Christmas Beer Tasting Session – 14th December 2012 – #SeasonsTweetings

Seasonal beers I have to admit don’t really rock my boat, in fact I’d go as far as saying they  get right on my tits..

I’m not talking about beers suited to actual “seasons”, I quite look forward to the gradual change in emphasis from light and hoppy through to dark and heavy as the cold nights draw in and the heating is cranked up. I’m actually pointing a pudgy finger right at those bandwagon jumpers, you know the sort, anything remotely spooky at Halloween and such like.

It’s a similar story at Christmas, hand-pulls are tackily decked with pump-clips emblazoned with red-nosed beardy fat men, elves bottoms and buxom ladies with a sprig of holly tucked in their over exaggerated collectively heaving cleavages. With quite often lack lustre offerings the result in the glass, usually brown-black and stinking of nutmeg and cinnamon. Voilà, Christmas beer see, it says so on there, just above the comedy robin.

IMG_5143At Christmas though there is a rather pleasant side effect to this deluge or mediocrity in that it’s time to bring out some absolute classics, beers that although the stout-hearted drink year round, are just so much nicer in December and onwards to the spring time thaw.

IMG_5136So I’ve decided to put on my Hash-tag Activists virtual sandwich board again and organise another tasting session focussing (for me personally) on a few of my favourites. I’m hoping though that after reading what other people are up to, I can get a few more little gems to stick on my Christmas list. I’d be particularly interested in UK brewery’s offerings that you think buck that trend and are absolutely unmissable?


I’ve listed a few beers I’d recommend trying below, most I admit will need a visit to a decent beer shop to find, be that local or online, but none are overly rare either and should be readily available. As normal though I’d urge anyone to add further suggestions in comments too. If you are still struggling though, supermarkets will all have something and as a last resort wrap a bit of tinsel around a bottle of whatever you have and join in the fun.

  • Gouden Carolus – ChristmasIMG_5139
  • Anchor – Christmas Ale
  • De Dolle – Stille Nacht
  • Mikkeller – Santas Little Helper
  • St Bernardus – Christmas
  • Port Brewing Co – Santas Little Helper (copyright?)
  • Gordon Xmas
  • Mikkeller – Hoppy Lovin Christmas
  • Evil Twin – Before, During and After Christmas (Impy IPA)
  • The Bruery – Four Calling Birds
  • La Rulles – Cuvee Meilleus Voeux (made with Orval yeast)st-bernardus-xmas
  • Kloster Andechs – Doppelbock Dunkel
  • Williams Brewery – Nollaig
  • Art Brew – Christmas Tree Beer
  • Delirium Christmas
  • Bristol Beer Factory – Twelve Stouts of Christmas

To stress, as always these are ideas only, no pressure at all to gather them all or indeed any, it’s meant to be a fun way to discover new beers and maybe styles you’ve not tried before. There are a few different takes Christmas above and although dark and rich dominates, there is the odd hoppy number in there too, get what you can and get stuck in.

Looking for stockists, there are links to the online purveyors of fine beers I use below, but please make sure you are kind to your local beer stores too. 

IMG_5141So how do I join in?

Open a Christmas themed beer at any point during Friday 14th December, no time limits apply as folks from all over the world join in when suits and as time zones apply. Use the #SeasonsTweetings hash-tag and tell us what you are up to. Organise tasting sessions with your friends, family, partner or maybe just go to the pub, what ever applies.

So, three things to remember, beers, Friday 14th December and the #SeasonsTweetings hash-tag..

IMG_5140See you then, cheers.

Chouffe’n N’Ice

Brasserie d’ Achouffe, beers instantly recognisable by their beautifully animated labels featuring the chouffe, which roughly translates or at least relates to a gnome or goblin.

“Chouffe, the lone survivor of a colony known as the Dwarves of Achouffe”.

Whatever the translation the beers are all as stunning as the branding implies and if you see one, try it, you won’t be disappointed.

I picked this bottle up from the Beerritz shop in Headingley, Leeds just about a year ago when I paid Zav Avery and co a visit, to my shame it’s the one and only time I’ve been due to proximity soon to be rectified by the upcoming European Beer Bloggers Conference.. It’s been one of those beers I’ve picked up and put down too many times to remember thinking “no, not today”, then on a rainy grim night a few days ago I decided sod that and to get stuck in.

N’Ice Chouffe is a dark strong winter beer spiced with thyme and curaçao designed to “warm you up on cold winter nights”, don’t hold yourself to those restrictions though, you should drink any beer at any time you like in my opinion (like late April).

