Seen this about already and the reports were not positive, however, it was one of the selection that had been carefully wrapped with love by my children and was chosen by my Boy as being the one I should have today, so I have to hive this a shot and the benefit of the doubt, anything less would be cruel and unfair. Also, I do rather like my dark ales so perhaps things won't be all bad - it won't be the first time that my uncultured palate finds an ale that most people dislike a fun one to try.
Oh, and there are mad props (if those are still terms) to the brewery for the blurb on the bottle because sometimes that's how I feel about Christmas. There's some good marketing there. As an accompaniment to Prisoner of Azkaban maybe it will fit nicely. Tonal shifts and all that.
It's also the first outing for a present from my good Belgian friend - the Guinness toucan. Would you like to know more?
The pour reveals that the label is not joking - this is a dark ale and that bodes well for someone of my tastes who tends toward a bit of darkness in every type of ale tried. However, despite making a lot of noise and showing a fair bit of fuss in the carbonation there is no actual head formed. Even letting it settle produces no more than a ring of bubbles around the top of the glass and the barest elements of activity, reminding me unflatteringly of Coke that's gone slightly flat at the end of a Friday evening do with work. Mind you, there is something citrus sharp on the nose and the colour is a deep ruby darkness that still could hold promise and a decent flavour worthy of a Christmas ale (even if I hid the title of the ale with an attempt to get the toucan in).
Once on the tongue this is uncomplicated and not the worst dark ale I've had. Reminiscent of a jobbing amber bitter on the end of a working day, it does a decent job of offering something with a bit of citrus bite and a soft malty underbelly. There's something of Black Sheep about it, being a bitter that leaves a crispness, but there's nothing to the overall taste. It opens with a bitter bite and a slip of malt, rises to more of the same malt and then fades to the bitterness lingering in the aftertaste. It's not thin like one memorably bad ale I once had (see here for the full horror) and it does fill the mouth with no evidence of gaps. There is refreshment, after a fashion, with that citrus bite and minimalist bubbling tickling the tongue, but there's nothing really Christmassy or special about this particular ale, and it saddens me to say that.
A same-y hops character, a so-so 4.4% ABV and a flick at being different and unique with the coloration (of which they have done a rather good job). There's nowt to write home about and nothing to really complain about, it's not a bad ale, it's just not what I was expecting given the bottles with which it shares a box. Several other people have commented on the flatness of the overall brew and the lack of character and I have to say that I generally agree, it's a decent enough dark ale for being on the special aisle in a bargain shop but it lacks the necessary 'oomph' and, well, character to really feature in a box of ales for a Christmas present.
Enjoy the label and then buy another ale. This would do well as a standard dark brew on sale for a pound or near enough, you'd be hard pushed to find something this standard for that cheap, and would work well with a meal that required something that faded into the background. A decent curry perhaps, or something with a lot of seasoning. Maybe accompanying the pie and chips in the local pub with a meal after a long walk, that would serve this brew well. It's not a bad brew, it just isn't a very good one either.