BeerCast #66 – Christmas Special 2011

Posted by on Dec 20, 2011 in BeerCasts | No Comments

Merry Christmas from the BeerCast to all of our readers and listeners! Our fifth annual Christmas Special podcast is another festive frenzy, as we review six seasonal beers and give our thoughts – both on the contents of the bottle and the ‘Christmassy Factor’ of the label (i.e. whether looking at it puts us in the festive mood). Our first beer brings the seasonal puns straight away – Cotleigh Red Nose Reinbeer (5.0%), from Somerset. We then head to Belgium and sample Het Anker Gouden Carolus Christmas (10.5%), before dealing with the litre growler containing Williams Brothers Nollaig (7.0%). Our fourth beer is another Scottish entrant – Sinclair Atlas Clootie Dumpling (4.3%), named after a traditional Orcadian pudding. After that, it’s back to the continent for De Ranke Père Noël (7.0%), and we finish on a traditional note with the 2011 vintage of Anchor Special Ale (5.5%) – which we taste every year on our Christmas BeerCast. The festive panel this time are Richard, Grooben and Shovels.

1. Red Nose Reinbeer
Cotleigh Brewery, Wiveliscombe, Somerset.
500ml glass bottle

Cotleigh began as a five-barrel startup in an old farmhouse near Tiverton in Devon. Their first beer was Tawny Owl Bitter, debuting in 1979. Success came quickly enough for them to relocate from the Cotleigh Farmhouse to Wiveliscombe in Somerset within the year. Having expanded since, they produce a range of beers – the majority named after birds of prey. Having celebrated thirty years of brewing in 2009, they continue to support the Hawk and Owl Trust with charitable donations. Their Christmas beer might not feature an owl – but it does have a robin on the label, perched on the antlers of the maniacal reindeer…

What They Say
“Guaranteed to give you a nice red glow like Rudolph, this is a highly recommended drink. A smooth long lasting finish with chocolate, toffee and nuts. Pale, Crystal and Chocolate malts; Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – I like it – toffee aroma, nice bit of roast, some fruit 7
Grooben – Doesn’t have that thick Christmassy thing going on 6
Shovels – Smoky aroma, slightly pruney, not my cup of tea 5

Label Christmas Rating
8/10 I bet that’s the reindeer Santa breaks out when he has to go through the Gorbals (Grooben)

2. Gouden Carolus Christmas
Brouwerij Het Anker, Mechelen, Belgium.
330ml glass bottle

In 1471 a community of Beguines (a Catholic lay religious order) began a brewery in the Flanders town of Mechelen. Four hundred and one years later, the facility was acquired by Louis Van Breedam – who changed the name to Het Anker (the Anchor brewery). Fast-forward to 1960 and Het Anker produced a range of beer, owned a brasserie, and a local hotel. Their main line of beers these days are Gouden Carolus – named after the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who was born in Mechelen; to a man titled ‘Philip the Handsome‘). Today we sample their festive Christmas beer.

What They Say
“A strong, dark ruby red beer with character, it contains an alcohol percentage of 10.5 % VOL. Brewed in August, the beer rests a few months to reach an optimal balance. Three kinds of hops and six different kinds of herbs and spices define the rich taste of this Christmas beer. Top-class!” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – That’s cracking – an awesomely Christmassy beer 9
Richard – Star anise flavour, more herby than spicy, great
Grooben – Sweet but not cloying, this really is top class 8

Label Christmas Rating
10/10I don’t think you can get much more Christmassy than that (Richard)

3. Nollaig
Williams Brothers Brewery, Alloa, Scotland.
1 litre glass bottle

BeerCast fans will need little introduction to the beers from Alloa’s Williams Brothers Brewery. One of Scotland’s most prolific producers, the company began life in the Glasgow homebrew shop operated by siblings Bruce and Scott. Having an interest in historical recipes, their Heather Ales range includes the flagship Fraoch heather ale, Kelpie seaweed ale, and Alba – a 7.5% spruce beer we sampled in BeerCast #61. Today we try a brand new release (literally; it appeared the day before our recording) – Nollaig – a 7% beer brewed ‘with Christmas trees’.

