Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas Time is Here...

Beer: Bah Humbug! Christmas Cheer.
Brewery: Wychwood
Type: Winter Warmer (pale ale)
ABV: 5%

Well, it's a month until Christmas. I'm now officially done bitching about how early the Christmas season comes around, and can now finally begin embracing the spirit of the season. And by embracing, I mean drinking. And by spirit of the season, I mean beer. So, to tip off the beginning of the yuletide merriment, it's time to crack open my first Winter Warmer of the season!

Winter Warmers (aka, Christmas Brews) are, like the fall seasonals, only brewed for consumption in the winter months. Usually warmers are pale ales or bitters, and are a little stronger alcohol-wise. I guess brewers figure that, whether it be the cold temperature or the stresses associated with Christmas, more liquor is better. I applaud their sound, scientific reasoning. Not always, but more often than not, brewers will add spices to their brews, usually cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, to give the beer a Christmassy feel. Like all seasonals, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. The tradition of adding spices to beer hearkens back to the old traditional holiday beverage of 'wassail' - a spicy, fruity alcoholic punch (cider) served at Christmas or yule gatherings, and given out to revelers going door to door, who wish well to those who laboured for a good harvest. Hence the term 'wassailing' for carollers, as in "Here we come a-wassailing / among the leaves so green!"

My first winter warmer of the year is an old favorite, Bah Humbug! by Wychwood. Like other Wychwood brews (see my previous post on Black Wych stout), Bah Humbug utilizes wonderful labelling to entice the consumer. The bottle could practically be a Christmas decoration in and of itself, with its image of a frightened Ebenezer Scrooge defiantly searching his home for the ghost of Jacob Marley, and with holly leaves garnishing the neck. Bah Humbug! is about average for the ABV, sitting pretty at 5%. It pours a copper-ruby hue, and leaves about an inch of head that dissolves into a ring around the glass (which, in my case, is a Wychwood branded ale glass).

The smell is not very potent at first, but like many spiced brews, allowing the beer to warm up releases all sorts of wonderful scents, which in this case include: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, chocolate, ginger and biscuits. Really puts you into a Christmas mood.

The taste is about the same, but the flavours are a bit more subtle than in the nose. Most of them hit you near the finish, with cinnamon and chocolate leading the pack. The finish is dry, with a bit of a clove kick. There's a little bit of tinniness to the brew, but overall, the taste is good.

Mouthfeel is a bit thin; probably could have done with some meatier fare, but if I'm planning on drinking many of these in a session (which I plan to), it's less heavy on the stomach.

All in all, a solid winter beer, and a good example of the style. If you're looking for a brew to accompany your holiday plans, whether it be decorating the tree or sitting around the fire on Christmas Eve, Bah Humbug! will do the trick! (Grade: B+)

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