Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas cheer, mistletoe and beer

2014 has shot by in a blur and unbelievably, Christmas is almost upon us once again. For us that has meant digging out the box of decorations from under the spare room bed, an almost military-scale operation of trying to plan how we are going to visit all of the family over the holiday and me considering taking out shares in the companies who make cinnamon and ground ginger. It has begun.

What we undoubtedly all need to dissipate the stress of all that shopping, baking, wrapping, cooking, planning and decorating is a nice drink. Christmas tends to be a bit of a boozy free-for-all, with a lot of the drinks usually forgotten at the back of the cabinet making an appearance – when else do you fancy a sherry mid-afternoon?! But somewhere between the champagne over breakfast and the port with your cheese in the evening as you duel over the Monopoly board, beer sometimes gets edged out of the picture.

This is a shame, because there are a huge number of breweries producing seasonal festive beers, many of which would go nicely with your Christmas pudding or a nice chunk of sharp cheddar. ICIP took it upon ourselves to sample a few of these Christmas tipples to give you some ideas.

DSC_0013Fyne Ales – “Nice” (5.2%) and “Naughty” (5.2%)
It was great to see Fyne Ales trying something a little bit different to the usual porters, stouts and barley wines on offer at this time of year, and their white IPA and black ale offer two very different drinking experiences.

We know we’re all beer geeks together here, but for the uninitiated – white IPAs are basically the lovechild of an IPA and a Belgian wit, using a wheat base and sometimes spicing. Nice poured with a light, frothy head and had a crisp, light, lemony nose with an underlying earthy hoppiness. It had an astringent mouthfeel with grapefruit and lemon peel notes (turns out it is brewed with fresh citrus peel, so no surprise there), and has a lingering bitterness which will be thanks to its smack of US hops including Citra, Galaxy and Summit. Interestingly, Mr Pip commented he was picking up an almost pilsner-like flavour, and after some research we discovered that the NZ hop Motueka, which is used in Nice, has Saaz parentage. Not just a pretty face!

On the other end of the spectrum, Naughty poured jet black with a light latte-coloured head. We got a red berry nose, which combined both the sweetness and sourness of fruits like redcurrants, and we also picked up a chocolate note. It was highly carbonated and initially had quite a dry, parching mouthfeel, a real charred punch of all the toasted malts – no less than eight different varieties were used, including black and chocolate malt. There was also a hoppy kick from the Centennial, but this gave way to a smooth chocolatey finish and sweet berry notes to match the aroma. Whilst trying to describe the flavour, Mr Pip started talking about the charred roasted peppers we had for dinner the previous evening. I had started to mock him until we discovered that Naughty has been spiked with ancho chillies. I conceded the rest of the bottle to him after that, as it turns out that anchos are known for having fruity flavour characteristics.  I’d better watch out, or he’ll have me out of a job.

DSC_0066“Holly Daze” (5%)
Fyne Ales call their seasonal dark amber ale, Holly Daze, “the antidote to Christmas”, making a point of not using any festive spicing, but instead focusing on producing “a refreshing beer to clear the palate”.  It pours deep amber with a frothy head and has a malty aroma, with a light stone fruit note and slight caramel sweetness at the back. The flavour is initially quite rich and bready but gives way to a grassy hop bitterness and a clean finish.

DSC_0059Ilkley – Mary Christmas (4.7%)
This blonde ale poured golden with a light frothy head. We got a whiff of nutmeg and cloves on the nose as well as orange peel and some bready, malty notes – a kind of marmalade on toast scenario. It had a relatively high carbonation and a rounded flavour that left a lingering citrus peel bitterness. We also picked up the festive spices again which warmed the back of the throat and also got a hint of tropical fruit, no doubt from the Australian hops used. This married well with the Caribbean rum Ilkley brewed with – a perfect pairing. Light and clean, this was a good foil to the heavier stouts and porters we tried later on.

DSC_0025By The Horns – Jolly’s Revenge (5.5%) 
This poured jet black with a creamy head, and had a complex aroma. We got coffee and caramel, and a hard-to-pin-down spiciness that reminded us of rye bread. There was also a sweetness which was reminiscent of a milk stout. It was bitter on the palate with a charred, toasted malt flavour and a quite a parching, dry mouthfeel which was no doubt the result of the addition of some US hops.

DSC_0031Hogs Back – Advent Ale (4.4%)
This ale poured with a thin head, and had an aroma of red fruit and berries which came across as quite tart – almost like cranberries or raspberries. It had a soft mouthfeel with very light carbonation and tasted quite tangy with a slight sourness that was faintly reminiscent of a fruity lambic. It had a dry finish which gave through to a liquorice sweetness, and perhaps a metallic, molasses note too. We were really impressed by Advent Ale and think this could well be the beer we stick with for most of the big day.

