I hadn’t a clue about beer until I met my husband. Mr Smiles introduced me to beer and particularly Belgian Beer. I always thought beer was a `mans drink’ so I stuck to wine. Being introduced to real ale has been a real eye opener. There are so many types of ale that there is a beer to suit everyone and not just `grumpy old men’.
I first met Mr Smiles at a walking club. I remember him enthusing about beer and Belgian beer in particular, whilst we ambled along at the back of the group. Mr Smiles mentioned that he always spent a weekend in Ghent, Belgium at Christmas time to sample the Belgian Beer and soak up the Christmas atmosphere. I liked the idea of Belgian chocolates but was a bit unsure about a whole weekend to sample beer!
I was introduced to the idea of beer slowly. Firstly Mr Smiles got me to try Leffe Blonde. I loved it! Leffe Blonde is an authentic Belgian Abbey beer brewed in Belgium according to the traditional recipes of the monks of the Abbey of Leffe. Leffe Blonde is still one of my favourites. It can make me a bit squiffy but it tastes really nice in a refreshingly kind of squiffy way! Beer is a bit like wine in that experts go out of their way to give individual ales fancy descriptions. I looked up Leffe Blonde (6.6%) and found it described as `a classic Abbey beer with smooth and well balanced fruity, warming flavours. The beer has hints of quince, gooseberry, bitter cherry and apple flavours together with hints of cloves, nutmeg and allspice.’ Well in 2010 when I was introduced to this beer I described it as `a sweetish lightly spiced blond ale’ and gave it 5* out of 5. I am yet to experience the gooseberry or quince!
Well we obviously got on well as I am now Mrs Smiles and Mr Smiles’s love of Belgian Beer is infectious. So much so that I have now become my husbands drinking buddy and join him on his annual trip to Ghent. We are off this weekend! In return Mr Smiles gets to accompany me on various outings to tea shops for tea and cake throughout the year. Fair exchange I think.
So we’re off to taste the Christmas Beer! Well what is a Christmas Beer? Firstly it will make me squiffy as these ales tend to have quite a high alcohol content. I usually manage to paint a few sketches of the beers I taste so watch out for a slightly looser and free style of art in my sketchbook when I get back! Christmas beers or Winter Seasonals are often rich, malty, dark, strong and complex. They are very different to refreshing Summery light hoppy ales. Christmas Beers are generally medium amber to dark brown in colour. Spiced versions are an American or Belgian tradition. English or German breweries traditionally do not use spices in their beers. A rich malty taste is common. Christmas beers may include dried fruit flavours such as plum, raisin, fig or orange peel. You may also be able to detect caramel, nut or chocolate. A light spruce or evergreen tree character is found in some. Mr Smiles’s favourite is Kerst Pater (9%) brewed by Van den Bossche. He describes it as `rich, dark, slightly sweetish and lightly spiced’. He will definately be having one of these. I will report back on this years favourites.
One of my discoveries was the micro-brewery `Compass Brewery‘ I tried their ales at my local farmers market. Mr Smiles was so pleased with my discovery that we had their ale the `King’s Shipment’ at our wedding last year.
Compass has brewed a fabulous Christmas beer called `Tannenbaum‘, their Christmas Tree Beer. It is made with sour malt from Germany and flavoured with spruce needles from Christmas Common in Oxfordshire.
Highly recommended! Cheers!
I look forward to telling you all about our Christmas trip to Ghent. Do let me know any beers you recommend we try!