For Christmas I received a pack of ales from Ales By Mail (not that I'm being paid for that plug, because I'm not) courtesy of my wife and children, for which I am very grateful. And now that festivities are underway it is time to sit down and enjoy one of those Christmas themed ales that I shall likely be reviewing for some time yet (at a rate of two a week it'll be February!) but who knows, I may end up having more than that.
With my daughter's help I settled on the Christmas Ale by Allendale Brewery as my first delving into the stash. It's a dark ruby ale at 7% ABV but a picture of a star on the front and the words 'special edition' on the label. These are the reasons given by my daughter for the choice and who am I to argue?
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The bottle is surprisingly informative for such a sparse set of symbols: it tells me the colour that is indeed borne out by the pour and suggests that there are more malts than hops in this brew, despite the boomf telling me about how Christmas ales were traditionally heavier hopped than their non-festive counterparts. In fairness, the aroma is intense and full of orange rather than the complex notes of malts and so it may be that they just shoved an extra large dollop of Goldings in there, which would not surprise me. However, there are Christmas spices lurking underneath all of that, like the traditions of the Yuletide season that lurk beneath the light-hearted associations with corporate spending and the gathering of gifts. Why is it that the family comes together at this bleak time of year as storms break across the land and the woods resemble the grasping of hands from beneath the Earth toward the uncaring sky?
Thus poured, with ruby glistening in the light of the energy saving bulbs, we moved to the taste of this rather oddly orange spiced smelling brew. Bubbles carry spears of the goldings across the tongue roiling like the front end of something summoned from the dark beyond the cold winds. Stags ride across the wave of frothing hops, scattering the souls of the dead before Wotan, the green-cloaked messenger from a more Danish time than now in these Isles. Heavy on the alcohol in the centre, as one would expect from something at 7% ABV, and then it's back to the deep spice and malt that would be assumed from something making use of so many different hues and categories. This settles and calms, the huntsman is passed and the howling wind is less biting now, the dawn comes and golden sunlight spills out across the nude tree canopy, criss-crossing shadows herald safety on the paths to the nearest hearth and thus a fire. The smoky nature of the malts mingle with soft and soothing also malts to create a more complex end note, still shot through with the early panic of the bubbles, but different and less hoppy than before.
There's a vinous quality to the brew in the glass, leaving streaks like a good red wine, and then a dry and feathery quality on the aftertaste as it slides down behind the horizon. Maybe there will be a light in the darkness, a promise of new birth rising from the old, or perhaps you will prefer to languish in the heat and the spice of the taste without moving to a second ale. Mind you, each sip of this ale brings a different aspect to the fore, so that now it is the softer and more complex malts that surface and run across the mouth with a full and rounded feel more of a likeness to the caroling that goes on during Christmas Eve, a herald to the light in the world rather than the light itself. Then it is the smoke and spice of the burning logs upon the fire. And now, the playful laughter of small children playing with new toys. At midnight. In an empty house.
Enjoy best huddled with family around a roaring log fire, the eerie shadows cast by the burning vegetation the best defence against the nameless dark and cold that swirls about. Tell loud stories to cover the howls of the wind and the claws of the leafless trees outside, the sounds of winter carried far and wide with only the promise of death and frigid air. Cling close to that lighted candle lest it be snuffed out but marvel, like the ale, at its deceptive strength and longevity.