Get crafty with beer this Christmas

Irish craft brewers are producing seasonal beers which are more full-bodied and flavoursome than regular ones and which should be be sipped like a good wine

The burgeoning local craft brewing scene has given birth to a host of seasonal beers. These are beers that are only available for a few months each year. Some are released at the same time annually, while others are one-off brews that are never seen again.

In the summer it tends to be light ales and wheat beer. Around Christmas, a few of the microbreweries offer something with more power and flavour, a winter warmer to ward off the chilly weather.

Typically these will be higher in alcohol content, more full-bodied and rich and often with more malt, spice and fruit than the standard beers.

Some brewers even release both winter beers and Christmas beers. There is a long tradition of producing these in northern Europe. On a recent visit to Bradley’s in Cork, there was a fantastic display of Christmas beers from Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the US and other countries.


However, today I’m taking a look at a few Irish seasonal beers. This year Eight Degrees Brewing Company, one of the more innovative craft brewers, is releasing three different beers for Christmas. Each highlights a different component of the brewing process; yeast, malt and hops.

The first is the Belgian Dubbel, made from three varieties of Belgian malts (Ch Abbey, CaraBelge and Special W, for those of you who are interested in the details) and a special Belgian Abbey ale yeast that Eight Degrees imports at great expense from the US.

The second, Double Irish, showcases the hops, in this case Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand, a hop whose aromas are said to resemble those of Sauvignon Blanc; Simcoe, which has an assertive dried apricot character; Vic Secret and Ella, one of their favourite hops, which is fruity and floral.

The last Christmas release is the Russian Imperial Stout, which is based on several malts. Apparently it took a very high ratio of malts to water to produce. This has wonderful deep flavours of roasted coffee, dark chocolate and raisins.

All three beers are strong: 7 per cent in the case of the Dubbel and 9 per cent for both the Double Irish and Russian Imperial Stout. They should be arriving in your local off-licence this week.

This is the fourth year that the Dungarvan Brewing Company has produced its Coffee and Oatmeal stout, which is made with the addition of Flahavan’s oatmeal (which imparts a smoothness apparently) and coffee roasted by Cork’s Badger & Dodo.

“We are extending the period this year because it is so popular,” says Claire Dalton of Dungarvan Brewing. “We have a group of hardcore fans who can’t wait for it to come out, but others are just looking for something different to try out.” Dungarvan uses a different coffee bean every year and this year the coffee is filter rather than espresso.

The Carlow Brewing Company has just released its O’Hara’s Winter Star Spiced Amber Ale, which made its first appearance in 2013. This is a very different style to the above beers, much lighter and fruitier.

Not content with the Emerald White Gypsy Brewery will also release a Christmas special, Yule-Ól Christmas Beer, Cuilan Loughnane’s take on a Scandinavian Christmas beer. It will be full of dark malts and warming, he promises.

Kinnegar Brewery in Donegal will release Long Tongue, a pumpkin, ginger and rye ale, as well as Black Bucket, a black rye IPA.

Trying to keep up with the new releases is not easy, but in addition to these, Trouble Brewing has a chocolate stout out for Christmas (draught only), while St Mel’s Brewing Company in Longford has released a raisin and oatmeal stout.

Cider-makers are too busy finishing off the vintage to worry about seasonal releases, although Orpens has released a spiced Winter Cider made with the chef at the Marker Hotel.

Most of the above beers are more full-bodied and higher than regular beers. Don’t let that put you off; these are hugely satisfying beers to be sipped like a good wine or fine whiskey.

John Wilson's Wilson on Wine 2015, published by Irish Times Books, is in bookshops now, priced €12.99

John Wilson

John Wilson

John Wilson, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a wine critic