With only a couple of shopping days until Christmas it’s time to get cracking on the most important shopping list of all: your festive season beer supplies.
Gone are the days when this was simply a matter of going trough the local drive-through, filling up the boot with as much of your local Lion Nathan or CUB product as would fit and then sticking to that one beer all summer. Thankfully Australia has seen a craft beer revolution in the past decade or so and there are now fantastic beers to suit all occasions.
We’ve done the hard yards for you, dear reader, and personally road tested all of these beers. Here, Crikey presents the 12 beers of Christmas.
Always have a six-pack in the fridge …
Everybody needs a stand-by beer in the fridge during summer. One that you will crack open to help take the edge off that 40-degree day. One that is so refreshing that before you know it there are three empty stubbies in front of you. The added bonus is that the major chains are heavily discounting both of these beers at the moment.
Stone & Wood Pacific Ale (nee Draught Ale): The Pacific Ale (4.4% alcohol), which until recently was called the Draught Ale, should be mandatory for every fridge in the nation these holidays. The boys at Byron Bay’s Stone and Wood have somehow been able to bottle summer. Finish one of these cloudy beauties with it’s big passionfruit aromas (I kid you not) and you will feel like you’ve just walked off the beach at Wategos, even if you are standing in a pub in Darlinghurst or North Carlton.
Mountain Goat Beer Steam Ale: The fully organic Steam Ale (4.5%) is a wonderfully balanced beer. It’s got enough body to keep you interested but not too much that you can’t appreciate the refreshing hoppy zing. Mountain Goat has just started to release it in 640ml bottles as well, which is a perfect size to share over a good curry on a warm night.
For those times when you need to keep a steady hand …
Christmas is full of potentially awkward social situations so sometimes it’s a good idea to have a few beers on hand that won’t lead to you telling old Aunty Dot about that footy trip back in ’93. While beers such as XXXX Gold have been incredibly popular in recent times it’s now possible to buy similar strength beers that even have flavour.
Little Creatures Rogers’: From the Perth-based brewery that continues in it’s role as one of the leaders in the Australian craft scene this beer (3.8%) is based on an old-style English bitter. The sweet maltiness and subtle hoppiness means that although it is low in alcohol it is high in flavour.
Murray’s Craft Brewing Co Punch and Judy: Located in Nelson Bay on the NSW coast Murray’s have never been shy to load up their beers with as much flavour as they can fit in the bottle. The Punch and Judy (3.9%) starts along the same malty route as the Rogers’ but then they have given it a new world twist by packing it with some flavoursome New Zealand hops.
Go on, treat yourself …
Don’t forget when you are scanning the shelves at your local quality bottle-o to grab yourself a beery Xmas pressie. These beers might be slightly more than you would normally pay but consider this: for the same price as a very average wine you are getting a world-class beer.
Bridge Road Brewers Chevalier Saison: This fancily named release from Beechworth’s Bridge Road comes in a classy Champagne-style bottle that somehow makes you feel better for parting with a few extra dollars. Traditional saisons were light; easy drinking beers but this one weighs in at 6% and is full of complex yeasty flavours that would make it a good replacement for champagne on Xmas morning.
Burleigh Brewing Co Black Giraffe: When I last mentioned this beer in Crikey it was yet to be released but since then it has gone on to win a gold medal at the World Beer Championships in the US, being described by the judges as exceptional. A beautiful rich dark lager, at 5% alcohol, with a solid hit of coffee, this is another one that wouldn’t be out of place at Christmas breakfast.
When there ain’t a lot of options …
For a lucky few of us summer means hanging out by the beach somewhere. This holiday bliss has always meant a trade off though: the more quiet and peaceful the holiday destination, the crapper the beer selection at the local. Luckily for us drinkers the desire of Australia’s two big brewers to jump on the craft beer bandwagon has meant that decent beers are now making their way into these holiday havens
Malt Shovel Brewery James Squire Golden Ale: Beer snobs will tell you that the Golden Ale (4.5%) isn’t what it used to be but sometimes beggars can’t be choosers. Put me by a beach on the north coast of NSW with a serve of fish and chips and a cold Golden Ale and that will do me for summer.
Matilda Bay Brewing Company Fat Yak: Fat Yak (4.7%) has been a huge beer for the CUB owned Matilda Bay and consequently has been given the full push by the parent company’s distribution chain so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. It’s a hoppy American-style pale ale that would go down a treat as you sit on the balcony enjoying the sea breeze listening to the cricket.
But I don’t like beer …
There are some poor unfortunate souls out there who don’t like beer. Given that they have most likely only tried one of the bland lagers that dominate the Australian market I can fully understand. Here are a couple of options to try when somebody turns their nose up at beer and asks for a white wine.
Enterprise Brewery Knappstein Reserve Lager: Is this the best lager in the country? It must be up there. Driven by New Zealand nelson sauvin hops, which give it wine-like fruity aromas, and at 5.6% booze, this is brewed at the Knappstein Winery in South Australia. Yet another example of how some of our best brewers come from winemaking backgrounds.
McLaren Vale Beer Company Vale Ale: I poured this recently for friends who couldn’t get over its sparkly creaminess. I think that they meant that was a good thing. At 4.5%, this is another beer with a big whack of passionfruit on the nose. Just tell your guests that it smells like a Marlborough sauvignon blanc and they will probably drink it all.
And so this is Christmas …
Can you put Christmas in a bottle? Well, the Belgians have been trying to do it for a long time and a couple of Australian breweries have taken up the challenge too.
Lobethal Bierhaus Christmas Ale: Take one whiff of this and you will be transported back to smelling your Mum’s Christmas cake as a wee nipper. Look at the ingredients on the side of the bottle and you will understand why: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice have all been added. It’s a heady mix, at 6%. Geez I feel like licking a spoon right now.
Red Hill Brewery Christmas Ale: It may come from the same tradition as the Lobethal but this is a different beast altogether. Where the Lobethal relied on added spices to give it that Christmas flavour this one gets it all from the type of yeast used. Probably the most striking difference is in the alcohol department. The Lobethal weighed in at a not insubstantial 6% but the Red Hill version comes in at 8.3%. This is the beer you have just before you start snoring on the lounge after a long Christmas lunch.