It’s that time of the year again, when session bitters masquerading as winter warmers can line up alongside genuinely festive offerings like the seasonal Belgian beers, and all be loosely described as Christmas Beers. Among them this year we found a new Christmas Ale that lived up to the promise of being “full of festive flavour”. It’s also the beer that most looks like it was brewed by Santa Claus himself.
Norfocopia, based in Didlington, Norfolk, only started earlier this year and beers flavoured with birch sap, gorse flowers and elderflowers soon appeared at Peterborough Beer Festival. The label describes how the Christmas Ale was brewed:
Each day the fermenting ale is ‘dropped’ into another vessel and a different ingredient added – figs soaked in Brandy, then Christmas mincemeat soaked in country wine and finally a seasonal blend of spices.
Most of those ingredients were evident in the aroma, a waft of cloves, cinnamon and fruit cake, while the flavour and mouthfeel was overwhelmingly like red fruit wine, with cranberries and more spice, low carbonation and lighter bodied than I’d have expected of a beer based on “a normal stout recipe”, not full bodied enough for me but full of festive flavour alright. My interest in the brewery is further piqued by the description of a forthcoming pale ale “fermented with saffron and coconut infused Thai rice”. I picked up my bottle of Norfocopia Christmas Ale from Beautiful Beers.
Box Steam Brewery kindly sent a couple of their Christmas Beers, a “dark and spicy Christmas ale” and a “hoppy, citrus Christmas Ale”. I’ve had some of their beers before, bottled and on draught, and found them decent enough, but haven’t had them again since. They seem to get lost in the gap between new beers I want to try and beers I already know I really like. Good, consistent beers, just likely to get missed by my buying habits. Likewise with these Christmas offerings. I seem to recall that their Dark and Handsome beer tasted like this Christmas Dark, and their Derail Ale like the Christmas Blonde, and If they’re not the same beers relabelled, I’d say they’re not far off flavour wise. I might not often buy them myself then, but would be happy enough to receive them as a present, and do get similar beers from friends and relatives who know where to find them in a supermarket, but would be a bit bewildered by choice and perhaps uncomfortable with the price risk if they visited a speciality beer shop. Box Steam are obviously doing a fine job of satisfying supermarket shoppers, enjoying rapid off-trade expansion.
I also received a gift from Splash Brands that I could imagine receiving from a well-meaning colleague as a secret santa type gift – the beer holster. Sure, it’s a novelty item, hardly an “absolute must-have for all real men”, and hopefully it’s a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that this would be handy for freeing up your hands while mowing the lawn (the perfect gift for those who drink while operating heavy machinery?!). But as novelty beer items go, it’s preferrable to a beer helmet, beer bong or a giant ‘two and a half pint’ glass (I was once given one of those and can confirm it’s a lot of glass to clear up when you drop it). To be fair, it seems well made, and I suppose this could come in useful when doing QC at beer festivals, where you can’t put your glass on the stillage, but need your hands free to remove spiles – a half pint glass does fit snugly. I did say I was being fair.
Thwaites also have a couple of Christmas beers out now, Good Elf and Yule Love It, a 4% abv dark amber bitter that I tried a bottle of from B&M, quite a decent bitter actually, but another beer where the label is really the only Christmassy thing about it. If I’m honest, I expected that when I bought it so I’m not disappointed- I’m still a sucker for a festive label or flashing pump clip.