Bogrolls & Barley Wines
'Tis the Season - Christmas 2012
Would you Adam & Eve it, it took me 8 weeks to get over a bloody sinus infection which seriously impacted my enjoyment of the Christmas drinking season.
But, I'll tell you, it was great to get off those hideous antibiotics (Biaxin 500mg) and get my health back -- physically, if not mentally!
As all good Englishfolk know, there are twelve days to Christmas, beginning on Christmas Day, thus Tis' the Season covers my initial tasting session, finishing
up on 12th night (Jan 5th). Makes sense?
Let's start with the bottled stuff which takes us to a freezing, snow-stormed evening at The Lodge, hosted by Lord Tim of Gelsenkirchen and his smashing
girlfriend, Colleen. Alcohol and some pretty special food was aplenty, so let's begin...
1) Great Lakes Christmas Ale (7.5%)
I had a few pints of this wondrous ale on draft at The Worthington Old Bag Of Nails, so this opening review will cover both. The 2011 Christmas Ale was a
complete load of bollocks -- brewed with what must have been a ton of excess honey, it could have easily passed for a honey ale. A sickly-sweet disaster.
Fast forward 12-months and you have the 2012 Winter Ale -- the result? Bloody brilliant! A lovely rich, syrupy, warming ale, infused with a plentiful (but not
overdone) supply of spices. A moderate dose of honey was joined by ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Rather like a good glass of mead, this was an 'effing
2) Samuel Adams Hallertau Imperial Pilsner (8.8%)
Using Noble Hallertau and Mittelfrugh hops from the Rhineland, this powerful offering had a massive hop character. There was some caramel in the taste and
a distinctly Fuller's London Pride-ish maltiness in the flavour as well. Surprisingly tasty considering how inconsistent Sam Adams can be. A nice follow-up to
the Great Lakes Christmas Ale. 7/10
3) Tommyknocker Cocoa Porter Winter Warmer (5.7%)
Never let it be said that I'm some dogmatic old git who won't try beers from a style I don't bloody like. Yes, I don't like Porters, but Tis' the Season, and I'm at
me mate's house in the warmth with the 'orrible snow outside, so methinks a Porter Winter Warmer could be just the ticket. The initial taste suggested a mild
porter in the making - this was good - no overbearing tastes of roasted, burnt malty crap. Yep, this was definitely mild. Mid-tastes brought forward the
chocolate, and we were still in good shape. It was a nice combo -- the chocolate wasn't as intense, say as in Young's Double Chocolate Stout. The finish was
clearly Porter territory, but again I stress it's relative mildness. Very, very tasty. 9/10
4) Samuel Adams Winter Lager (5.8%)
As I mentioned earlier, Sam Adams has a habit of turning out some complete dross, but their Winter Lager isn't one of them. Described by SA as "A
weizenbock, a dark bock brewed with generous quantities of malted wheat", I have to say, I didn't pick up anything that suggested wheat in the mix. I did,
however, pick up a mild nutmegy spicy flavour coupled with a wee hint of caramel, with a nice peppery finish. Weizenbock? I say Bollocks! 7/10
5) The Macallan Gran Reserva 18-year old Scotch whisky (40%) This superlative Whisky was hand-plucked from Lord Tim's private cellar reserve.
Distilled in 1979 and bottled in 1997, this was the most incredible Scotch whisky I have ever tasted. It was sooooo warm and smooth, it was just ridiculous!
Now, my taste buds are not sophisticated enough to pick out the nuances and subtleties from a glass of Scotch. I mean, I can tell the difference between a
peaty Scotch or a spicy Scotch etc, but currently folks, that's as far as it goes.
So, I'm relying on our dearly departed mate, Michael Jackson, for the tasting review for this devine Scottish whisky. This review of the Macallan Gran Reserva
18-year old is taken from his book The Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch -- "The nose is rich sherry at first, then malty nuttiness, raisins, dates,
finally floweriness. On the palate it's very dry, thick-cut, bitter-orange and ginger marmalade on well-done toast. Then buttery, syrupy maltiness, developing
to nutty, sherry sweetness". Thanks Michael! Anyway, for being so bloody incredible it's an easy 12/10
6) The Macallan 12-year old Scotch whisky (43%)
Right on the heels of the 18-year old, Lord Tim presented me with a glass of the 12-year old from the Speyside distillery. It's relative youthfulness compared
to the 18-year old gave a taste that wasn't quite as smooth, but Gordon Bennett, this is still an absolute classic -- Comforting and warming, this is the absolute
A week later, Lord Tim and Colleen were the guests at Roberts Manor, where Lady Debby and myself played hosts. With some good tucker, vino for the
ladies and Malt & Hops for the blokes, it was a fine evening of excellent conversation.
