Close to Christmas, time to break out the festive ales and start having bottles again. Well, I do have more cans in storage but I thought it was time to have a Christmas themed ale for real this time. I mean, I did it with the Hallowe'en ales and so it seems only right to do something here too. I have done themes before too, so it's harder to track down ales that I haven't reviewed. Luckily, I had my local German cooperative come to my rescue with a Schwaben Brau offering called Weihnachtsbier - a literal Christmas beer. In German.
I am also aware of the atrocity in Berlin. I won't presume to offer anything more than solidarity and I certainly won't do more than mention it here. I am not in any position to offer more and this review does no more than review ale. Would you like to know more?
To be honest I wasn't expecting much, this looked a lot like a light ale and a bit on the pale side. How much can a pale ale offer a Christmas feeling anyway? That job, surely, is best left to something packed with roasted coffee and chocolate flavours in the kind of deep malts needed in stouts, right? It poured as expected from the makers of the Helle (see this link) with a nice colour that was slightly coppery and the sort of hue I would expect from something with fruit hops and lashings of tropicality. But here, balanced on the edge of Um Bongo, I found that I was quite wrong. Instead of that I had whiffs of raisins and brandy that was lightly spiced and maybe even a hint of cinnamon. There was a definite Christmas pudding air to this one and that was slightly unexpected. Mind you, decent head and not too much fuss with the sort of carbonation that seemed bottle conditioned rather than artificially added (but I may well be wrong with this - I am not known for my skills in finding these things out).
Sure enough, on the tongue the spice predominated above a wave of malt that was spiky enough to hint at the breadcrumbs and crumbly cake crumbs that fall from the pudding that people insist on having around Christmas time. There was a hint of cherry and a big dollop of cinnamon. I say a big dollop because any cinnamon is usually too much cinnamon for me - though I have to say that I let egg custard pies off for their crust of the stuff - and this didn't seem like too much but there was a definite hit of it. The raisin was the surprising winner in the combat of flavours as it rolled into the middle of the taste and the centre of the mouth, doing a good job of promising the kinds of things that ale simply cannot deliver - Christmas meals and company and good cheer. Okay, no, I'm being unfair, ale can herald any of these things (and often does) but it can't provide them on its own and this came perilously close to doing just that.
The aftertaste is suprisingly subtle after such a heavy and spiced taste in the main mouthful. There is a definite feeling of pepper, bringing to mind the Black Pepper Ale sadly discontinued by Bateman's but that can be reasonably imitated by adding ground black pepper to any amber ale (see this link), and that would work well with pickles and gravy. Well, I think so. There is also the sort of full malt squishiness remaining in the mouth that allows you to have some pudding on hand to fill the gap. This is the sort of aftertaste that wraps around a following helping of custard and both benefit from the juxtaposition. It's a full and rich sensation that is more akin to, well, having a cake than imbibing ale. And I must say again how strange, but pleasantly so, that is coming from what appears to be a pale ale.
After the welter of canned ales I've been having it was nice to go back to having something from a bottle and after not having many Christmas themed ales it was also nice to try something that was at least linked to the season. There's a new bottle shop opening in my locality too which promises the niche ales that I do rather want to try. I think I have more or less exhausted the supermarkets - in the sense that I can still fill a review or two with their produce but, in reality, I can no longer just review what they have available or I shall run out of ales. Something about doing two a week does rather mean I get through them a bit quick. But, yes, back to this ale, this is a good ale and I am very glad that I got some in to give as gifts to work friends because it is the sort of ale that will suit the season well indeed and adequately expresses my appreciation for their help and friendship.
Enjoy this best with the roast dinner, be that nut or turkey, that tradition dictates is devoured at some point this holiday season (I think I lean more toward Boxing Day myself) preferably amidst the inevitable playing of a board game with the family with new music playing in the background. Shut off the Netflix and the streaming TV and turn inward for a second or two - remind yourself of the company that you are keeping and why you choose to do it - then sit back with a full belly and pop a second bottle. It's Christmas, if you take it slowly enough you can get through five of these 5.5% ABV bottles and not feel worse for wear.