- Fuller’s Vintage Ale, 8.5%
I’ve started buying several bottles and trying to restrain myself from drinking the last one and cellar it instead, as I am never, ever disappointed in this beer. Usually full of rich fruit cake flavours it's also been known to have marmalade, red cherry, chocolate, coffee, toffee & a slight peatiness over the years - available in Waitrose or from http://www.fullers.co.uk/
- Bath Ales Festivity 4.8%
A rich rum raisin nose joined on the palette by chocolate & coffee flavours but very drinkable because there are just enough hops in it to give a pleasantly dry finish.
Available in nine-pint microcasks and 36-pint boxes from http://www.bathales.com/
- Bateman’s Rosey Nosey 4.9%
You can’t fail to love the flashing pump clip that goes along with this festive classic – and the beer’s pretty darn good too! Full of rich red cherry and sultana flavours, backed by an undertone of good dark chocolate, it drinks well above its weight. According to the brewery it’s even used by some people to baste their turkey – well at least that would mean the world’s most boring bird will taste of something nice for a change! Also available in bottle at Utobeer on Borough Market or via http://www.bateman.co.uk/
- Breconshire Brewery Winter Beacon 5.3%
I can't improve on the official description, ‘as pale as the winter sun in the sky above the snow-capped Beacons, but with all the welcome warming glow of the fireside after an afternoon's walk in the hills’, it’s made with a mix of different grains that gives it a complex mix of toast, coffee, bread and a tiny touch of liquorice, available at http://www.realbeerbox.com/
- Okell's MacLir 4.4%
Now, you might be wondering why a filtred wheat beer is on the list, it's because I think easy drinking is underrated at this time of year at times. Because, if you're a beer fan, the winter tends to produce a yearning for big, beefy beers you sometimes can get a bit of fatigue, and I think this is a nice antidote. Light citrus & pine notes interplay with slightly richer, but faint, banana and clove flavours to produce a really refreshing beer, it's one of my favourites. Stocked by Utobeer on Borough & Beer Ritz in Leeds If you can't find this then the equally yummy Dr Okells IPA is available from Sainsbury's.
- Sharp's Special 5.2%
Head brewer Stuart Howe has produced a jammy little number with hints of spiced plum and a lovely burnt toast & deep toffee flavours as well. Available at http://www.sharpsbrewery.co.uk/
- Orkney Dark Island Reserve 10%
The first time I tried it I was blown away and I've not got bored of it yet. One to sip and savour, it goes fantastically with roast loin of venison with a bitter chocolate and redcurrant jelly sauce (a fab alternative to dull turkey BTW) because it's got a lovely sticky figgy flavour with rich vanilla & dry chocolate notes that complement red meat really well. I'm afraid I only know that it's available from Utobeer on Borough Market at this point, although Zak Avery might stock it at Beer Ritz too (update: Zak does stock it at his shop in Leeds).
- Thornbridge Jaipur 5.9%
This fruity little number from those lovely lads at Thornbridge has won a lot of awards for a reason, it's luscious. Full of tropical fruits, like lychees, mango and passionfruit, it is a taste sensation all on its own. But it's also particularly fabulous with coconut-based or fruity Nepalese curries, West Indian cuisine or even overblown pavlovas - it's a classic. Available in minicask via their website.
- Goose Island Bourbon County Stout 11%
There are beers in life where you just have to hold your hands up and say it's impeccably produced and a real one-off, which is this dark beauty from Goose Island all over. Rich, chocolatey with vanilla and charred oak overtones from the barrels it really does cry out to be poured into a brandy balloon and consumed in front of a roaring fire and a big, fat cigar. Incredibly hard to get hold of in the UK but I'll work on finding a supplier for you.
- Greene King's Crafty Old Hen 6.5%
This is a really nice beer, although I still don't like to see good artisinal offerings in clear bottles, but I guess the hop isn't the star in this beer anyway and marketing departments have serious clout in bigger breweries, but anyway! It is a lovely beer, it's really very raisiny, with some tea-soaked prune depth to it as it's a blend of Old Spec and Old 5X - to create a very 'chewy' beer if that makes any sense as a tasting note at all! Major supermarkets.
- Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30-year-old 8%
This is a big beer - based on a ramped up version of Old Engine Oil, which I already love, it's without a doubt one of the most interesting beers that's been produced in years. Coffee & liquorice dance with leather and smoke, with the merest hint of Scotch, on the tongue - it's delightful sipping liquor.
- BrewDog Punk IPA 6%
This is undoubtedly one of my favourite beers, and one I think is set to establish itself in the annals of beer history as a classic. Brewed by the mad alchemists from Aberdeen this is a citrus, pine, tropical fruit with slight pine taste sensation, heavily influenced by the American approach to IPAs. It's not for wimps, but then none of the beers on this list are. Available from Utobeer, Realale.com and Tesco nationwide.
Just in case I don't get time to post before the festivities begin, have a fantastic Christmas, everyone, and I hope Santa is kind.