Time is running out for the directly Christmas named ales in the lovely Christmas present and a morning spent a local country park walking in the frost tinged air with cloudy breath catching the dying embers of the sun at 2pm is enough to work up the kind of thirst only an ale can really slake. Therefore, and without any consultation, I turn to Mary Christmas from Ilkley Brewery as a reminder of where I used to live and an attempt to scratch that rather beery itch. It does not bode well for going back to work (what does?).
The bottle claims that this is a spiced amber ale and that it is Christmas in a bottle. I don't know about that and I am pondering accompanying the brew with a packet of tortilla chips I picked up on offer for cheap (my parsimony knows no bounds). Nevertheless, this ought to be an interesting one and we have a fire on to combat the slight chill. Would you like to know more?
Brewed with vine fruit, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and molasses according to the label and I have to say that I can detect that kind of Christmas pudding complexity on the nose, which is a posh way of saying, "ooh, a Christmas ale!" It actually smells rather nice and is a good start to the whole affair. Pours well with a decent but swift head and enough carbonation to make a fuss but not enough to really get in the way and cause much of a problem. The head rapidly retreats to a thin skein of wort and then almost disappears entirely. Good amber hue with a hint of ruby, being the red of the Christmas season perhaps, catching the light as it pours weakly through the window into the warm living room. Not a bad start and certainly reminiscent of sitting back after a Christmas meal with the family (minus the tobacco smoke smell of my youth) and idly wondering how many pickles were too many pickles (answer: a whole jar).
A good fizz follows the fruity and full opening here, really filling the mouth from the first moment of the taste and then expanding. Fresh and quick, it moves toward the crest of the taste with a faint hops quality that keeps it dry and almost like a blonde before falling into the huge amount of tastes jammed into this number. It's a bit chaotic, rather than stately and slow, but that's no bad thing and there's plenty going on. I get the cinnamon and nutmeg running through the taste and the molasses combine with the malt to make it a smooth transition toward the rear of the taste as the whole brew plunges toward the back of the throat. Still plenty of fizz, playfully colonising the tongue and sides of the mouth before being ejected by non-violent protest. The incoming and aboriginal rulers making room for the import of the taste and the spices therein. Certainly as the liquid disappears down the back there's an element of orange peel and candied at that. Some of the vine fruit quality hits at this point but then it's gone and a warming sensation spreads from the stomach and reels in the cold from the fingers so that all of you feels rather relaxed.
It's a good ale. I'm sure that people would be happy to session this and knock it back because it's a good strength at 4.7% ABV and not too threatening. However, I like the madness of the chaos in the mouth and the melange of the spice effect with the hops. I like the richness of the flavour and the way that long after the sip has diminished from the mouth the memory remains and sloshes round like its left some kind of veneer of beer in the sides of the cheek and over the tongue. It looks like a deep bronzed polish and has a faint honey-like quality to it. I like the resinous quality of what remains when the mouthful has vanished and the warm feeling that it brings to my core and extremities. I do not feel like rushing this one, on the contrary, I feel that it can hold its own and sit happily on my side table as I take sip after sip and savour each one.
Not a stout level of happiness by any means, and certainly not at the level of some of the great ales that I have had this year, but good enough for me to take my time and enjoy it on a lazy holiday after some walking in the cold (where I burned 100kcal on an exercise machine, it told me so). Basic, spiced Christmas amber done well by a brewery who do this sort of thing very well indeed. I enjoyed it.
Best had around Christmas, perhaps as early as the day before Christmas Eve, and with time to spare to sit and just ruminate on the mysteries of life, the universe and why everything can't be canned. Pour in front of something warm, turn off the TV and fall back into a chair that is probably over-stuffed, or at least festooned with far too many soft furnishing items, to enjoy the whole brew slowly and with some degree of satisfaction.