What I want for Christmas - and what all beer-drinkers should get - is a stylish variety of beers. To ensure that it arrives, I have stocked Santa's sleigh with some of my favourite brews. Each represents a different style of beer and is available in Britain, but I have packed them into a boxed set.
I have started with a golden lager - the original from the town of Pilsen in Bohemia, the Czech republic. It is Pilsner Urquell, the second word meaning original source. Note the flowery bouquet, faintly honey sweetness of the malt, and the dry finish. The bouquet and finish we owe to Bohemian hops, the most delicate in the world. The honey notes come from the sweet Bohemian and Moravian barley malt. The two meet behind the Napoleonic gates of the Pilsner Urquell brewery, and ferment with the house yeast in the caves beneath. Alcohol content is 4.2 per cent.
Before Pilsner Urquell was created, in 1842, all lager was dark brown. Examples are hard to find in Britain, so I have chosen the unusually strong (at 7.5) Paulaner Salvator, a 'double bock' from Munich. The term 'bock' is a corruption of Einbeck, the German town first famous for strong beers. The monks of St Francis of Paula founded the Munich brewery in 1634 and named their beer after the Saviour. The brew is full-bodied and malty, and served in Germany as a late winter warmer.
For drinkers who are not sure whether they prefer the cleanness of a lager or the complexity of an ale, I have included a brew that has elements of both. Anchor Steam Beer (4.8) is fermented at warm temperatures, like an ale, but with a lager yeast. This technique was improvised during the California gold rush in the 1890s, and the beer is still made in the same way in San Francisco. It is so lively that Californian bartenders ducked from the hissing foam when they tapped a cask. Hence the name 'steam' beer.
Like the two previous beers, Anchor Steam is a world classic, but the same brewery's Liberty Ale is also an outstanding brew. It is paler than most British ales, but far more hoppy and bitter, and stronger, at 5.6. The American Cascade hop imparts an especially flowery dryness. I shall have a Liberty Ale as an aperitif before turkey on Thanksgiving. I cannot wait until Christmas.
There is a wonderful hoppy, appetising ale from Belgium, too, from the Trappist monastery of Orval. This has three fermentations and is full of earthy complexity. The Trappist brews are among the few types of beer to develop with age. Keep Orval (6.2) in a cool (but not refrigerated) dark place for six months or even a year or two.
Another Belgian Trappist monastery, Westmalle, produces a potent golden ale called, in the Flemish spelling, Tripel. This is the strongest, at 9.0, of the monastery's beers; there is also a 'double' and a 'single'. I think its complex flavours include coriander, though the monks are secretive about that.
Despite their popular image as lager-drinkers, the Germans also have ales. The version called Alt ('old') is similar to a British bitter, but smoother in palate. This style is especially popular around Dusseldorf. Diebels Alt (4.8), with a sweet, malty palate and dry, hoppy finish, comes from Issum, to the north. It is a soothing, sociable glass.
An India Pale Ale should really be strong, to protect itself on its journey to the Empire, but nowadays few in Britain are. I shall forgive Bateman's, of Lincolnshire, for its 3.8 IPA because the ale has such a beautiful balance of malt and hop. This is the brew to serve with Christmas dinner. Perhaps I should have laid in a whole case of it.
In the Christmas pudding I shall put a splash of the slightly tart, iron-like Strong Suffolk (6.0), an Old Ale blended from ceiling-high wooden tuns at the Greene King Brewery. Or shall I go for Harvey's Porter (4.8) from Lewes? It reminds me of the Guinness of my youth. Perhaps I will put the Porter in the pudding and drink the Strong Suffolk with it. With the stilton there will be a port-like beer, Chimay Capsule Rouge (7.0), from another Trappist monastery in Belgium.
I shall try to hang on to the Traquair House Ale (7.2) from the castle at Innerleithen in the Scottish borders. I want that quirky Scotch Ale, with all its powerful oakiness, for Hogmanay.
When it is all over, and all I need is something light and refreshing, I may choose a yeastily quenching wheat beer, the Hefe-Weissbier (5.3) from Kaiserdom, of Bamberg, Franconia. Or should it be Belgium's Hoegaarden Witbier (5.0), brewed with orange peel and coriander? Or the wheat-based cherry Kriek (5.0) or raspberry Framboise (4.0) from Timmermans, of Belgium? Both are fermented with wild yeasts, so may be as sweet and tart as some family Christmases.
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