by Roger Clapham
Over the past three years, Ben McCormick (currently battling his way through his beer advent calendar) and I have, from time to time, pontificated wildly about numerous beers on this site. In those three short years, we’ve developed quite a thing for a handful of brewers, although frankly we can be a bit slutty and if it’s good enough we’ll reckon on about any beer until the cows come home. So, with a seasonal thirst raging, here’s a few recommendations from some of that select gang of favourites, because quite frankly I don’t trust any beer that has been Christmas’sed-up by brewing it with cinnamon or some such and I am not touching that f*cking egg nog again.
First up is, of course, an offering from South London’s finest, the Kernel brewery. I’m not sure what connection their India Brown Ale has with the titular subcontinent, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s a Kernel brew, and reliably good. Very similar to Brooklyn Brown Ale (which is probably easier to get hold of), it comes in at 5.6% with a smoky, almost porter-esque flavour, but with some sweetness to round it off. There’s a hint of chocolate there too, and it’s a long way from the brown ales that kept the industrial North of England sated back in the 70’s. One for Christmas Eve I’d suggest, nicely settled in at home.
Secondly, we have Bristol Beer Factory’s Milk Stout. Despite the name, this hasn’t been anywhere near a pint of milk, it’s just the sugars used in the brewing that give it that name. This is 4.5%, and is a sweeter stout than many, but it still carries the classic dry, bitter, coffee tainted flavours of good stout. It’s thick, fortifying and exceptionally smooth, and was crowned CAMRA’s national stout champion in 2009. So, when 10am Christmas morning rolls around – and chances are you will either have been up for hours by then or may even be facing a “kill or cure” hangover situation – this is the beer for you.
Finally, two offerings from Thornbridge. Firstly, their Chiron American Pale Ale, a 5% beauty that is a nod to the US craft-brewed version of an IPA. It’s very good, with a fresh grapefruit flavour and a long lasting bitterness. A real palette cleanser this, and it has some similarity to their excellent Jaipur IPA, although it’s not as strong. Diet Jaipur then. Lovely.
Which leaves us with Thornbridge’s Raven, a 6.6% Black IPA. As a style of beer, “Black IPA” was surely invented simply to annoy purists at beer festivals and CAMRA, but this is an excellent example of it. It’s a curious blend of flavours, being part porter and part IPA in essence, with tropical fruit flavours and a bitter dryness mixing in with dark chocolate. Which is how it starts – the first sip is somewhat mind-boggling as you try to work out what you’re drinking, but after your taste buds calm down it’s a delicious pint to the finish, blasting away everything that came before it. Suitably celebratory at that strength and pretty much ideal before your Christmas dinner, you might even say it’s a Christmas cracker (sorry…).
Merry Christmas to you. Cheers.