This year, for the first time, the Anchor brewery of San Francisco has poured its dark, strongish (5.5 per cent), spiced Christmas ale into magnum bottles, at just over pounds 12 a pop. When this year's vintage was released a week ago, I thought the spicing (cinnamon, nutmeg, zest of orange?) very light, the beer especially soft and drinkable, the finish more-ish in its hoppiness. A good ale for mulling.
The port-like Chimay Grande Reserve, at a mighty 9.0 per cent, is also now available in the magnum size at a similar price. This beer, made by Trappist monks in Belgium, would be a perfect accompaniment to a roquefort or stilton after Christmas dinner. If you prefer something less extravagant, try Sainsbury's Trappist Ale (from the Koningshoeven abbey in the Netherlands). At pounds 2.79 for 50cl, it comes in a handsome stone crook.
Other contenders for stilton duty might be: Thomas Hardy's Ale, rich, sherryish and immensely strong (12-12.5 per cent), from Eldridge Pope of Dorchester; the calvados-like Prize Old Ale (9.0 per cent) from Gale's brewery of Horndean, near Portsmouth; or the iron-tasting Strong Suffolk (6.0 per cent) from Greene King of Bury St Edmunds. The first two, both of which will improve if laid down for several years, sometimes sport a cork rather than a crown top.
An interesting brew in an unusually handsome bottle is always appreciated as a stocking-filler for the beer-lover, and he or she will probably want to share such good fortune with the donor.
An Imperial ''Russian'' Stout (9.5-10.5) from the national brewer Courage, or the same style at a more modest strength (7.0) from Samuel Smith's of Tadcaster, Yorkshire, have flavours so similar to Christmas pudding that they will be opened the moment the dessert appears.
With Norfolk turkey, a bottle of that county's Headcracker Barley Wine might be tempting. At 7.0 per cent, it is a trifle strong, but still less potent than most grape wines. For a less boisterous Christmas, opt for Black Sheep Traditional Yorkshire Bitter, a nutty brew that will echo the flavours of the stuffing. Yorkshire Bitter is a modest pounds 1.19 per 50cl at Marks & Spencer.
As the turkey is an American bird that has become a British tradition, I am loath to suggest continental lagers, but I suppose some faint hearts will demand a golden brew. Meats such as turkey need, in my view, a touch of sweetness in the accompaniment, so perhaps a Czech lager like Budvar, Zamek or Staropramen would do the trick. In their home countries, they are served with carp at Christmas.
Several of these beers, and some Christmas specials, are available in the supermarket or off-licence chains, others only at specialist shops.
The Beer Shop, 8 Pitfield Street, near Old Street, London N1 (071-739 3701), is importing the magnums and supplies speciality brews by mail order. Many towns and cities have similar stores.
Among the newer specialists, both in Leeds, Yorkshire, are Beer Paradise, a discount warehouse (Unit 11, Riverside Place, Bridgewater Road, Hunslet) and Timothy Taylor's Ale Shop (79 Raglan Road).
Older-established stores include The York Beer Shop (2 Sandringham Street, off Fishergate, York) and The Real Ale Shop (47 Lovat Road, Preston, Lancashire).
If you still cannot find a gift for your favourite ale-taster, try to find out whether they have The Good Beer Guide ( pounds 9.99), published by the Campaign for Real Ale, but available in every high-street bookstore. The beer shelf should also have Brew Your Own Real Ale at Home by David Wheeler and Roger Protz ( pounds 6.99).
Michael Jackson's Pocket Beer Book is newly published in a 1995 edition by Mitchell Beazley ( pounds 7.99).Reuse content