The last couple of beers from my Christmas gift stash today, starting with Hobsons Chase "whisky beer", resplendent in the usual smart Hobsons livery. The label explains that the brewery makes the wash for a local distillery. The distillers have given back some of the finished whisky and it's been blended with the brewery's ruby porter Postman's Knock.
It's a modest 5.5% ABV and a dark mahogany red. The aroma is that of a sweet and slightly fruity porter, with black cherry, dark chocolate and a whiff of pipe tobacco. The texture is beautifully smooth but I had to let it warm up quite a way before I was able to get a handle on the flavour. It's mostly quite a simple, light and dry porter, with no more than hints of chocolate and no real roast or bitterness qualities. The whisky element is equally subtle, and easily missed, I'd say, if it weren't flagged on the label. Just a touch of vanilla oakiness and certainly no alcohol heat. I seem to be describing this beer mostly by how it doesn't taste. It is pleasant, balanced, drinkable, but at the same time not very exciting.
To follow, the slightly enigmatic Empress Ale, brewed for Empress Ale Ltd at the Langton Brewery in Leicestershire. The blurb on the label says this golden ale is specifically engineered to complement spiced foods, so I guess the commissioning company is intending to tout it around Indian restaurants. As it happened, I opened it just as my Saturday vindaloo arrived so I got to put it to the test properly. The first, pre-curry, taste showed it as a nicely full bodied beer with some fun sparks of sulphur and gunpowder through it. Those subtleties disappeared once the chillis and grease got involved but the beer still held its own, with the malt weight helping to quench the heat, though sacrificing the flavour in the process. An ale like this certainly works better as an accompaniment to hot curry than a thin lager does, but I knew that already. As a standalone there's not really much going on. If you're into appreciating beers more for their texture than their flavour you might like it, you weirdo.
Two beers that are definitely more about the feels than anything else, there. Hope it's not a trend.
And just to absolutely round things out for the season, I was passing the Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock on Sunday and popped in for a quick one. They were selling off the remains of Wetherspoons's Christmas specials at €1.80 a pint and I decided to give Orkney's Clootie Dumpling a go. It's 4.3% ABV, and medium-pale orange colour. A bit like the Box Steam Bauble I mentioned on Monday, it's quite thin, and that's not usually a good thing where there are spices involved. But this one just manages to pull it off I think: there's a lot of clove and cinnamon involved right through the flavour, and they're connected to a decent sized orangey bitterness that holds them in balance and prevents them from being too jarring or busy. It's quite an easy-drinker for a spiced Christmas ale, in fact. One could argue that something bigger and heavier, leaving out the spices, would be a better way to mark midwinter, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of fun once a year either.
Right, time to put the decorations back in the attic beside the homebrew gear.