Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Merry Elf

I should start by saying it's almost New Year and wishing you all a good one tonight. I shall no doubt return tomorrow with yet more tales of ales and whatnot, but for now, fare thee well and have a good party if you're having one or quiet night in otherwise. May 2017 bring happier memories than 2016 did and, in the words of my favourite Irish curse: may each of your yesterdays be worse than the tomorrow.

Dark and frosty, bit of fog, been out to see Rogue One because it has Star Wars on the livery and thus I must at least gain access to test the seats. Or something. Good film, actually, and I'm glad I went to see it but don't expect too much fanboyishness about it from this quarter. I elected to cook some chicken thighs (three) with peas and cous cous, the latter being hideously middle-class by dint of being mixed with tomatoes and jalapeno peppers, a spruce of garlic and some black pepper. With all of this going on it was natural to turn back to my Christmas ales and plumb for The Merry Elf from St. Peter's Brewery.

I did have one of those parenting blog moments when my youngest decided that the droid was his favourite character (by way of asking me who mine was when the droid was introduced) and liked him precisely because it was permanently dry and precise. I digress, this is about the ale! Would you like to know more?

There were tasting notes in with all of the ales and they promised me a spiced ruby number that would have a resinous aftertaste. Even the bottle was rather coy regarding tasting notes and basically said the same thing but without the 'ruby' bit being applied. On the pour, from a rather lovely bottle (I do like the design that they use), it did indeed appear to me to be ruby and dark, with a hard to form head (and I tried to get one this time). I successfully created a bit of a head, no mean feat whilst keeping half an eye on chicken thighs under the grill) and then it was barely there a moment before dissipating completely. Not that this is a flat ale, no, it just doesn't want to have a head and I'm prepared to let that one lie.

Good rich aroma from this one, plenty of nose and fullness, there's a dry malt there surrounded by plump dried fruit like raisins and sultanas, maybe a hint of orange peel as is the case with most Christmas ales but this is not the main player. I get the sort of feeling I get when I end up having one of those Christmas puddings that advertises itself as being 'fruity' and 'moist' so I guess both of those could be applied to this nose. That said, I find that the 'moist' descriptor tends to cling to sensations I find quite dry and malty and so I'm reverting back to my initial assessment. It has a lovely deep colour to it and it looks quite nice before the tree there in the picture. There is a whiff of the alcohol about it, despite coming in relatively low at 4.5% ABV - and by relatively low I mean in relation to the other Christmas ales that I have been having this holiday.

It opens on the tongue with a freshness and watery quality, not of the bad kind, but it contrasts nicely with the dried heat of the chilli sauce I added to those thighs. The aroma of malty fruits combines with a surprisingly lively bubble action to create a sort of crest of raisin loaf, but then it reverts to something a little richer and with more spice to it, drying out over the centre of the taste and running down the sides to create a more cake-like experience. There's a touch of the kick of alcohol there, with a sweetness that makes me think of the sort of thing that calls itself brandy in sweets but probably isn't (I can't claim to have had enough brandy to make a proper call on that). Then it drains to the rear where the full-fruit hits, the dried and richly soaked in alcohol kind rather than the citrus and juicy kind that you get elsewhere, before leaving a moist aftertaste that lingers around the back of the throat and clusters in the sides and near the front, where there is a tingle of the spices of the Christmas period.

Indeed, this fits in with that type of ale that seems to be released around this time of year and thus has the spices one would expect. However, unlike some of the reports I'm reading about other Christmas ales I don't get the impression that this is simply a spiced-up version of some other ale - this appears to have been brewed with the spices in mind and the malt seems to work with them to bring them to the fore. I am also intrigued by the addition of Boadicea hops, I like the name, and the promise that they have a spicy effect. It may be these that add the main effect and may explain why the whole thing works so well together and isn't just spiced ale. I was also promised a resinous aftertaste and I'm still a bit green to know what that means. However, if this slightly woody-dryness with a moist veneer is what resinous means then they have succeeded. In any case, I find that it worked rather well with the chicken and the spicy sauce and cous cous. In that sense, I pronounce myself satisfied with the ale and looking forward to getting round to the ruby ale I have from these guys lurking under the stairs.

Enjoy with a meal of turkey, after the buffet and long past the traditional Christmas meal, but still in that time when you need to eat it all before it goes off. It was cooked ages ago, has been reheated in gravy in the oven beneath a foil lid and is now served again, almost melting in the mouth, with roast potatoes and mash combined, some cabbage boiled and some almost mushy carrots to mingle with them. Sides of red cabbage and mixed pickle finish the job. Into this arena, building to the New Year just round the corner, you pour this ale and enjoy it as an accompaniment to the food. Proper Christmas ale for a proper Christmas holiday experience.

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