Autumn has arrived with ice winds, crisp mornings and shopping. This is the time I start to think comfort beers, gone are the summer bright, floral, hoppy, Golden’s and income, Bitters with their nutty caramel notes, such as Lacons Affinity. This beer has a smooth malty base that imparts warm nutty notes with a russet red colour it gently balances its three English hops to give some bitterness. Travelling further afield I would be looking for a Brugse Zot Brune. Belgian yeast mixed with malt and some gentle alcoholic warmth. Serve them in large red wine glasses so that the beers have time to let their soft aromas build. These beers pair well with Cheddars and a fine nutty Emmentals.
Yet for that chilled night by a roaring fire I reach for my old friend an Imperial Stout. Served in a Brandy style glass you can wrap your hands around it warm it gently so the myriad of aromas hit your senses with all its different intense notes. These aromas take you on a journey from Christmas spice, to nuts, burnt brown sugars and the final touch is of dried fruit, all of this is carried on a heady alcohol nose. These beers are definitely for sipping. So what are my top winter warmers.
Old Chimneys, Good King Henry 9.6% (rated one of the top 50 breweries in the World). This dark, rich beer is one that just gets better and better. As a strong beer it can be cellared, my advice, buy 3. Drink one now, drink the other next Christmas and then in five years drink the last one then wish you had brought more! The same goes for Struise’ Pannepot Grande Reserve (my current one is 2011). Spices are added at different points of the brewing process and then the beer is given time to rest and develop in barrels.
Poppyland Brewery is known for its exploration of heritage beers and Martin Warrens new beer is no different. Based on the traditional Norwegian brew known as maltøl, Vossaøl’ (pronounced Voss-earl) from Poppyland is 7.4%. This beer is brewed for special occasions, it is malt forward but its main pleasure is from the yeast. The yeast gives it a characteristic flavour imparted by the family (or community) yeast known in Norwegian as ‘kveik’. This is kept from brew to brew and handed down from father to son or shared amongst neighbours. It imparts an orange peel flavour and this melds with the other essential ingredient – juniper. The Juniper is added as an infusion with the branches added to the hot liquor (water) before the malt is added.
During the holiday season we cannot always drink strong beers, so what else can I suggest? If you want to have a feel of the Christmas spirit then take a look at Humpty Dumptys Christmas Crackling. Norfolk Brewhouse, Moon Gazer Winter Porter is lightly smoked, then infused with orange and coriander. There is also Woodfordes Best Bitter. All these beers would pair nicely with your Christmas meal. Start with the lower ABV and lighter style beers then work your way up.
You can also use beer to soak your dried fruit for your Christmas puddings or mince pies. Use something with some spice or depth of flavour, nothing too hoppy as that will leave bitterness when cooked that will be unpleasant.