Oh Ilkley Brewery, why would you even describe a beer to me as Christmas in a glass? On purchasing Mary Christmas 4.7% I am hit with that odd mixture of emotions; dread and excitement. The two contrasting feelings are based on the same pre-judgements about this beer. It says it is a blonde Christmas beer. It says it has a good dose of American, German and Australian hops. It says it is shoved full of spice. It says it is "Christmas in a glass." All reasons to be cheerful. All reasons to be set for failure.
I have mixed feelings about Ilkley brewery. Drinking in Yorkshire frequently and seeing their beers cross the Pennines means I spot them regularly. There have been some in their core range, particularly the renowned Mary Jane or Joshua Jane, that have been decent but not lived up to excessive hype. Yet other beers, such as the Lotus IPA or The Mayan, show me what a great brewery this is. Whether they are just well marketed remains to be seen. Whether this beer disappoints...
"And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from country far
To seek for a king was their intent
And follow the star wherever it went"
Pouring a very thin and clear light golden shade, the nose here is an interesting mix of confused caramel, fighting nutmeg and lost banana. The taste is... it is Summer and Winter clashing. Let's phrase this another way:
Recently I had Emelisse's Smoked Rye IPA for the very first time. I am, as I say repeatedly, a huge fan of smoked beer. I also love Emelisse's IPAs. And so surely this marriage was made by the angels. Not quite. It was a clash of titans; a battle of great respected forces that didn't find a peace treaty or agreeable ground to join in harmony. Everything worked, but on separate levels, like pouring a delicious Makhani sauce over your roast chicken dinner. Great entities, not a deity.
Mary Christmas resembles these analogies. It is good beer and good ideas clashing slightly. I like the pretence of making a spicy Winter affair out of tangy, hoppy paleness. All the ingredients are there for a sublime finish, but the result isn't so palatable. This is fresh with orange peel, grapefruit and sunflower oil hashed together against cloves, fried ginger and maple syrup. It's so close to working in my Christmas beer ideal, but I'm not sure it does.
Mary Christmas is definitely an intriguing and commendable different approach to Christmas drinking, whilst retaining the festive characteristics. I'd like to see it again, but it is certainly one to divide opinions.
Purchased at Beer Ritz (by mail) September 2013