Thursday, December 22, 2011

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Harvey's Christmas Ale, Harvey & Son Ltd., Lewes, East Sussex, UK (England).

The yuletide is a time for tradition—those time-honored practices that have spanned the decades. Be it decorating the tree, hanging your stockings by the chimney with care or just making sure that the perennial green-bean casserole makes it to the Christmas table. My tradition is tippling a bottle of Christmas Ale, brewed by the venerable British brewery Harvey & Son. Just like those other historic rituals, Harvey's has been practicing it's art since the 1790s. Where as the American breweries (and even more so my eighth day beer from Microbrowerij Achilles) are starting new traditions with their beer, Harvey's is doing what they've
always done since the end of the 18th-century. Drinking these beers is like shaking the hand of an old friend. However, what Harvey's Christmas Ale does, is put a point on all that brewing tradition, this modern barley wine is an obvious tip of the hat to the stock ales of yore—dark, sweet, dense and strong.

It pours an intense ruby red, with just the slightest (and I mean slightest) touch of carbonation. It's aroma is huge and fruity, with a great molasses-like, dried fig and raisin quality. There's a complex, fresh berry tone, and you get a good whiff of alcohol, too. At just over 8%, its fusel notes let you know your drinking something that's got a kick. The flavor is almost cherry cordial-like—a mix of sweet malty smoothness and a hint of fruity tartness. Its complex and velvety, and there's a great chewiness to this one. It's sticky and dense—like figgy pudding and port. No hoppiness and no bitternes, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean it wasn't hopped—In fact, I'd guess it was hopped pretty good. I'm going to speculate that aging, and maybe a little Brett c. exposure sent the hop notes packing to the North Pole with Santa.

For me, what makes Harvey's Christmas Ale really special, is that it's like taking a trip back in time with every sip. The bottle itself has an old feel—it's a little bit heavier and tapered just a tiny bit different than your rank and file beer bottle; and it has that great embossed rule, inset with PLEASE RETURN. Even the label—simply red and white—with jolly Ol' St. Nick smiling back at you, hearkens to a time gone by. So, when you see Alastair Sims as grumpy old Ebeneezer Scrooge on the TV this year, Harvey's Christmas Ale is the beer you should be drinking.    

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