What They Say
“We have brewed this special festive ale using malted barley, a variety of high impact specialist hops and hand picked spruce tips which are only ripe for picking during a two week window in the spring. The resiny sweetness of the spruce and malt is countered by a huge hop character, which is just delicious. Limited batch of 800 bottles.” [Label tasting notes]

What We Say
Grooben – Unusual and really sweet, it’s definitely been crafted 8
Shovels – Sweet, piney, sprucey, slightly bitter, it’s a cracker 8
Richard – Like drinking a Christmas tree – the hops make a difference, there’s other things to it 8

Label Christmas Rating
7/10 It’s like a no-frills present (Shovels) Without the tinsel it would be nothing, but it’s a good package (Grooben)

4. Clootie Dumpling
Sinclair Orkney Brewery, Quoyloo, Scotland.
500ml glass bottle

Founded by Roger White in 1988, the award-winning Orkney brewery started in untypical surroundings – an old school house in Sandwick. In June 2004 they merged with the Atlas Brewery of Kinlochleven, to form Highland and Islands Breweries – which in turn was taken over by the Sinclair Brewery Ltd in 2006. Recently we sampled the punchy Skull Splitter as part of our big abv protest BeerCast #64, but today it’s their session-strength Christmas Beer. BeerCaster Grooben – who was raised on Orkney – confirms that a Clootie Dumpling is a traditional steamed suet pudding.

What They Say
“A light tawny beer. It has an aroma of spiced fruits and dried fruits, with hints of smooth roasted malt. Clootie Dumpling has a soft rounded palate, with flavours of dried fruits, citrus fruits and spices.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – I don’t mind the additions but it needs more body
Richard – Inoffensively spiced, but nice and gingerish 6
Grooben – It falls into the “let’s put spices into a beer” trap 5

Label Christmas Rating
4/10 It looks like a Christmas pudding, that’s Christmassy (Richard)

5. Père Noël
Brouwerij De Ranke, Wevelgem, Belgium.
330ml glass bottle

In 1994, a Belgian by the name of Nino Bacelle – who came from a lemonade manufacturing background – began brewing at the Deca brewery in Woesten. Two years later, and with partner Guido Devos on board, Brouwerij Nino Bacelle became Brewery De Ranke. In 2008, they opened their own facility in Dottignies, producing 2,000hl of beer annually (60% of which was for export). Nino’s original 1994 beer is still going – Guldenberg – but they have several more, including a festive Christmas brew called (and with a label featuring) Père Noël.

What They Say
“A fantastic Christmas beer, but one that defies the universal custom of a stronger, spicier beer for the holiday season. It combines a fine balance of malt and hops, complex character, a refreshing dryness, and a gorgeous cellar aroma – but is distinguished by its festive copper colour.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – No huge departure here from Belgian beer in general
Shovels – For a Belgian, it’s not bad. I prefer the spruce beer 7
Grooben – It’s a good beer, decent amount of alcohol 7

Label Christmas Rating
7/10It’s a bit half-assed – a badly drawn Santa hugging a beer (Grooben)

6. Anchor Special Ale 2011
Anchor Brewery, San Francisco.
535ml glass bottle

It wouldn’t be a BeerCast Christmas Special without the latest special festive ale from Anchor. Each year they produce a highly secret recipe, slightly different from all previous years – the 2011 vintage is the 37th in the series. The 2006 edition topped our beer rankings for a long time, and was eventually crowned beer of the year in our 2007 Beer of the Year show, (during which we also tasted the 2007 one). The 2008 version also scored well, before a dip over the last years with the 2009 and 2010. There are never any tasting notes as the San Francisco concern keep the exact ingredients classified, but expect spices, piney freshness and all kinds of winter flavours.

What They Say
“Created in the style of a dark and malty, strong scotch ale, with the addition of selected seasonal spices to compliment the festive season.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Not as junipery as before, the sweetness comes out
Richard – More sprucey than other Anchors, but more balanced 8
Grooben – Backs up the aroma with flavour better than the previous couple of years 8

Label Christmas Rating
8/10 It is just a tree, but to us this beer is now synonymous with Christmas (Shovels)

– (clockwise from top left) Shovels, Grooben, Richard

BeerCast panel verdict
Het Anker Gouden Carolus Christmas 26/30
Anchor Our Special Ale 2011 24½/30
Williams Brothers Nollaig 24/30
De Ranke Père Noël 21½/30
Cotleigh Red Nose Reinbeer 18/30
Sinclair Orkney Clootie Dumpling 17½/30

  • Listen to the episode on Soundcloud here:

Keep those comments and emails coming in – many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to comment on our website this year. Our next podcast is the big one – our fifth annual BeerCast Beer of the Year show. We’ll have the five highest scoring beers from our podcasts this year, sampled by a specially extended panel. Stay tuned for a BOTY preview…

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