7) Bah Humbug! (6%)
Our initial offering from Wychwood Brewery in Oxfordshire, was actually a bit of a disappointment. I tasted this beer last Christmas (2011) and was really
excited by it. Last year, it had all the characteristics of a Christmas ale: spicy, with some cinnamon and honey. This year's effort was considerably subdued.
Made with the classic Maris Otter barley, it was a bit like a mild bitter with a hint of honey and spices thrown in for good measure. Mild all over. Sad. 4/10
8) Dogfish Head 120-minute Imperial IPA (21%)
Yes, no need to rub your mince-pies, it does indeed say 21% (it's gone up by 1% in recent months). Noted in Beers of the World magazine as the World's
second strongest beer -- Samuel Adams Utopias holding top-spot at 25% -- I was a little concerned about trying this one. I mean, 21% is not to be sniffed at.
And an IPA as well?? Blimey, this could be tricky.
With the colour of a blood orange, the aroma was of very pleasant citrusy hops with a distinct taste of tangy tangerines - a little peppery too. Mid-glass
revealed a syrupy body of citrus spirit, rather in a brandy mode. As the ale warmed up you could easily be fooled into thinking you were drinking a fine glass
Despite the massive infusion of hops, the 120-minute IPA did not feature a bitter hoppy finish - the finish actually reminded me of dried apricot. Not available
in Ohio, I had to pick this up in Kentucky . Obviously, another trip down south is in order. Absolutely top drawer! 11/10
9) Meantime London Porter (6.5%)
I've held on to this bottle for a while, mainly because it became unavailable in local stores -- it was now time to unveil it. Ruby in colour and made to an original
1750 recipe, it had an aroma of burnt chocolate powder, but rather like the aforementioned Tommyknocker Cocoa Porter Winter Warmer the taste was mild
and definitely do-able for my young buds.
There was the expected roasted flavours, but nowhere near as burnt as, for example, Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. The roasted malt and
molasses flavours were in moderation and with a slighter bitter finish, this made for a delicious porter. If this is how they made porters in the 18th century,
then I'm bloody living in the wrong century! 9/10
10) Fraoch Heather Ale (5%)
The brewery blurb: "Brewed in Scotland since 2000 B.C. heather ale is probably the oldest style of ale still produced in the world. From an ancient Gaelic
recipe for "leann fraoich" (heather ale) it has been revived and reintroduced to the Scottish culture".
This offering reminded me of a mild IPA without the hops. It was certainly flowery, with a whisky-like body. A caramel and elderflowers aroma (no doubt it was
really a "heather" aroma) didn't do a lot for me, neither did the caramel in the taste. Mild flowers persisted until the end, with an indistinctive sad finish.
Clearly, an ale with no bollocks! They need to send it back to 2000 B.C. 2/10
11) Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale (8%)
Moving on to December 25th, this was my Christmas Day ale. It was one of two bottles remaining from Christmas 2006 and believe you me, it had aged
magnificently. With Columbus and Chinook hops used for aroma and flavour and later dry-hopped with Chinook and Willamette hops, this had become a
candidate for the World's best Barley wine.
Early tastes revealed ripe blackberries, mild ginger, and Christmas cake. By mid-glass it was rich, warming, syrupy and port-like, with cherries added to the
mix. More blackberries appeared at the finale with a touch of liquorice and light hop bitterness. Absolutely bloody delicious and a World Classic deserving an
outrageous score of 15/10 I'll save my final bottle for Christmas 2013 -- goodness knows what flavours we'll encounter!
11) Aberlour Double Cask Matured 12-year old Scotch whisky (43%)
Christmas Day part 2. Like The Macallan, Aberlour hails from Speyside, on the east coast of Scotland. A tad sharper in taste than its neighbour, the finish
was as warm as a night in Casablanca. Michael Jackson commented "The nose was earthy, with pears, apples and tarte tatin, while the palate featured melty
pastry, caramel sauce, custard (lets call it creme anglaise), with leaves of garden mint". With that said, Roberts Manor gave the Aberlour a tasty 9/10.
12) Celis White (4.25%)
Well, here we were on New Year's Eve and I really needed something special to finish the year on. Cue Celis White. This beer had been a life raft for me at
recent Columbus Alefests -- whenever I came across a thoroughly hideously tasting beer, I turned to Celis White to revive my taste buds.
What a Christmas Cracker! Brewed with winter wheat, and Cascade and Willamette hops, Celis White is brewed to a recipe dating back to 1453 in
Hoegaarden, Belgium. It was revived in 1966 by maverick Belgian brewer Pierre Celis (qv).
