This months Beer Blogging Friday, or #Session (No.58), is hosted by Phil Hardy over at Beersay. His chosen theme is A Christmas Carol. Here’s my small silver coin of a post to be wrapped neatly in the plum pudding blog round-up.
This will be my first Christmas as someone with a real interest in beer. I’ve always enjoyed a beer at Christmas and I’ve been homebrewing for a couple of years now, but this year will have an additional focus when it comes to charging my glass. First and foremost Christmas will always be about family to me, more so now I have my own kids, but now I will reserve a small part of my Christmas to a celebration of malt, hops and yeast. The sentiment of sharing should win through and there is always the argument of “any beer will do” – something Leigh (The Good Stuff) gets across rather nicely in his post. I will most likely share some bucks fizz, sherry, champagne, wine, port and whisky (not all at the same time) but when the household falls quiet and I put my feet up to reflect on the day past and the day ahead, then I prefer to put some thought into the beer I will enjoy. Just to add that I am learning that if I put thought into my beer choice in advance, then I don’t get as hung up on it during the drinking. It’s my opinion that taking stock of the day, or the year (which is often the case as the year draws to a close), can be enhanced, not in a drunken stupor, but in the way that our senses invoke memories past and effortlessly build new ones to enjoy in the future.
It’s probably no coincidence that beer is typically brewed a lot stronger at times of celebration and Christmas is no exception – this is not to say there is no variation in Chrismas beer. Also, before anyone argues the point, I’m only too aware that with a renewed focus on beer and in brewing innovation, that strong beer is available all year round, but for me a 10% IPA won’t cut it for this time of year. Well maybe just the one then.
The Chrismas beer we know today is of Germanic and Scandanavian descent, with links to both pagan and religious festivities at Yule time, Yuletide or Jul. These days we are used to seeing a heavily marketed approach to beer labelling, but essentially the beer is true to its roots and in most cases will do justice to the occasion despite the cartoon santas and elves.
Christmas is something I re-evaluate every year, as one celebration is in full swing I find some time to think of the possibilities for the next. Evaluation sounds so formal but you catch my drift. One romantic theme I play around with is of visiting Sweden at Christmas time, something about the kid in me wants to experience this but more so for my sons (honest). Without being sanctimonious and appreciating that the festival means different things to different people, for me there are Christian undertones and the Swedes manage a nice blend of religion, tradition and, well… gnomes delivering gifts! Getting back to the beer. I purposefully picked up a bottle of Nils Oscar Julöl 2009 during a recent trip to The Grove Inn. I plan to drink it a little closer to Christmas, but will probably write some tasting notes up for anyone who’s interested.
The Nils Oscar Company, Nyköping, is regarded as a leader in the new generation of small Swedish breweries and have read enough to know I wanted a good excuse to hunt some down. Waitrose stock their God Lager which is a lager more typical of the fresh, malty beers associated with Swedish breweries, but they do also produce a range including barley wines, imperial stouts and saisons. Julöl is their 7.7% abv Christmas beer (Jul means Christmas and öl means beer) and it’s a beer that suggests to me that despite their recent diversification to American inspired Pale Ales and alike, they are in touch with their heritage. With a strong farming tradition and unbroken family ties with the business way before the brewery came along, Nils Oscar farm their Tärnö Manor estate, growing the oats, wheat, barley and rye (they even have their own malting plant) which they then use to produce their beer at the Tärnö Brewery & Distillery. A tidy mix of tradition and modern innovation to ensure they know their beer.
So there we have it, my Christmas past, present and future (of sorts). So I will raise a glass of Nils Oscar Julöl to my family and friends this Christmas and affirm my dream to travel to Sweden. Did I mention that their Christmas dinners include turkey, roast beef, ham, cheese, pate, pickles, meatballs and riced-porridge with raspberry jam? (and cold herring and jellied pigs trotters for the kids). If you don’t happen to have a Nils Oscar beer in your cupboard, then just mix your own drink – Swedish style. A Mumma is a traditional Christmas beverage made by mixing some dark beer, light beer, port wine, and something sweet (sockerdricka or julmust); commonly spiced with cardamom.
Other beers in my cupboard for Christmas include: Dupont Bon Veoux, Ridgeside Insanely Bad Elf, Samichlaus, Durham Brewery Temptation and homebrew.
All is left to say is Merry Christmas one and all, and remember “every time a bell rings, a beer geek gets their wings“.