Well, the festive period has arrived, don't ask me how? The last thing I remember was trying to find a pumpkin beer to drink at Halloween and now, as if being awoken from an Autumnal slumber, I find that the leaves have fallen and Winter has officially hit the beautiful and "Bitterly Cold' North Down Countryside.
With Christmas just one week away (yes One Week!), there is a very important question that must be addressed before completing your Christmas Shopping...
Which local beer should I treat myself to on Christmas Day?
Well, never fear as that's exactly what I'm going to look at right now. To qualify for this list there was three main criteria:
1. The beer most be local
2. The beer had to be either Seasonal or Limited Edition (not part of the core range)
3. The beer had to be a "Winter Style"
So with that in mind, there were 3 choices that stood out for me.
Check them out below:
3 Bad Bears - Hillstown Brewery
Red Ale, 8.4% abv
So the first of Our 3 Festive Brews hails from our friends at Hillstown but was actually brewed in Slovenia in collaboration with Lobik Brewery. This brew is said to be a showcase for Slovenian hops but in the form of an Irish Red Ale. It certainly sounds like an interesting combination. Fresh in the memory of trying a glass of Hillstowns Spiced Imperial Red Ale at the Belfast Beer Festival a few weeks ago, I'm expecting some pretty good things from this...
So beer poured and a sturdy and white foamy head sits proud above this copper coloured Ale.
A large fruity hop aroma floats from the top of the glass hinting at a sweeter tasting brew hiding beneath the surface.
In the glass lies an incredibly smooth and hoppy beer. The hops are so dominant that you could be fooled into thinking that you were tucking into a fresh and fruity DIPA (Double India Pale Ale) instead. Whilst there is an alcohol sweetness throughout the abv is actually very well hidden and at 8.4% - you have been warned.
Carbonation is a bit on the low side for my personal preference although this doesn't detract from the big flavours.
Simply put, this is easy drinking, smooth, sweet and fruity. Whilst it may not be a big dark Imperial Stout for the cold winter nights, it will certainly warm you up none the less.
To be honest, Red Ales have never been my favourite of beer styles but in fairness, this isn't like your average Red Ale. This is more like a Red Ale with the bite of a bear, wearing a silk santa hat and carrying a sack full of hops on it's back.
Definitely worth hunting down during festive season.
Barrel Aged Stout - Mourne Mountains Brewery
Stout, 7.3% abv
This years Christmas Stout from Mourne Mountains Brewery is sure to be a good one. For those of you who remember, they released a Vanilla and Whiskey Barrel Aged Stout last year which was a great beer, especially if you like whiskey (you can check out my review of it here). This time around, they have emptied the barrels from last year and re-filled them with Export Stout which has now been ageing for around 12 months. I would expect this to give it a more rounded and balanced flavour, especially compared to last years.
I'm very much looking forward to tasting the results...
Black as a dark winters night, this beer stands like a quartz pillar with a off-white marble head piece fixed firmly to the top. Warming aromas of whiskey glide out from the top of the glass bringing with them an essence of wood and oak.
Taste wise, what's clear from the start is that this is a much more mellow and somewhat sophisticated brew than 2016. Ushered out through the back door leaves the hard whiskey hit and instead in comes Sean Connery wearing a tuxedo with a glass of Single Malt in one hand and a Monte Cristo in the other.
This is a wonderful stout that's full of smokey and sweet vanilla flavours with a hint of whiskey and even a whispered chorus of bitter chocolate teasing you at the back end.
The carbonation is bang on. Enough to coat the tongue and help keep the flavours lively but not too much to steal the show.
Overall, this is a very well balanced and easy drinking Stout and I'd say it's the perfect brew to follow up your Christmas Dinner with.
Personally, I'd love to see a Limited Run, Imperial Version of this beer (around the double figures abv). I think I made a similar comment in last years review and I stand by it. This is an awesome brew, don't change it. But whilst Sean Connery was a great Bond, I'd love to see the Daniel Craig Version as well 😉
Quest for the Milky Whey - Bullhouse Brewery
Imperial Milk Stout, 10% abv
So, to the final review of our three Irish Winter Beers and this one is from our friends at Bullhouse Brewery.
This is a Milk Stout meaning that it has had the addition of Lactose or other un-fermentable sugars to give it a sweet taste and a smooth texture. At a whopping 10% abv this is the strongest of the three and having had a quick sample of it a few weeks ago I have been looking forward to trying a glass of the finished version immensely.
Let's not wait around any longer, Christmas is coming after all...
Black like a Sith Lords cloak, this beer pours delicately into the glass with any trace of a head disappearing swiftly below the surface.
The aroma isn't hiding though. Bellowing enthusiastically as if it was the main chorus of 'Hallelujah', sweet smells of vanilla sing beside notes of Old Oak whilst a rhythm of whiskey keeps it all playing in harmony.
This is a sweet beer. A beautiful tasting Stout with plentiful chocolate and vanilla flavours and a super creamy mouthfeel.
If the last beer was compared to James Bond then this brew would obviously have to be Darth Vader. Dark, mysterious and somewhat graceful yet with a strike that could take out a Jedi.
Whilst such decadent and luxurious flavours mean that it is easy to get seduced by the dark side there is one thing I would like to see a little more of in the beer... Bubbles.
Whilst I appreciate that Milk Stouts are meant to be of a low to medium carbonation, Milky Whey has next to none and I'd love to see more fizz in this brew.
The three dominating flavours of Whiskey, Liquorice and Milk Chocolate really make this beer pop and along with the 10% volume you have a fabulous brew to slowly indulge on for Christmas Day.
This one isn't so much for drinking after Christmas Dinner though. This one would would better during dessert, along with a bowl of ice cream and a massive grin on your face 😉
I hope you get to enjoy some of these great beers over the Holiday Period - I personally recommend all three.
Have a Great Christmas 🍻
Please like and comment below, I'd love to know your views...
*Disclaimer: I just wanted to make you aware that I did receive my bottle of Barrel Aged Stout from Mourne Mountains Brewery who were kind enough to send me a bottle to sample. I can assure you that this didn't effect my review which of course always remais impartial and based on my honest and genuine opinions. 🙂