What to look out for on the retailers shelves...

Seasonal and celebratory brews are rooted in the very foundations of brewing culture, and marking approaching festivities one of the highlights of the festive calender! 

Perhaps the most important of these would be the brews produced to mark Christmas itself, which through monastic brewing and expertise, had a ready link with Christianity and the season.

Acknowledging that the festival required a 'special' brew would invariably mean a higher gravity beer, a speciality product, something apart from the everyday brews, and deserving of the occasion.

Through the centuries this tradition has continued to evolve via monastic to commercial brewers, and today the spectrum of choice has never been greater. There have been some surprising twists and turns along the way, with some beers even echoing their medieval roots.


In recent years there has been a notable shift in what would technically be regarded as a 'festive' brew, and questionable if some even attempt to fit the criteria. Some, may just be a re-badging of an existing beer from a brewers portfolio, but under a seasonal label (seeing the time of year as an opportunity to benefit from increased trade)  -  so it pays to be selective.

Christmas or seasonal ales can broadly be subdivided into three categories, the classics, speciality, and commercial brews, and here is what is available on the retailers shelves for 2012.





Not just the ultimate Christmas beer, but also the ultimate expression of the lager technique, receiving 10 months 'lagering' (storage) prior to release. Originally brewed by the Hurlimann brewery of Switzerland, but now by Schloss Eggenberg in Austria to the same exacting standards, with recent bottling's even exceeding the original brew.

It is only made once a year on St. Nicholas Day (6th December) and released the following year in time for the festivities.

At 14%Alc/vol. the beer can mature for many years to come, gaining in complexity like a fine wine, a fascinating aspect of brewing little understood by many consumers.

It partners the cheese board superbly, and has the body and flavour to marry with rich chocolate dessert's. Alternatively, it can be savoured on its own to appreciate the brewers art at its most expressive. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     RATING: 6/6

DUBUISSON BREWERY BUSH DE NOEL, BELGIUM                                                            12%Alc/vol.

Dubuisson specialise in strong ales, and the Bush de Noel is a maltier hoppier version of the 'Bush 12%'. 'Bush' is the Anglicised translation of the Dubuisson name, and was changed as a mark of respect to the troops who liberated the brewery in World War One.

The beer (coincidently) bears a striking similarity to the British 'Barley Wine' style.                                                                                                                                                   RATING: 5/6


HARVEY'S BREWERY CHRISTMAS ALE, ENGLAND                                                              8.1%Alc/vol.

The independent Harvey's brewery in Lewis, Sussex, is well renowned for it's traditional approach to brewing, and their Christmas beer is a prime example.

A warming dark ruby coloured ale that has hints of sweet 'tea leaf' and rich berry fruit, and mouth filling maltiness, which is balanced and not cloying.                         RATING: 5/6



ANCHOR BREWERY  'OUR SPECIAL ALE',  USA                                                                  5.5%Alc/vol.

An established beer now on the International brewing stage Anchor's Special Ale echoes links with medieval and pagan roots in its choice of raw materials. 

Each year the brewery produces a beer to a new recipe, using spices and herbs to add not just seasonal warmth, but intriguing variations on the theme.                  RATING: 5/6



BATEMAN'S BREWERY ROSEY NOSEY, ENGLAND                                                          4.7%Alc/vol.

The Wainflleet  brewery in Lincolnshire produces this popular festive brew annually. The beer has a barley sugar malt body, which is medium weighted, with a touch of spicy hop following through, and cleanly made.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  RATING: 4/6

WHITE HORSE BREWERY RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED, ENGLAND                          4.8%Alc/vol.    


Notes of candied fruit and a one dimensional palate make this a 'sessional' Christmas ale of simple appeal.                                                                                                RATING: 3/6


HARVIESTOUN BREWERY MR. SNO' BALLS , SCOTLAND                                           4.5%Alc/vol.  

Harviestoun have an enviable reputation for their beers (such as Old Engine Oil) and this ale is once again soundly made.    

 In style however (bar its lightly tawny hue) with its emphasis on Challenger and Styrian hops, it has leanings toward a summer brew in terms of flavour, placing it out of filter for the season it represents. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                RATING: 3/6

HOBGOBLIN BREWERY BAH HUMBUG!  ENGLAND                                                      5.0%Alc/vol.

The ever expanding Hobgoblin range has a brew to fit the season also, and chooses to use spices to lift it out of the mainstream. Sadly, they lack subtlety in their use, making it a curio of flavours with medicinal overtones. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               RATING: 2/6



For details of stockists for Samichlaus, Bush de Noel, and Anchor Special Ale contact James Clay at:

For Harvey's Brewery:

Batemans, White Horse, Harviestoun and Hobgoblin are all currently available at Morrisons stores.


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