Every year we are seeing more and more Christmas beers from Australia’s merry brewers. That may simply have something to do with the increase in brewery numbers across recent years. Nonetheless, there seems to be no shortage of goodwill for a festive season brew in this country where our Christmas climate is rarely suited to drinking the strong dark beers that dominate the occasion.
Commonly, the modern term of “Christmas Ale” is associated with spiced and fruity strong Belgian style ales. They are warming beers that suit the northern hemisphere’s snow-covered December days and pair well with Christmas pudding. Down under, many Australian brewers follow suit by crafting Christmas beers inspired by a European heritage, complementing our Australian love of fruit cakes and plum pudding for Christmas dessert.
A handful of brewers create Christmas beers more suited to the local climate. They still tend to be malt-driven beers with dark fruit flavours, but they favour summer friendly characteristics, such as a dryer finish or lower alcohol content.
Here’s a look at several Australian beers that will be pouring this Christmas.
HopDog BeerWorks Secret Santa
Tim Thomas of HopDog BeerWorks in Nowra has quickly carved out a strong reputation for Christmas beers. Since opening in 2011, HopDog has released White Christmas Double IPA and Secret Santa Gingerbread Belgian Ale. Secret Santa returns this year and Tim told Australian Brews News what to expect.
“This year’s Secret Santa is a slight reboot on the 2011 version in that we’ve dropped the alcohol from 8.6% to 7.0%, just to make Christmas day a bit less boozy,” Tim said.
“The malt grist is still the same, with home baked gingerbreads added in the mash, and we still add Indonesian palm and coconut sugar into the boil to boost alcohol and add complexity, as well as a blend of orange peel and coriander for spicing.
“HopDog’s two favourite Belgian yeast strains ferment it out dry and doughy. It’s already smashing along in sales, and hopefully we won’t run out before Christmas again as we did the last 2 years.”
For a food match Tim suggests that the complexity from its spice and yeast profile make Secret Santa a good match for the fatty roasted meats and vegetables of a big European styled Christmas spread.
“And it’s an excellent pairing to rich Christmas pudding with brandy cream,” noted Tim.
Red Duck Brewery Rufus Icenium
Rufus Icenium is a 9.0% abv Imperial Celtic Red Ale, which Santa would surely enjoy on his return to the North Pole.
The man behind all things Red Duck beer, Scott Wilson-Browne, told us that the appropriately named Glacier hop was the inspiration for his big Christmas beer.
“Our Christmas beer is a big red, with plenty of malt and lots of Glacier hops. We have previously made a Celtic Red called Red Admiral with Glacier, and found that over time it develops more and more plum pudding and dried fruit characters. So this Christmas we made an imperial version of that beer,” Scott said.
“It’s a one-off batch with only 1500 bottles produced, and one keg that will be on tap at The Avoca Hotel leading up to Christmas.”
“Rufus Icenium is perfectly suited to roast turkey and all the trimmings, or just as good with any Australian dish such as salmon, and of course, super fantastic with pudding.”
Red Hill Brewery Christmas Ale
Red Hill’s popular Christmas Ale was the first seasonal beer ever released by the small brewery in 2006, and since then it has been a craft beer mainstay of Christmas time in Victoria. It is an Australian take on a Belgian abbey styled ale, with a lighter body and higher hop presence to help make an 8% abv ale more drinkable in the Aussie summer. It has also displayed very good aging qualities.
Founder and head-brewer, Dave Golding, told us that the Red Hill Christmas Ale recipe has changed little over the years because it’s one of their favourite beers.
“It’s the same recipe this year but designed to be a little drier than other years, emphasising the spicy hoppy character of the beer.”
“It is fantastic with food, such as duck and cherry salad. Our favourite cheese match for it is the Comte, a firm, aged, French gouda style. Every year we baste the Christmas Ale in it, with a mixture of Ale, spices, mustard and orange juice. And, of course, we love it with Christmas pudding.”
Sideshow Brewers & Kooinda Brewery ‘Decembeer’ Christmas Ale 2013
Sideshow Brewers, who brew at the Kooinda Brewery in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, have collaborated with their hosts to produce a Spiced Christmas Ale. They describe it as “a Christmas pudding of a beer”. Decembeer was brewed with Special B and Biscuit Malts, Bramling Cross hops, and brewed it with currants, raisins, nutmeg, cinnamon and orange peel. The result is a 6.5% abv spiced brown ale.
1200 bottles have been produced, which includes special gift-giving label that provides a space for you to write the recipient’s name.
Holgate Black Forest Summer Porter
This Christmas, the brewers at Holgate Brewhouse thought the time was “cherry ripe” to put a summer spin on their classic Temptress chocolate porter recipe.
Holgate’s Black Forest Summer Porter has been named after the Macedon Ranges Black Forest, located on the doorstep of the Holgate Brewhouse, as well as the fabled chocolate cherry cake dessert. It has been brewed a touch lighter in colour and with lower roast than Temptress, but has also received an addition of fresh summer cherries and orange peel for layered complexity.
Sail & Anchor Changing Tides
Woolworth’s Sail & Anchor surprised many beer geeks this year. In contrast to to their regular range of mainstream craft, the brand released a number of unexpected big crafty ales that displayed some appreciation for seasonal brewing, rather than chasing the latest craft beer style market trends while pleasing the accountants. First there was the Jar Tar Imperial Stout for winter, then Devil Dodger IPA in spring.
For Christmas, Sail & Anchor have released Changing Tides, with label art that will display an undeniably Christmas theme if you flip it upside down.
The brewer suggests it’s a perfect match for Christmas pudding, with similarities in rich sweet flavours. It would also pair well with a sharp cheese that can contrast the sweetness, such as a vintage cheddar or a strong blue cheese.
Joey Julian from Sail & Anchor’s PR explained why Changing Tides would make a perfect Christmas gift.
“Barleywines are relatively unusual (at least in Australia); it’s a limited release that goes great with typical Christmas fare. So it can be cracked open on Christmas day itself, or alternatively, it can be cellared, perhaps kept for next Christmas, or the one after, or the one after that. Or any other time, really. Also, it’s meant to be poured into a snifter or similar, something that really lets the oxygen get into it, so as a Christmas gift, you might pair it with a new piece of glassware for the really dedicated beer lover.”
Other seasonal beers available this Christmas from Australian breweries include:
- Six String Brewing Choc Cherry Dunkelweizen (5.5-6% abv) available from the brewery in Erina on the NSW central coast.
- Little Brewing Company Mad Abbot Christmas Ale Belgian Quadrupel (11.3% abv)
- Black Heart Brewery Christmas Ale strong Belgian spiced ale (7.4% abv)
- Young Henrys Young Cherry Saison
A very beery Christmas to all.