Ah well, my Christmas has come to an end and I have one last Christmas themed ale to consider. It may not exactly be in the 'season' but it is close enough, I feel, and this will be the last word on the subject until Christmas 2015. Also, there are other people out there who had waaaaay more Christmas themed ales than I and I am in no way jealous. What can I say? I'm back at work, marking has hit and so there will be a period of mania. In the meantime, it is the turn of Black Sheep's Blitzen.
By now you've probably read/imbibed more ales than is strictly healthy. I have yet to adopt a year-review of posts and ales. Mind you, I could do so later in the year, just to be different. Would you like to know more?
Instant aroma is chocolate and coffee on opening, deep and strong and bitter, and it pours with a good head and a deep ruby colour. This is not unexpected and I was pleasantly surprised after the last time I tried Black Sheep (here) to see that this was likely to bring them back on form. At 4% ABV this is very much on the lower end of my usual scale but, that said, I have been missing these lower strength offerings over the last few months, since August actually, and so this was a nice return. That aroma remains dry and like tinder as the pour finishes, the head doesn't stay for very long.
First taste is good. There's an element of toasted malt first, providing the smoke in the aroma as well as the taste, followed by light yeast suspended in the bitter hops. This stays and swirls about the tongue as the actual malt base scurries through between the bitter sides of this brew. The aftertaste is upon you soon after swallowing, this action punctuated by a blast of bittering hops, and is like gingerbread, faintly, and persists with that smoke from the opening. Further sips build on that smokey malt and so it lingers longer after the initial beach-head at the beginning but will never quite scour the area of that impressive hit of hops. I think I like this, there's a strength to it that is almost endearing and enough variation in the taste to stop it being boring. It seems as though it would hold up well with a strong flavoured meal too, always a plus point in my book.
As you progress down the pint that aftertaste begins to strengthen too, becoming gradually more bitter and a little drier. There's no real danger of getting accidentally dehydrated whilst drinking this offering, it really lets you know what it's going to do. Equally, there's a sensation of alcohol about the aftertaste that would really prevent this from sneaking up on you should you decide to session it. It puts me in mind of the stronger stouts in that sense, like Barbarian (here) and Imperial Russian Stout (here). In other words, this is a good buy and one that will pay you back.
Best enjoyed in the dark and the cold of the winter or autumn, surrounded by low-level lighting and a blanket, rather than central heating, to ward off the cold. Tell tall tales, share stories of times past and times still to come, tell a few whisper stories and commune with your kith and kin. Eat meat, use this as a flagon of ale and tell people "Hwaet!" often.