DSC_0035Bath Ales – Festivity (5%)
This poured thick and dark, and had a hint of ruby-red in the glass. We got a hit of rum and raisin on the nose, and also hints of caramel, biscuit and vanilla. It had a drying mouthfeel with a bitter cocoa/chocolately note giving way to charred coffee, courtesy of that roasted choc malt, but the bitterness doesn’t linger. There is a vanilla sweetness right at the finish, too. One of our favourites.

DSC_0038St Peter’s – Christmas Ale (7%)
This poured deep amber and unlike a lot of the other festive beers which went in for richer, festive flavours, this had peachy, apricot and even grape notes on the nose. There was a definite estery element there too which translated into a marzipan/cherry pit flavour when we tasted it. It had quite a creamy, smooth mouthfeel and a sharp, herbal hoppy bitterness which almost went through to medicinal towards the end.

DSC_0057Wychwood – Bah Humbug (6%)
This poured without much of a head but had an attractive burnished copper colour when held up to the light. The aroma was unmistakably of British hops – grassy and peppery, with a sour twang – with a slight spicy sweetness at the back and a breadiness from the Maris Otter malt. When we tasted it, it had quite a thin mouthfeel with high carbonation. Initially we got bitter and herbal notes which were almost citrussy or lemony, which gave way to a slight cinnamony warmth towards the finish.

harveyHarvey’s Christmas Ale (7.5%)
We’ve hit barley wine territory – this is serious, after dinner cheeseboard stuff. Harvey’s Christmas Ale poured an incredible tawny colour without a head, clear with a deep reddish hue. We got dried fruit on the nose with a hint of boozy Christmassy spirits such as brandy or rum. It had a smooth, almost oily mouthfeel with a slight, clean carbonation at the finish, and was surprisingly sweet – a treacly, iron-like tang. Despite being very rich it gave away to a dry, parching finish and a lingering bitterness which offset that heaviness. Definitely one for an after-dinner snifter.

DSC_0064Adnams – Tally Ho Ho Ho (7.2%)
Described on the bottle as “an unashamedly strong winter warmer”, we approached this one with caution. It poured deep ruby – an absolutely gorgeous colour – and had a strong aroma of tart green apples and pear drops, with a hint of raisin. The flavour is rich boozy fruitcake with a grassy hop bitterness to counterbalance the sweetness of molasses and liquorice. Smooth, velvety mouthfeel with quite a high carbonation – possibly the result of this batch being bottle conditioned with live yeast. We also loved the label, which trades the usual Tally-Ho horse and rider for Santa and Rudolph. A class act.

DSC_0060Brouwerij d’Achouffe – N’Ice Chouffe (10%)
What comes after the after-dinner snifters? A nightcap, perhaps? We’re bringing out the big guns – it wouldn’t be Christmas without some face-meltingly strong Belgian stuff. N’Ice Chouffe poured a chestnutty brown with reddish hue and a creamy head. You get dried fruit and caramel on the nose and perhaps an estery, bubblegummy note at the back. It is highly carbonated with an almost chewy mouthfeel, and has the distinctive Belgian yeast flavour profile; it is rich and boozy, with a balancing sweetness which may be the caramel character of the malt. Has a fresh, clean finish.

DSC_0068Brouwerij Huyghe – Delirium Christmas (10%)
This poured deep amber with a reddish tinge and only a thin head. We got raspberry, cherry and almond on the nose along with a punch of bubblegum and banana ester notes – all very sweet scents. It had quite a high carbonation and, initially, a silky mouthfeel which gave way to a dry finish, although curiously there was no hoppy flavour behind this. It left quite a medicinal, herbal, almost sour taste in the mouth, but this was not unpleasant, and it balanced well with the rich, Belgian yeast and marzipan flavours.

We were hugely impressed by the sheer range of festive beers out there – there is certainly something to cater for everyone’s tastes, whether you like your high-percentage barley wines, spicy porters or even lighter beers. We’d love to hear what you’re planning to crack open over Christmas – do let us know, either in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook.

We’d like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have a fantastic holiday, and here’s to a healthy, happy 2015 to all of you. Cheers!

– PS

Full disclosure – some of these beers were sent to us as samples, others we bought for ourselves.


Getting festive with Nicholson’s Pubs

It feels like no time at all since we were last meeting with Nicholson’s for their Autumn Ale Festival, swilling down such delights as Thwaites’ 13 Guns and Great Heck’s American Classic. But as the days grow shorter and the fairy lights start going up in shop windows, the pub chain has already rolled out a range of 25 winter ales to quench the thirst of the great beer-loving British public.

