Bristol Beer Factory, Bristletoe, 5.5%, £2.85
Full points to the Bristol Beer Factory team in the 'forced pun' category; when you've got a word like 'Bristol' to work with, it's quite impressive that they managed to come up with anything at all.
Bristletoe is, the brewery say, a dark Christmas ale brewed with an emphasis on malt flavours, using a Belgian strain of yeast to really push those fruity, spicy esters to the fore.
Throwing a load of raisins into the brew pretty much cements this one in the 'fruity brown ale' category, with some coriander and ginger bringing the Christmas cheer to the party.
Pouring a hazy chestnut, a quickly dissipating butterscotch head gives off a flurry of peppery yeast esters, and oddly something reminiscent of thyme or marjoram rather than coriander and ginger. More herbal than spiced and fruity on the nose, then, but pleasing nonetheless.
Sweet tangerine and chocolate flavours give way to buttered rum, and raisin fudge. Medium-bodied, yet almost dry in the finish, the lasting impression is of vanilla ice-cream, touched by a slight fructose sourness.
Almost refreshing compared to all the richer, heavier, high ABV Christmas beers most brewers push out at this time of year.
Be sure to give this brew a go if you fancy a festive one that can be easily enjoyed without sacrificing character.
Recommended by Michael Bates, Trembling Madness, 48 Stonegate, York, YO1 8AS
Brass Castle’s Wallop (7.7%) comes in a gorgeous plump 750ml bottle with a wax seal on the cap. Retailing at £7.65 it's a great present for someone special, it's a limited edition with only 277 bottled, each bottle has a handwritten batch number on.
We are lucky to have a few left so hurry before the weekend and you may be able own one of these amazing beers . It's a traditional Stingo-style beer, brewed with treacle, made to a classic Yorkshire recipe in a traditional copper vessel and oak-aged in a port cask for 6 months. It’s a great beer on which to end a dark Winter night.
Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus - 14%, 330ml, £4.95
What is there left to say about Samichlaus, really? It's been something of a mainstay in most good bottle shops and world beer bars for a long time indeed, and chances are that if you're reading this, you've probably tried it.
Once the world's strongest beer, this 14 per cent Doppelbok is brewed just once a year on the December 6, then fermented slowly for ten months or so making it lagered in the truest sense of the term.
Rather than creating a clean dry beer, however, the result is a sweet, complex ale with a rich flavour reminiscent of dried fruit and toffee apples.
Because of this, we've teamed up with the award winning Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shop on The Shambles (who make the pub's speciality sausages) to create a limited run of Samichlaus sausages, to be enjoyed with a beer.
Pouring a glowing chestnut, with red highlights, and no head to speak of, Samichlaus smells, frankly, like pear drops and acetone. It won't win anyone over on scent alone, sadly, but the flavour is incredible: sweet, dark treacle, walnuts, bananas, a swelling of alcohol warmth and a tangy, burnt-toffee finish.
As the bottle says, this would work fantastically well with rich fruity puddings, hearty savoury dishes, or as in our case, in some hand-made locally produced sausages.
Recommended by Michael Bates, Trembling Madness, Stonegate, York.
Whisky Advent Calendar Save £50 - 1 week only!
Behind each of the 24 windows lies a different 3cl sample dram of delicious whisky! This year, be sure to count down to Christmas in style! As each calendar is the same you'll be able to discuss the dram that's revealed each day, whether it be a single malt Scotch whisky or some other treat from around the world, with other proud owners of one of the very best things ever.
Ginvent Calendar Save £30 - 1 week only!
Behind each of the 24 windows lies a different 3cl sample of fantastic gin, as chosen by Olivier Ward. There are market leaders and artisanal treats alongside new brands and even some hard to find gems, but we won't give it all away just yet... You may wish for it to be a surprise!
Limited Stocks so hurry!
Beavertown Brewing, London – Black Betty,
Flying Dog, U.S. – The Fear, 9% (£3.75, 355ml)
Bold, precise beers with an eye towards quality and impact, their attention-grabbing Gonzo aesthetic goes so far as to their amazing label designs, courtesy of the fabulous Ralph Steadman.
The Fear, the brewery’s pumpkin ale, is business as usual: explosive packaging, containing an exceptionally good pumpkin ale.
Where most pumpkin beers take the form of a golden or tawny bitter with a touch of spice, Flying Dog’s offering fits much more keenly within the Hallowe’en aesthetic: dark and brooding in the glass, with a boozy nose.
All-spice, nutmeg, toffee apples, and treacly tobacco ooze out of the glass from a dense butterscotch head.
Sweet throughout, yet remarkably light-bodied for a beer of such strength and complexity, initial flavours of bananas and walnuts make way for toffee apples and treacle.
Finishing with a dusty clove and cinnamon flourish that coats the tongue, The Fear leaves delightful alcohol warmth in its wake.
Not only have Flying Dog managed to make a unique pumpkin beer, they’ve united the flavours, scents, and sensations of autumn with every sip.
• Recommended by Michael Bates, Trembling Madness, 48 Stonegate, York, YO1 8AS
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Thanks to Rebecca Wright for her superb picture above.