Every year, a week or so before Stir-Up Sunday, we start getting visits to the website from people searching for barley wine to put in their Christmas pudding.
It is a main part of Delia Smith’s recipe which, let’s face it, is therefore the official national recipe. I’d guess from this line…
If you can’t get barley wine (pubs usually have it), use extra stout instead.
…that the recipe was written in the 1970s when Gold Label was a national brand. You probably won’t find barley wine in most ‘normal’ pubs these days, though most supermarkets do carry Gold Label.
There are also plenty of other options.
Barley wine is a term used to describe strong British ales — sometime they’re dark, other times not, but they’re usually at least (these days, for tax reasons) 7.4% ABV.
Fuller’s Vintage Ale is one and this year’s version has just hit supermarkets. Most larger regional breweries (Adnams, Lees, Robinson’s, etc.) make a strong old ale which will do the job. Not many have ‘barley wine’ actually written on the label so just look for anything called ‘Old This’ or ‘Vintage That’.
Most trendy new breweries also make strong ales of one sort or another, although often very hoppy and bitter rather than sweet. If you have a specialist shop near you, and want to use a special beer for some particular reason, ask them for advice.
However, back to the puddings. With several years’ experience in making a family recipe, which just calls for ‘half a pint of strong beer’, I would make the following points:
- You’re going to be adding spices, sherry and steaming the hell out of it for many hours so you’re not going to taste any beer at all in the final product.
- The cheapest beer I’ve ever used was a bottle of leftover home brew, and the most expensive was some of the aforementioned Vintage ale — there was no difference in the end taste.
- If you’re going to follow Delia’s recipe precisely you will end up with two half bottles of different beers. This might be a good opportunity to drink something nice on the side so pick beers that are good in their own right, e.g. Fuller’s Vintage and something like Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.
- However, if you don’t particularly like beer, just chuck in the required volume of whatever beer you have to hand — it doesn’t really matter all that much.
And that’s it: we’re shutting down for a week or so as we head off to spend Christmas with our families.
We’ll no doubt be Tweeting anything beer- or pub-related that catches our eye and also updating our Facebook page, but we’re going to give the blogging a rest.
In the meantime, there are some posts from the 2014 archive that you might want to give a second look listed below.
Thanks for reading in 2014 and merry Christmas to you all!
Continue reading Christmas Opening Hours
“These special customs, and especially those associated with the annual booze-ups of New Year’s Eve (when you may kiss almost anybody in public), St Patrick’s Eve, Whitsun, Oak Apple Day, Trinity Sunday, June Holiday and Christmas, are a simple part of the pattern of the year, its pre-industrial, pre-Christian even, background. A background of sowing and reaping, winter death and spring rebirth, a rhythm that, like the rhythm of the week, determines so much of behaviour… now dominates Worktowners who never think what it’s all about or know the difference between wheat and barley.”
Mass Observation, The Pub and the People, 1943.
Part of a series of wordless musical jokes from one of the Big Six and starring, we think, Carry On actress Liz Fraser. The last time we saw one of those green-grey ceramic keg fonts in the wild was the Palm Tree in Mile End, East London, a few years ago.
For a long time, Britain had beers associated with Christmas that weren’t explicitly billed as Christmas beers.
If Frank Baillie’s 1973 Beer Drinker’s Companion is anything to go by, there were certainly winter ales released in November or December in time for Christmas, but they didn’t feature Father Christmas on the pump clips or labels; they weren’t called things like Rudolf’s Throbbing Conk; and they weren’t dosed with cinnamon and nutmeg. As far as we can see, Shepherd Neame’s bottled Christmas Ale was the only one with Christmas is in its name at that time.*
Based on looking through old copies of the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide (thanks again, Ed!) it looks as if the idea of marketing ‘winter warmers’ as Christmas beers really took off in the increasingly competitive real ale scene of the 1980s. The 1987 GBG (published in 1986) lists around ten beers that we would classify as definitely Christmas seasonals, such as Mauldon Christmas Reserve, Wood’s Christmas Cracker and the Bridgewater Arms’s Old Santa.
Continue reading Where Did Christmas Ales Come From?