The crowning glory of this winter range are three very special brews created specially for Nicholson’s by their Cask Masters – the brand’s cask ale ambassadors – working alongside three popular beer writers and well-loved breweries. These beers make up the Christmas Ale Challenge, battling it out on social media to see which can come out on top and win the hearts of customers.

i sea santaWe are glad that Assistant Brand Manager, Ben Lockwood, waited until after we tasted I Sea Santa (4.9%) to tell us what the secret ingredient is. “They used Welsh laver bread, which is seaweed,” he tells us. “It’s added at the end of the boil so you get the most from the flavours.” We try not to splutter into our glass. Brewing with beer sommelier and writer Melissa Cole, the Cask Masters created this unusual beer with Brains Brewery. You wouldn’t know that the beer contained such an odd addition without being told – it has a fruity, raisin nose with that banana-y, ester sweetness, and has great body thanks to the six different malts used. Hopped with Fuggles and Mosaic and with added spices and treacle, it tastes more like panettone than seaweed.

“Working with Bill Dobson, the Head Brewer at Brains was great fun,” says Cole. “He likes to indulge the slightly crazy aspect of my approach to brewing. I’m particularly excited that we’ve used local laver bread in the brew as that particular ingredient is packed with umami and should make the beer deliciously drinkable.” She is not wrong.

rudolfNext up is Rudolf Nose Best (4.5%), a red ale brewed with Boutique Beers author Ben McFarland and Adnam’s. We can really smell the cinnamon notes coming through here, courtesy of the cassia bark used in the brew, along with vanilla. Toasted oak chips add an unusual, smoky dimension to the aroma, and the beer has a warming, spiced quality on the palate.

“The consensus among the Cask Masters was clear – they wanted a Christmas beer that was seasonal, subtly spiced and session friendly,” said McFarland of his contender for the Ale Challenge crown. “If Nicholson’s pub-going legion of cask ale connoisseurs don’t make this awesome oak-aged, cockle-warming ruby ale the best Christmas beer in the competition then Father Christmas won’t bring them any decent presents.”

sleighdriverFinally we tuck into Sleigh Driver (4.1%), the offering from The Beer Cast’s Richard Taylor and Harviestoun. This beer is made exclusively with British hops, which come through with an earthy nose with hints of dried fruit. It is bitter and quite heavy, with a lingering coffee aftertaste. We reckon this would be cracking with Christmas pudding.

“For me, the most exciting aspect of the beer is that it features only British hops” says Taylor.  “For years, breweries here have been experimenting with hops imported from around the world; but British hops impart some truly unique flavours and it is great that they have been championed in this way”.

Toby Flint, the Cask Master who worked on Sleigh Driver, added: “we wanted an ale perfect for the winter – slightly darker and not too strong so it would be easy to drink. We wanted a decent mix of hops for a good balance of flavour, bitterness and of course, a lovely distinguishable creamy ‘Northern’ head!”

This is something Ben picks up on when tasting the beer. “I think it would lighten the bitterness if it was served through a sparkler,” he says, referring to the device that aerates and froths beer upon serving. “It would change the flavour if it was served that way.” Perhaps the Northerners are on to something there.

This is the third year that Nicholson’s have run a range of special Christmas beers. Whereas some breweries already have festive specials, others were only too happy to have a play around with seasonal flavours. The only element that was dictated by the chain was the final ABV – everything else was up for grabs.

As Ben points out, “it’s a real investment to take your staff to the breweries. But engagement levels just soar.” Building a relationship between staff and brewers is obviously important to Nicholson’s, and this initiative gives the Cask Masters an opportunity to deepen their knowledge about the beer they serve. “How many staff behind a bar can say they helped brew the beer they’re selling?” asks Ben.

Jamie McCarthy, one of Nicholson’s Senior Cask Masters, says: “this really is what I believe makes us stand out in our market, we take ale so seriously and this is gives us pride, ownership and impacts the knowledge shared in the teams.”

Drinkers are being encouraged to comment on the three beers and champion their favourites via Nicholson’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. There’s certainly pride at stake, with friendly rivalry between Melissa Cole and Adnams on Twitter as soon as we tweeted about trying the brews. “There’s a lot of love in the beer world between brewers,” says Ben. “There’s great banter on Twitter between the breweries.”

So what’s next for Nicholson’s? There will be a Spring Ale Festival in the last week of March going into April, and a special event for the World Cup in June, pitting 25 beers representing 10 countries against each other with voting over social media. We’re looking forward to it already… once we’ve worked our way through the winter range!


The special Christmas ales will be available exclusively to Nicholson’s from now until Christmas across the 77 pub estate and joins their 25 winter ales available on rotation until February.