Once in the goblet I’d selected it’s a dark ruby-red to brown colour and slightly hazy as it’s unfiltered, the head is a thick tight mass of dense creamy foam and sticks to the glass limpet-like to the bottom of the glass. Sticking your nose to that Irish coffee topping you get aromas of black treacle dates and fresh granary bread, there’s more background fruit too, leaning towards a fresh-cut warm banana loaf but soaked in heady alcohol.

First taste was not what I expected, either from preconceptions or the aromas I’d detected as there was no real sweetness and my mouth was alive with an attack of lip pursing bitter chocolate and black pepper sharpness. As the flavours developed sip by sip though, that awaited boozy sweetness came to the fore. The over-riding thought that kept popping into my head was of high quality dark chocolate cherry liqueurs, bursting open in the mouth revealing black cherries suspended in cherry brandy, there’s more fruit to come too with caramelised banana lurking somewhere in the background.

What surprised me a little though was how thin this all felt for such a big strong flavoured beer, the finish too having a really dry bitterness, quite metallic in a way like the taste on your fingertips after handling old coins.

The last thing I scribbled down as a tasting note was Cinzano Bianco, which I’m not sure is a good or bad thing. It just sprang into my head as a memory of something I’d tasted years back during family Christmases as I was growing up, not something I’d particularly enjoyed then nor something I’d expect to enjoy now but it was there nonetheless, somewhere in the aftertaste.

Reading back these notes one could be forgiven in thinking I hadn’t enjoyed this beer, “bitter, old coins, supermarket vermouth” etc, forgiven but wrong as it is really N’Ice but slightly unusual. Perhaps it was a case of misplaced preconceptions on my part, I’d seen the beer, made my mind up about what it was going to taste like and been largely proven wrong.

Not unpleasantly so, just different.

A blog about a blog about a blog… Featuring Thornbridge Hall Coalition Old Ale 7%

This is a beer review with a twist as it’s not actually me reviewing the beer, having more to do with the outside influences that really enhanced my enjoyment and the fantastic way that social media can be used at it’s very best.

The beer in question was Coalition Old Ale. Brewed in 2009, Coalition is the result of a collaboration between two of my favourite breweries, Thornbridge and Dark Star.

I saw a review of this beer back at around the time of launch and thought, “I have to try that”! I seem to remember it being this post on The Thornbridge Blog which tells the tale of how the beer came about, although I recall there also being a lot of excited chatter going on at the time on various blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc. Anyway to cut a long story short, a purchase was made and on arrival I put the beer away waiting for the right moment to drink it to arrive.

Flicking through Twitter last night, I noticed a note from @LeighGoodStuff announcing a new post on his blog The Good Stuff.

I had a moment of clarity thinking, “I’ve got a bottle of that in the fridge”, replied as such and before I could read all the responding tweets telling me as such it was open.

I took my beer outside to sit in the cool evening air and so sitting down at the garden table, glass in hand, I started to read Leighs fine blogpost (read it here).

As I was doing so @baron_orm chirps up on twitter that I should also check out his blog post too (there is a connection to Leighs), also to listen to the inclusive audio review on his own blog The Ormskirk Baron.

So now I find myself not only enjoying one of the finest beers I’ve had for some time, I’m also reading the extensive tasting notes and listening to the live beer rating chat from three established beer critics, this including @BGRTRob from Hopzine.

It was I can honestly say a really enlightening experience, akin to having an actual live tasting event in my own back yard. As each aroma and flavour was described I’d take another taste or sniff and think to myself “oh yeah, I can really get that”. Marvellous!

Now some folk may say that they would prefer to try and glean that information for themselves so as not to be influenced by the opinions of others, that could be true, that said for me, at that moment it really enhanced the experience.

As a consequence of the initial twitter conversations and my own continuing tweets on how things were progressing, we were joined in twitter conversations by several others including
@Darkstarbrewco @tuff86 @baron_orm @abarth50010 @leighgoodstuff @mybrewerytap @thornbridge
and @GhostDrinker amongst others. Essentially we now have brewers, retailers and customers all busily chatting away about how much of this wonderful beer was made, what is it like, is it still available (it is) and where from. All this of course, being visible the many hundreds if not thousands of followers not actually actively involved in conversation, a marketeers dream.

From a personal perspective, I’d just like to say a big THANKS to everyone above for a cracking evening of beer enjoyment!

If you want to try Thornbridge/Darkstar Coalition, I know of at least two online retailers: and, there may be more out there on tinterweb, specialist beer shops and I suspect at the Thornbridge brewery shop, so I’d definitely advise grabbing one now before it’s too late.

If you enjoyed reading this post please spread the love, Facebook share it, RT on Twitter or send on by email. I’d love to hear your comments and shared experiences too in the comments section of this page. Cheers Phil