Observant readers of this weekly beer celebration will have noticed that we publish the column on a Friday. The last Friday of this year happens to be Christmas day, so it’s only right that we celebrate with a properly good Christmas ale.
Harvey’s have been brewing up this booze for a long time and, for those in the know, guzzling it has become a festive ritual every bit as important as the turkey, Christmas pudding and arguing over the best way to cook sprouts.*
The beer probably slips into the ‘barley wine’ category which, like most beer categories, has very vague boundaries with numerous other beer styles and has been abused and distorted over the years. Barley wines tend to be strong, malty beers which, in times gone by, would be seen by brewers as the very best example of their craft, with extra care and attention going into their making. Like wines, they often reach the giddy heights of 13% ABV and contain a rich and potent mix of flavours and aromas, to be consumed slowly from the dandiest glass in the cabinet.
Harvey’s Christmas Ale, although strong and boozy, is relatively light on alcohol at 7.5% ABV but it certainly packs a Santa-sack-full of complex flavours into each tiny bottle. It has lovely rich, malty flavours, robust fruity hedgerow hop notes and a slightly sweet, tart taste. It’s also one of the smoothest sipping beers you’re ever likely to encounter. A silky sheen of smoothness that makes drinking it so easy you realise the small bottle is for your own safety.
But don’t just take our word for the quality of this festive favourite – according to the label, Harvey’s Christmas Ale has been honoured with “Finland’s Olutseura Olviretki award for ‘excellently’ fulfilling ‘The Christmas Beer Regulation of The Seven Brothers’ described in Aleksis Kivi’s novel ‘Seven Brothers'”, besides plundering other ‘best of’ gongs in Swedish and Finnish beer competitions. It’s always good to see the Brits triumph in the Santa’s own back yard.
We’ll be supping a few of these ales over Christmas, toasting an excellent year of beer drinking, and looking forward to some more cracking brews in 2016. Merry Christmas everyone.
Brewery: Harvey’s, Lewes, Sussex
Beer name: Christmas Ale
*With bacon and chestnuts. Obviously.