– PS

Beauty and the Yeast: catching up with Beer Beauty’s Marverine Cole

Marverine Cole - Beer Beauty - woman with bottles of real ale (2) This week ICIP has been lucky enough to chat to another of their beery heroes – Marverine Cole of Beer Beauty. Marverine is one of the eight female Beer Sommeliers in the UK as well as an award-winning beer writer, TV presenter and journalist, so we were very excited to ask her a few questions about her love of beer and her recommendations for our boozy Christmas lists.

It Comes In Pints: We read that you used to be a red wine drinker. Did you have one pint that caused an epiphany or was your love of beer a slow development?
Marverine Cole: It was one sip from a half pint of Beartown Brewery’s Peach Melbear which switched a light blub on in my head. I was hooked on finding other tasty beers with such impact ever since that day.

ICIP: You are a bit of a trailblazer for women who love beer – the first woman to win a gold award at British Guild of Beer Writers, one of only 8 female beer sommeliers in the UK – have you seen things open up for women beer fans since you’ve started being interested in beer?
MC: I think blogs like yours show there’s a real thirst for beer amongst women. We want to know more about it and where we can get hold of some good stuff! The fact that I’ve appeared on female-focussed shows like The Alan Titchmarsh Show and This Morning with Holly Willoughby openly exclaiming her love of beer shows the tide is turning. I’m hugely excited by the fact that more and more women are getting interested. The Cask Ale Report also shows there’s an army of women who regularly enjoy cask ale too.

ICIP: You write a lot on your website, Beer Beauty, about how you love to convert women to beer. How do you go about introducing a die-hard wine and spirit drinker to beer? Is there a style or brand you tend to start them with?
MC: I’ve never been one to say forsake all other drinks and drink beer. I still enjoy red wine and I love gin and vodka. I drink what I fancy when I fancy, although the social situations you’re in and the people you’re with might change the playing field.
I would start anyone on Fuller’s Honeydew – the sweetness of the organic honey coupled with the light bitterness and the punch of it being a 5% beer ticks many boxes for women who are beer-curious. The rich golden colour, the aroma, the taste and the alcoholic kick all nod towards a female palette – we like strong drinks with something about them. We don’t all want a pale, weak tasteless ales – of which there are many on the market, sadly. I think it’s more about making suggestions to women of beers I’ve loved and like the taste of in the hope that they will experiment and try some. I have a Top Ten Beers for Brew-bies on my website which is my Starter For Ten for anyone – male or female – who wants an idea of where to start.

ICIP: What are the most common misconceptions you hear from women about beer?
MC: That it’s fattening, is full of calories and fat and cholesterol and that all beers are bitter.

ICIP: You must taste hundreds of beers, but do you have a personal favourite style or type of beer that you hanker after?
MC: I often can’t say no to an Imperial Russian Stout!

ICIP: What breweries do you think are making the most exciting and delicious beer at the moment? Do you have any beers that you would recommend?
MC: I love Beavertown Brewery in Hackney – terrific beers, superb hook up with Dukes Brew & Que and, of course, the West Midlands connection tugs at my heartstrings too because Logan is a Midlander, like me. I love Sadler’s Ales from the Black Country – their Mud City Stout is extraordinary. I think Crate, another Hackney brewery is pretty happening at the moment too.

ICIP: As a beer sommelier you know a lot about beer and food matching – can you explain some of the basic principles of pairing food and beer for a novice?
MC: I always aim for a beer to compliment food and not contrast or fight it. But it obviously depends on the flavour explosion you want in your mouth. I think the less pronounced the spice or bitterness in a beer, the more versatile it will be. I love a good clean Pilsner-style beer with herby pork loin, whereas a really hard-hitting bitter IPA will nestle perfectly next to a spicy Thai curry. A fruity beer might work well with a dessert – I always like to pair something like a Belgian cherry wheat beer with a sour, sharp cherry tart, maybe with swirls of chocolate on the top or served with chocolate ice-cream!

ICIP: What beers are on your Christmas list? Are there any beers you can recommend to match with Christmas fare?
MC: The best and most versatile recommendation for a Xmas table beer is Bosteel’s Deus at 11.5%, which I took on This Morning last year. Produced in the way Champagne is, it’s pineapple-like on the nose, with champagne like bubbles in the glass. Serve it in a flute; it’s so special that it works with both the spiciest of meals and the most delicate of flavours. Get it from a specialist beer store. Ask them to order it in NOW! As for others – I’m waiting for a few more Christmas beers to arrive but I’ve been wowed by both the limited edition Thornbridge Imperial Raspberry Stout (10%) and the BoxSteam Brewery’s Evening Star (7.5%) – a new strong dark porter from them.

Check out Marverine’s website, Beer Beauty, and follow her on Twitter @BeerBeauty and @TVMarv