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Winter Wonderland: Anchor v BrewDog v Corsendonk v Bush v Dupont v Flying Dog v Sierra Nevada

December 21, 2011 5 comments

Seasonal beers; and what season is more seasonal than the season we’re in right now, eh?  Even the food is all about the seasoning, and so are a lot of the beers: spicy and warming.  Not usually what I look for in a beer. However, ’tis the season.

Anchor Special Ale 2011 (5.5%)

Even though it’s not a preferred style, the annual edition of this beer is something I’ve come to look forward to like the new Beano Annual.  The empty bottle will join its brothers on my shelf.  It can be proud in the knowledge that it smelled of nutmeg and berries; tasted as deep and comforting as its dark brown colour, not too sweet or strong, but with a warming spicy bitterness.  This is a very good Christmas beer indeed.

BrewDog There Is No Santa (4.7%)

Ever the pseudo-contrarians when it comes to marketing, I wonder if BrewDog think there is no Santa just because they’ve been very naughty boys and never get any presents. The slightly Scrooge-like beer name doesn’t hide the fact that they’ve gone into the Christmas beer market with both paws this year, also releasing Christmas Porter, a spiced version of Alice Porter.  The aroma is very Christmassy: sweet and spicy, with noticeable cinnamon.  It’s similar in appearance to Anchor’s style, and inhabits the same ground as a warming spiced brown ale, with  a relatively moderate ABV for the time of year. A very nice beer in the end: Dog bless us, every one.

Bush de Noël (aka Scaldis de Noël) (12%)

Yikes.  The foil label doesn’t do subtlety or sophistication (Ghost Drinker compared it to the foil on cheap chocolate decorations) and 12% suggests real overindulgence.  It is the Christmas version of “The Strongest Belgian Beer” and has a big, very sweet marzipan, cakey aroma.  It’s thick on the tongue with some spiciness but a lot of burnt sugar indeed.  I decided that what the situation required was some cheese, and some Blacksticks Blue and spiced apple chutney allowed me to appreciate the bitterness on the finish, when the burnt sugar subsided.

Corsendonk Christmas Ale (8.5%)

No more classy in its get-up is the similarly Belgian Corsendonk.  This one smells like a sweet spicy dark Belgian beer, and has a lot of sweetness, although a much lighter variety.  Again this benefited from raiding the fridge for cheese and a very pleasant bit of Reblochon helped me to appreciate it much more.  It was still very, very fizzy though.

Brasserie Dupont – Avec Les Bons Vœux De La Brasserie Dupont (9.5%)

Less a Christmas ale than a Christmas present (formerly exclusively for Dupont’s best clients), this is a very special beer.  It’s a nice light saison (come Tripel, maybe?) with a perfectly balanced hoppy character (a little grassiness) which drinks about half its weight. Admittedly this has become of my favourite styles of beer this year, but this is an instant favourite, and a new Christmas tradition if I have my way.

Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser (7.4%)

This Winter Ale is portrayed less as a Christmas ale than some sort of tribute to pet dogs who aren’t allowed to go snowboarding with you but are still up on the slopes with you in spirit.  Or something.  Poor Ralph Steadman. A slightly boozy nose and chestnut colour, then a malty beer which wasn’t too sweet or heavy, with a pleasant and relatively restrained spiciness on the swallow. Quite enjoyable, but not exactly The Beano Annual.  The Topper Annual, maybe.

Sierra Nevada Celebration 2010 (6.8%)

Ah now, this is last year’s Celebration, with an October 2011 best before date.  So, whilst it’s not the lovely fresh hopped winter IPA it once was, there is the ghost of Hopmas past lingering on the swallow, after the light caramel sweetness.  A little bit of dryness on the finish too, building on the longer swallows to a dry, slighty woody, piney taste.  A slightly withered, but still celebratory Christmas tree.

So these disparate winter and Christmas seasonals, of various styles, contained some real crackers and not a single turkey; and there are certainly no leftovers  Most of them are available were I bought them (the superb Beer Ritz), and I’d encourage you to visit your own local independent beer shop this Christmas.

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Secret Suppers & Putting A Donk On It: Sunshine Bakery, Saison Dupont & Corsendonk Agnus

September 9, 2011 5 comments

I don’t want to turn this into a food and beer blog, but I thought this was worth mentioning. The very special Sunshine Bakery in Chapel Allerton have “Supper Club” evenings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. It’s kind of like a tiny pop-up restaurant in the bakery (just four tables with ten or so covers when I was in), with a small choice of courses for very reasonable prices.

 

What they don’t have is a licence, so you can take your own alcohol. Instead of taking wine, we decided to take a couple of large bottles of beer. This was a great opportunity to have some food in a restaurant with a couple of beers that either  (a) you would be very lucky indeed to find in an English restaurant; or (b) you would normally have to pay corkage for if you brought them in yourself.

We didn’t know what the menu would be, but after a chat with Ghostie in Beer Ritz the day before we decided to go for a Saison Dupont (great value for around a fiver) and an impressive looking paper-wrapped Corsendonk Agnus.

Ghostie, as always, was right. The corks popped in a satisfying manner and they were more than suited for the wine glasses on the table.  Both beers went very well with the great French-style bistro food at the Supper Club. The light and hoppy Saison was a perfect match in very many ways for my farmhouse pate starter, which came with a fresh tasting piccalilli.  The Agnus, a slightly heavier tripel, held up quite well against a rich boeuf bourguignon.

The pale, bitter beers were probably an even better match with Kate’s choices: a mackerel nicoise salad followed by a smoked haddock chowder with saute potatoes.  We then finished off with a pot of tea and some very special cakes: an Eton Mess cupcake for Kate and a Turkish Delight brownie for me.

Normally there’s quite a mark-up in restaurants on alcohol and wine in particular.  I often find that a good beer, where available, can knock about £20 off the bill, although this tends not to thrill the waiter.  But here, because we got to pay off-licence prices for the beer and very reasonable prices for the food, it cost us only around £45 all-in for the beer and three great courses each.

Basically I don’t think I should be telling you about this at all, because it’s hard enough to get a booking as it is. In fact, forget I said anything.

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