beer reviews

Christmas Beer from Norway

It’s always nice when you hit upon a single word review of a beer: Oreos would do it for Ringnes Jullebok, one of a pair of Norwegian Christmas beers we were given by Knut Albert a few weeks ago when we met him in London.

At the time he described it as the most interesting Christmas beer from the big industrial brewers. Ringnes is the Norwegian arm of Carlsberg, he explained, and told us not to expect too much from the beer.

It looked lovely — transparent, dark, with an off-white head — but didn’t really have enough going on to justify its strength (9%). Boak didn’t like it much at all, having an aversion to overt sugariness in beer, but I enjoyed its smooth, lingering chocolate flavour.

Now we just need to find an opportunity to drink the bottle of Nøgne ø Christmas beer before Twelfth Night. If it’s bad luck to leave up your decorations after then, surely the same must go for drinking Christmas beer?


Belgium Germany

Gluhbier in Dresden

Liefmann's gluhbier at the Christmas market in Dresden
Liefman's Gluhbier in the Striezelmarkt, Dresden

We had a few hours to kill in Dresden and couldn’t resist a turn around the Christmas market. We ate junk food and were all geared up for a mulled wine when we spotted a stand offering Liefman’s Gluhbier.

The Germans — a rather conservative bunch, if we can be permitted to generalise — seemed bemused, but we and a handful of American tourists were up for it.

It tasted fantastic. A spiced version of their kriek cherry beer, it really didn’t taste much different to the cheap, fruity red wine they normally dish out. The spices are barely there, which we liked (too many cloves and too much cinnamon have ruined many a Christmas beer).

A couple of locals asked us what we thought and, with our recommendation, decided to give it a try. They seemed to enjoy it. Will Germans one day put fruit and spices in more of their own beers, rather than importing it from Belgium…?

The Session

The Session #17 – Anti-seasonal drinking

This month we’ve been asked by Rob D’Anunzio of Pfiff! fame to go against the grain and drink something not in season. Of course, the additional challenge for British bloggers is to determine what season we’re actually in at any given point in time…

Rather than go for a particular style, we raided our stash for Christmas beers.

First up was one that’s intrigued us for a while – Chapeau Christmas gueuze from Brouwerij de Troch. Now I always think of gueuzes as being a pretty summery drink, particularly when they’re lovely and fresh on tap. So the very existence of this beer seems anti-seasonal and in the spirit of the session. Reviews on Ratebeer and BeerAdvocate range from “weird” to “rank”, so we really didn’t know what to expect. It’s not actually bad – it smells and tastes like a fairly uncomplicated cherry beer, one of the sweet ones. If you’ve had, and liked, Timmerman’s or Boon Kriek, you won’t be disappointed. We’re not sure what’s wintry about it – maybe you’re supposed to mull it?

So onto Glad Tidings, a “spiced milk stout” from the Chiltern Brewery. I’ve heard many great things about this brewery but have never tried their stuff on tap or in bottles – strange considering they’re not that far out of London. This Christmas stout is 4.6% and has a gorgeous head. This is a very interesting beer – we can’t quite decide if it’s genius or amateur. They’ve rather gone to town on the Christmas spices, which dominate the nose and the aftertaste. There’s also a strong fruit flavour – probably from using oranges? Or maybe plums? It tastes a bit peachy, almost sour. It’s got a great body too, and a head that lasts – we have condition envy! Worth trying again, and definitely worth getting our arses out to deepest darkest Bucks to see what else these guys are up to.

Remaining in the UK, we have Hepworth‘s Vintage Christmas Ale. They claim this 7.5% beastie will keep for years, and we wonder if we’re being premature drinking it two years before its best before date. It pours a glorious clear red, with a nice creamy head. The taste is difficult to describe, but it’s extremely fruity and warming. I was reminded of something like Bigfoot Barley Wine, except without the C-hops, if that makes sense. It has a gooey body, with a really good solid malt flavour. It’s a little nutty with hints of vinous fruits and oranges, and a beautifully balanced hop flavour cuts through but doesn’t overwhelm. Lovely stuff.

We were going to have a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale to top the evening off, but I can’t see how it would beat that. So we’ll leave it there, with the long chewy aftertaste of Hepworth Christmas ale lingering on.