it to your kids. Santa is definitely on the naughty list.
Port-infused cocoa goodness
One of my favorite local breweries Brouwerij Noordt has been releasing some amazing experimental beers and new recipes this year, so I cannot wait to try these new limited edition Cacoa Quads by Brouwerij Noordt! The beer is an enticing mix of barley, wheat, rye, oat, buckwheat, juniper, cinnamon, cocoa nibs and orange zest. One of them is also port-infused. They’re both 9,5% ABV and come in a box with a gorgeous wax seal stamped by the brewer himself! I got box nr 106 from the 320 made.
For many people the favorite holiday drink is champagne or something similarly bubbly. That translates to a Bière de Champagne or a Bière Brut – a lively carbonated beer with a dry finish, of which there are many wonderful versions to choose from in December. One of them is this Belgian wild ale brewed with mango and passion fruit aged in Chardonnay barrels by Danish brewery Mikkeller from their Nelson Sauvin Brut series. It’s no secret that after all their success they still remain a gypsy brewery and brew their beers (at least for the European market) at De Proef in Belgium. Barring the occasional let-down, I find their beers to be consistent in quality and full of surprises. Their wild beers are excellent and I’m a big fan of their Spontan series. Looking forward to popping this Nelson Sauvin Brut on New Year’s Eve!
When it’s really freezing out there, you may be more in the mood for a hot beer. Hot? That’s right. Like glühwein / vin chaud / mulled wine, there is also a beery version called glühkriek and it’s delightful! I always love drinking them at the German Christmas markets, but it’s easy to make at home (see my blog article on making your own winter warmer). If you prefer heating up a ready-made one try Liefmans Glühkriek – a seasonal spiced cherry beer.
Nuclear winter warmer
Once the strongest beer in the world, at 32% this 110 ml bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin by BrewDog is guaranteed to warm you up! And probably make you stand on your head. It tastes of chocolate, peat, roasted malts and lots and lots of booze. It’s quite sticky and lacks carbonation. Many beer lovers would probably not label this as beer because it’s so alcoholic, but technically it really is beer. And why not have some fun trying out something extreme. It’s not like we have anywhere to go this Christmas! Just be sure not to drink this one alone.
One of the most famous Christmas beers and still one of the best Belgian ones in my opinion is Stille Nacht by De Dolle Brouwers. It is a hefty 12%, but it is one of those classic Belgian beers that will please every beer lover. Typical for some Belgian beer styles, they have added candied sugar to it, giving it more body and flavor. It’s a great beer for aging and if you do so, store it at about 10C. Two years ago I was lucky enough to visit their taproom and it was as much fun as the brewery name suggests! Highly recommend stopping by if you are ever in Belgium!
All photos were taken by Tina Rogers.