5.2% alc./vol., 500 ml can
Morland Brewing – http://www.oldspeckledhen.co.uk/
Bury St. Edmunds, England
Happy Christmas! You know, as I visit some 350 web sites for the beers I drink, I’m getting a bit tired of entering my birthday. I’m over 21 (U.S.), over 19 (here at home), and over 16 (Germany). Finally, the “Hen” tells me something useful: “Believe it or not, you share your birthday with Australian escapologist Lance Billingate?” He was a rather unsuccessful escape artist. If you reload the page, you get a new shared birthday. How do they do it? Well, I was unable to Google any of the semi-famous people I share my birthday with, so I think it’s all made up. Sure enough, I tried a different birthday and after “reload” a few times, Lance Billingate shows up again for a different birthday. “Old Speckled Hen” (the quotes are theirs) is named after a paint-spattered car once used at the MG (Morris Garages) car factory, often parked next to the paint shop. This Hen is a pretty good example of an English ale, and that’s always a good thing.
4.5% alc./vol., 355 ml bottle
Cerveceria Cuauhétmoc Moctezuma – http://www.cuamoc.com/
So it’s Christmas Eve, why am I drinking a Mexican beer? Because after all the wrapping and decorating and not yelling at idiots, I need to relax. Oh, maybe you’re questioning why not something more Christmassy? We all celebrate in our own way, plus I didn’t have the time to go on a long quest to find something that Santa Claus or Baby Jesus might approve of. The label explains the two X’s: “crafted in Mexico since 1897 to commemorate the arrival of the 20th century”. The “XX” is Roman numeral 20. Between them, the Aztec emperor Moctezuma (or Montezuma if you like) shows a noble profile, sometime before being killed by Mexicans for trying to appease their Spanish invaders. If you’re going to drink something Mexican next to that big plate of nachos, this is the beer I recommend. It actually tastes like a beer, and there’s no need to correct the brewer’s mistakes by adding lime or salt. Feliz Navidad, everybody!
170, rue Montcalm, Gatineau, Québec, Canada
Time to first beer: N/A
It’s typical that most of us get off work early on the last work day before Christmas. I used the time wisely, making the trip across the river to visit this brew pub for the first time. The heritage stone building is the old Hull waterworks. There’s a bar side, a restaurant side, a tiny gift shop…even a few historic artefacts that they optimistically call a museum. I bet this location is great in the summer.
The Twelve Beers of Christmas
I didn’t think it was fair to time the first beer, since my first beer was a sample tray of 12 beers called “l’horloge” (the clock). The service was a bit inattentive, though. The beers are arranged in the order on the menu, but you taste them in a slightly different order, also indicated on the menu.
On the first day of Christmas, bartender poured for me…
- Et la lumière fut! – A lightly-hopped pale ale with some pear notes and a strong, malty finish with some caramel in there. I found the contrast between light start and heavy finish was not to my liking.
- La pommée – This is a beer that looks like and tastes like apple juice made from tart red apples. It’s not sweet at all (happy face), but not beer-like enough (sad face). Might be a good food match, but I haven’t ordered food yet. It’s beer for the cider drinker.
- Kaputt Mauer – It’s supposed to be a “Weißbier Dunkel” (dark white), but it doesn’t seem dark enough…here’s a darkish orange beer but I’m expecting something like deep mahogany. It tastes like banana bread. Banana bread would be darker than this.
- ESB 1821 – Their “extra special bitter” is a lighter variety with some timid floral notes on the palate. The finish was a bit short, but I found it highly drinkable. Just don’t order this beer expecting to actually get a British-style ESB as promised.
- L’allumante – Ah, here’s one that’s right up my alley. It’s somewhere between a red and a nut brown ale, with a long and complex flavour profile and finish. (Spoiler alert…this fifth beer was my pick of the crop, but I didn’t know that at the time.)
- La nuit des temps – It’s a stout in the tradition of your typical stout, dark brown and pretty tasty if you like dark chocolate, but it’s lacking that creamy texture of its more famous Irish cousin. Sadly, it does not have the “lasting head” promised on the menu.
- La framboyante – It’s odd that they put a raspberry beer at this point in the flight, but as with the apple beer, it’s not at all sweet. It tastes of raspberries, not raspberry jam. Expect it to have some bite like most unsweetened fruit. It’s beer for those who like fruit wine. Maybe it’s a bit too tart.
- Carpe Diem – Sieze the beer…a Belgian style blonde with lots of citrus and spice: tangerine and cardamom if I had to name them. Some might put an orange slice on it for show, but good beer needs neither decoration nor post-brewing flavour enhancement to correct it. Nice!
- Diable au corps – The flavour is definitely stepping up a notch or two as I move into the stronger and pricier beers. It’s not as bitter as the 100 IBU statistic might suggest, mainly because the bitterness is balanced with the sugars found in a beer of this strength.
