Tuesday, 8 December 2015

‘Tis the season to be unimaginative

The run-up to Christmas invariably sees brewers bringing out a rash of special seasonal beers. Most of these seem to follow a common blueprint:
  1. The name must be a bad pun on “Elf”, “Sleigh”, “Santa”, “Rudolph” etc.
  2. Names relating to “Santa’s Sack” or “Jingle Balls” are best avoided unless you want to fall foul of Pumpclip Parade
  3. The beer should be a touch darker than a normal bitter, but definitely not opaque
  4. The strength should be in a range from 4.0% to 4.3% as drinkers must not be encouraged to over-indulge
  5. Any hop character should be dialled down to a minimum, although a tiny hint of cinnamon or nutmeg may be allowed
The result is a selection of distinctly samey and underwhelming beers, and it’s even worse when you go into a pub and find that, to enter into the Christmas spirit, they have four of them on the bar and nothing else.

Praise must go to Shepherd Neame for their splendid – and pun-free – Christmas Ale, which, at 7.0% ABV, doesn’t pussyfoot around, especially given that it comes in a 500ml bottle. (The cask version, as so often, is a rather more humdrum 5.0%)

I’ve also got a bottle of BrewDog Santa Paws “Christmas Scotch Ale” to sample over the festive period, which sounds intriguing, although as usual only a 330ml.


  1. Most of my Chrimble drinking this year will be my 6.2% Winter Warmer, called 'Fireside', early samplings have been very encouraging - encouraging me to have more!

  2. I think Spoons must take some responsibility for the tide of bland generic draft Christmas ales. They should of course all be dark and over 5%. The best I've had in recent years has been Hook Norton's Twelve Days.

  3. Spot on Mudge. Just one of the many reasons to despise "Christmas" as a drinker.

    That said, I haven't noticed as many "Christmas" beers this year, still plenty of the collaboration beers in Spoons, and haven't seen any gimmicky beers in Cornwall (yet).

  4. It seems that beer writer Sophie Atherton agrees with me :-)

    I'd say Batemans Rosey Nosey is actually rather better than most.

  5. Same old, same old, I’m afraid; and yes it’s’ normally the same culprits as well. I was fortunate to track down some proper Austrian Christmas beer in the form of Augustinerbräu Weinachtsbock, on our visit to Salzburg at the end of last month, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there will be some Harvey’s Christmas Ale on tap, when we sit down for our Branch Christmas meal, at the Brecknock Arms this coming Sunday.

    I agree with anonymous that Spoons must take some of the blame for the piss-poor pseudo-Christmas beers which abound at this time of the year, but I will endorse the comment that Hook Norton Twelve Days is rather good. Trouble is, we seldom see it around this neck of the woods. I will look out for a bottle or two of Shep’s Christmas Ale; 7.0% is just the right strength for a proper Christmas beer; all we need now is some proper seasonal cold weather to go with it!

  6. It's 20 years ago, but I still dream of the Castle Eden Christmas Ale from '95 (5%) - got very drunk on the way to football that Christmas. Spicy and powerful. Only the one year.

  7. The true Xmas beer is Stella.

    Whether a skin full at the company Xmas do free bar or a bottle necked on a visit to your Aunty. Stella is Xmas.

  8. Totally agree with everyone's comments. Just want to add that the "once a year" Christmas pub visitors want to be clever by drinking a "real ale" with a "silly name" and not get "rat arsed". The next day they are able to tell tales of the incredible beers they have drunk and can still come into work. This is the market some brewers and publicans are aiming at. I avoid both of these like the plague.

  9. I agree most Christmas beers thesedays are utter rubbish,they usually try to look like a red ale (geddit its christmas) but unfailingly fail miserably in the taste stakes, bland is how best to describe them.

    and I agree they are like that as its dialled down to give the once a year drinkers some novelty drinks to try.

    tbf I dont blame Wetherspoons for this, because breweries are chucking out beers like this all year round you just dont tend to notice as they dont all follow a similar theme, but the Rugby world cup beers that popped up in Autumn were another selection of bland flavourless beers that I wouldnt be surprised to find simply rebadged for christmas.

    personally a christmas beer has either got to be a proper winter stout/old ale, barley wine or a beer with winter fruits,spices and cinammon that tastes like christmas cake or christmas pudding, I know those arent to everyones likes but they at least have taste and character.

  10. We are very lucky here in Devizes we have two special beers each Christmas.
    First is Draybells at 4.1 % which commemorates our wonderful drayhorses which are seen delivering most days in the town Monday to Friday.
    Second is the fabulous Old Timer at 5.8% which is available Dec/Jan.
    I haven't sampled Draybells yet but I hit the Old Timer last Saturday and its as good as ever !
    Try some if you can !

  11. Professor Pie-Tin11 December 2015 at 14:08

    As each year goes by my early dread of Christmas from about October onwards turns into real hatred as Brussels sprouts lurch into view.
    Apart from the tsunami of turgid Christmas television advertising and the unimaginative radio playlists - would Chris Rea ever fuck off back home to the North-East for Christmas and stay there - I really cannot stand the forced bonhomie of the whole business.
    The low point for me and one which I celebrate with an inward groan is the first time I see a TV chef coming up with " what to do with the turkey leftovers on Boxing Day I know let's make a fucking curry out of it. "
    Mid-November this year.
    Mid-fucking-November.I hate that cretin James Martin.
    Anyhow,I'm sure I'm not alone but just like those who secretly admire Donald Trump's chutzpah, feel a bit sorry for Jezza Corbyn and have unbelievably filthy thoughts about banging Katie Hopkins so hard her warts disappear I'll go back to keeping my counsel and just smiling when yet another numpty asks me to cheer up.

  12. 12 Days is rather good, potentially deadly, and not gimmicky for a Christmas beer. Even then I haven't seen it in Oxford yet, despite Hook Norton being just up the road. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places.


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