This little beauty began with a gorgeous aroma of rich tangerines, with a fair bit of carbonation. Next up were lots of cloves and a hefty dose of grapefruit.
Towards the end, there were new flavours of tangerines, coriander, with yet more cloves and a lovely, not-too-sweet finish of orange segments. Without a
doubt, the finest Wheat (White, Wit) beer to ever grace Roberts Manor. A magnificent 15/10
13) Heavy Seas Winter Storm (7.5%)
Heavy Seas is a range of beers brewed by the Clipper City Brewing Co in Maryland. Every brew they produce is of epic Cecil B.Demille proportions. Not for
those of weak dispositions, the Heavy Seas range feature magnificent, mighty, magnanimous beers, bursting with flavour and character.
Their Winter Warmer simply ROCKED! In essence, this could well be a Barley Wine in 12-months time. Described as an "Imperial ESB", first tastings
produced an aroma of fruit cake with traditional Christmassy syrupy flavours of sweet malt, exotic fruit, nuts & raisins. This rich and fruity classic had Fuller's
1845 written all over it -- clearly, the Winter Storm is a blood relative! The maltiness returned in the finish, with some accompanying hops. Absolutely brilliant
in every Christmassy way! 12/10
What concerns me is if this gem of an ale ages into a Barley Wine, then what the chuff does their Below Decks Barley Wine (10%) have in store for us? I am
afraid, very afraid!
14) Young's Winter Warmer (5.2%)
Having kissed goodbye to their London heritage, Young's packed up and moved to Bedford (north of London) and merged - so to speak - with the Charles
Wells Brewery. This is the first offering I've tasted from the new venture and Gordon Bennett, did it SUCK!
Some folks in the beer world have claimed that the water in Bedford is detrimental to the Young's "taste" -- either that, or someone at Youngs & Wells
accidentally tapped in to a sewerage pipe, because the 2007 Winter Warmer cannot hold a candle to the previous editions brewed in London.
Brewed with Maris Otter malt with a "special mix of hops" (I later discovered the hops were Fuggles and East Kent Goldings) the Young's Winter Warmer
presented an indistinctive aroma, with tastes of very sweet caramel. Mild toffee flavours persisted before a bittersweet finish.
Considering they used classic English malt and hops, it complete baffles me how Young's could produce such a disastrous pile of shite. Most definitely not
my raison d'être. 0/10
15) The Dalmore 12-year old Scotch whisky (43%)
This delightful whisky, from the Scottish Highlands has been a staple at Roberts Manor for some time now. It's mild, smooth taste has always appealed to me,
but then, you need a bloke like Michael Jackson to really reveal what's in the bottle - "Aroma: arousing, with rum butter, malt loaf, and soda bread. Palate:
malty sweetness, with orange jelly beans, aniseed, perfuminess, heather, light peat, with even a faint, salty tang of the sea." Amen, brother. 9/10
And now, the draft beers of Christmas!
16) Barley's Christmas Ale (abv unknown)
What a load of shite! There was a time when Barley's Christmas Ale was the highlight of the Christmas season, a worthy companion to Great Lakes
Christmas Ale -- but oh, how times have changed. This year's offering (brewed with Mount Hood and Hallertau hops) was pale, almost anaemic in body with
barely a taste of the Cinnamon, honey, and ginger which was supposed to be in the recipe. Absolute rubbish in every direction! 1/10
17) Barley's Ol' Ron's Surly Oatmeal Stout (abv unknown)
Here we go -- an oatmeal stout that thinks it's a porter. Apart from the usual roasted malts there was NOTHING that indicated any further character or flavour
in this sorry excuse for an Oatmeal Stout. Drive up to the Great Lakes Brewing Company and taste their Ohio City Oatmeal Stout when it's on-tap.
Meanwhile, avoid this one like the plague. 2/10
18) Pyramid Snowcap Ale (7%)
Bloody Nora, what is going on at Barley's? This "guest" beer was the living worst! Pyramid have always brewed dodgy beers, but this one completely took
the biscuit. It had a taste of coal, underscored with a sort of twisted molasses flavour, except the molasses had turned rancid. With a finish of stale coffee,
this is the beer you recommend to someone you absolutely hate. Complete and utter bollocks! I think I'd rather taste a bloody lambic -- well, perhaps I
wouldn't take it that far! -5/10
And that, dear readers, brings us to the end of the Roberts Manor Royal Christmas review. Cheers -- and Happy New Year!
|Bath Abbey with the Christmas Market in front.
|"Ooo' are Ewe looking at?"
|Merry Christmas from Cumbria! (home of Bluebird Bitter).
|Winter snow outside The Air Balloon pub in Birdlip, Gloucestershire. Police told patrons to stay inside the pub until the weather cleared!