- La messe de minuit – “Midnight mass” comes a day early for me. Do you like Christmas candy? You know, that mix of licorice and mint in those striped hard candies that old ladies seem to always have on hand. This tastes exactly like Christmas candy. I don’t like the taste of Christmas candy myself.
- Mea magna culpa – To be fair, I think the Christmas beer messed up my palate. I think this was my favourite of their strong beers, but maybe just because it washed away the candy flavours of the previous beer. I’ll have to try it again sometime on it’s own. Ooh, gift shop!
- Obscur désir – Steve likes a stout, and didn’t realize that this Imperial stout has twice the punch of a typical stout for commoners. It also has twice the stout flavour: a real sipping beer. When your extremities go numb and jokes seem funnier than they should be, you realize the power it has.
It was mid-afternoon, but some snacks were in order. Steve started with “Simon Bolivar” nachos for sharing. They come with finely diced chicken in chipotle sauce on top. Salsa, guacamole, and sour cream are in little plastic containers…kind of tacky. The entire bottom layer of nachos fused with the paper lining the plate. A good dish served very poorly. I was still a bit hungry, so I had a “Poutine chic” that comes topped with smoked meat, gouda cheese, and a rather plain gravy. Not bad. Hmm, I’m still thirsty…I was just not content with only their 12 house draughts. Next, I drank a “special guest” stout named Greg. Good thing my friend Greg was not there or this could have been confusing.
Next Week: The Manx
5.2% alc./vol., 500 ml bottle
Wells and Young’s Brewing Company – http://www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk/
Today we focus on the heritage of Charles Young, the other half of the 2006 merger that formed England’s largest “family owned” brewery. This one is much more interesting than the Wells export brews. It’s how to do a flavoured beer right. It’s a stout first, with a hint of chocolate flavour that compliments the natural notes of bitter chocolate already found in a stout. I suppose they were inspired by the name of the ingredient chocolate malt, which is malted barley and not chocolate at all. The beer contains chocolate too. The “double chocolate” is the combination of the “chocolate” malted barley and the actual chocolate. There’s oats in there too…sounds heart healthy. It’s not sweet. Seriously, it’s healthy! I have to keep telling myself that.
5% alc./vol., 500 ml can
Wells and Young’s Brewing Company – http://www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk/
It’s from the heart of England, but it’s heading straight to the liver of James. Wells seems to have hit the mark on this one, albeit a rather large and uninteresting mark. Wells proudly gets their water from their own well. No, the company is not named after its well, it’s named after founder Charles Wells. (The brewery merged with Young in 2006.) The Wells family traces its roots back to 1066 and all that, the Norman invasion, invaders who happened to settle in the village of Well, which also has a well that gave its name to the village and the family who lived there. If you’re in the U.K. and wondering where to pick up a can of this IPA, you should know that this English beer is brewed for export to Canada. I’m a bit insulted that they stripped out some of the character to appeal to our colonial tastes. It seems to have worked; this is somewhat popular. As we all know, popular equates to average.
5% alc./vol., 650 ml bottle
Trafalgar Ales and Meads – http://www.alesandmeads.com/
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
It’s almost Christmas, and once again I’m considering converting to Orthodox Christianity so that I can celebrate that damn holiday on January 7th. Why the difference? The year is not 365.25 days long, it is actually 11 minutes shorter. This means that your great-grandchildren have calendars and clocks that are a day fast. Because Easter is timed with the Spring equinox, a celestial event, the Pope decided to fix the calendar in 1582. To put the Spring equinox back on March 21, countries of the world had to skip ahead 10 days. They all did this at different times, making for a bit of confusion. However, if you thought the Pope was just some old guy in a dress, you kept your old calendar. If you ever need to back up 13 days (the difference keeps growing), switch over to the old Julian calendar. As for the beer, it’s only mildly smoky and a very drinkable stout. Goes well with wrapping presents.
4.6% alc./vol., 710 ml bottle
Cerveceria Modelo Sa De Cv – http://www.corona.com/
Mexico City, Mexico
I have often said that a good beer doesn’t need fixing. When a renowned chef brings you his finest dish, don’t ask for him to pass the ketchup. Corona always comes served with lime, but in the interests of science, I had a few sips before giving the lime a bath. By itself, Corona is pretty lifeless…kind of like a glass of soda water that spent some time near a glass of German lager. Okay, time to drop in the lime. Yes, the lime really wakes up the flavour, so it does make sense to drop it in there. It’s not just for show. I found the result refreshing, but not particularly like a beer at all. It’s certainly a thousand times better than those pre-mixed “light lime” beers that are a crime against beermanity. Do I keep limes in the house? No. I had to make a special trip to the grocery store to track down some limes, making this a most inconvenient experiment. It also made the my glass cost 30 cents more than it should. Next time, I think I’ll get something that was finished when it left the brewery.