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Advent Calendar 2014. I've started, so I'll finish...

To a man who has known so many difficulties in the past 24 months, know that, when I speak on “difficulties” in this post, I speak without a sense of perspective or control. I speak only on the beer drinking month of Advent.

As my blog reached the end of it’s third Advent – and therefore the end of its third Beer Advent Calendar – I found myself reaching difficulties. I found myself in an exceedingly busy period at work, a more social time outside of it but, mostly, I moved house and found it much more stressful than before. Everything became about that move, so that drinking a different Christmas-themed beer was occurring amongst unpacking boxes and thoroughly cleaning the dusty, untouched tops of cupboards. Tasting notes were scribed on the Memo App of my phone as I waited for my internet to be connected. And I waited. And waited. And waited…

I fell behind in the Advent posts that, certainly in 2013, I’d done very well of keeping on top of. I was disappointed because, as was stated in my Advent Calendar introductory post, I really enjoy the December ride even if it is poor writing. I was receiving more views and interest this year but couldn’t keep it up. The only part of my calendar I was keeping to was the best part – the actual drinking of the beers on a daily basis.

With this in mind, I am to present the final five beers that never received their own individual posts. It’s almost cruel as they featured some of the best and they deserved their place. I don’t have the space to write introductions or backgrounds to each beer, so I will present those Memo tasting notes in their raw form instead (so do excuse the limp reviews.) Another Christmas period complete with another 24 (25 this year) different Christmas themed beers drank. I sit at the impressively large kitchen table of my new home, finally with the internet function that makes any blog possible, finishing what should have been done by Christmas Eve 2014. A belated but no less Merry Christmas to you all. And the Best of wishes for the New Year.

Advent Calendar Window 20 – Brasserie Lepers – L’Angelus de Noel 7.5%

A festive Bire de Garde from the Brasserie Lepers/Brasserie D'Annoeullin from near the French town of Armentires. For those of you that enjoy a bit of trivia, you may like to know that my old home town of Stalybridge is twinned with Armentires, which allows plenty of opportunity for butchering of the French language.

Presented in a corked 750ml bottle, I really like the branding and label design on this bottle purchased 12 months previous and am looking forward to it. It's a very limpid golden colour with a huge frothiness. The nose is treacle, caramel, brown sugar and a winter berry hoppiness. The first sip certainly gave me the nice "mmm" surprise I was looking for. It feels more like an English barley wine at first. It's sweet, toffee, popcorn, funfair doughnuts, toffee apples, caramac. Then there's a chewy hop bitterness that balances all that sweetness to make this boozy enough to be a sipper but moorish too. The downside arises by the finish that is short and thin and leaves you wondering where all the flavours you just tasted went. It would be very decent once a year in a 330ml but as a 750ml to yourself it does begin to bore you by the end. 

I've seen a lot of the barrel aged versions of Santa's Little Helper popping up on Twitter and such this year, despite being around for some time. The original Santa's Little Helper made it onto my 2012 Advent Calendar and I was sorely disappointed. Let's see if some Speyside can liven it up and I'm once again going to copy the exact Memo notes I wrote, just for fun, since it makes little sense.

Dark. Flat. Booze! Booze booze booze. My God, that nose of pure, thick treacle, toffee, heavy liquorice, tannins, red wine, dried winter currents and so much smoky whiskey. Oh yes! But then the taste isn't initially as hard hitting as you would expect. There's a lot of time for the actual flavour to develop. As you drink it, the treacle toffe flavours are more prominent. The liquorice over what still manages to remain a rather hoppy background works nicely. But it's all in the heavy aftertaste that this really comes into its own. Lashings of vanilla, peat, black jacks and smoke lap on your tonsils whilst a thick layer of booze washes down your throat so heavily you feel it hit that bottom of your stomach. Then it's all in your fuzzy head. About halfway down, this really begins to resemble red wine. There's so much boozy cherry flavours and tannins that this resembles red wine more than beer or even whiskey. It's one for people who like a little complication at Christmas. And a spinning head.

The 2011 version of this beer was featured last year and was marvellous. This version I picked up in Ghent in 2013 and I hoped to be equally impressed. 

I can't even reveal my Memo tasting notes for this beer as they are as nonsensical as they come. I've tried to translate them though. This was my first and only gusher of this Advent Calendar (previous years have featured many.) It's a little light in it's shade of amber than the 2011 but just as frothy. This has much more spice on the nose than the 2011 too. There's clove and star anise, but they don't dominate all like more British festive beers, rather apply a little contradiction with a sweet yeastiness and peach hoppiness. This has all the yeast background of a Belgian blonde on the nose but then brings out all the qualities of a variety of Christmas beers across the taste. There's light spices on the tongue with lavender coming across heavily. There's this delightfully bitter and tasty peachiness in the hops that makes it all so flavoursome. But then the finish has a lot of port-soaked berries and dried figs. The medium body allows easy drinking and the strength is never apparent. For some this will be a downside but for me it's a plus. Truly delicious. 

Hardknott's first move into Christmas beers and a welcome one. I always want to see some of our quality brewery's experimenting with what can be quite a diverse style and beer brewed with figs sounds perfect. 

If I was worried I wouldn't recall too much of this beer, the fact that my Memo notes feature me repeating the word "NUTS" over and over refreshes my memory. It pours very murky and very thinly with little carbonation. The spice hits your nostrils first, predominantly cinnamon and nutmeg, but then a huge nutty flavour begins to overwhelm everything. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire have been liquidated and poured into this beer. The nose and beginning of the taste is all nuts. You can barely taste past it to find anything else to talk about. NUTS writes my tasting notes and I understand why. After settling in the glass for twenty minutes and warming however, there's a little more depth to this. The figs come to prominence as do the spices from the nose and, whilst the chestnuts remain the spine of this beer, this is very close to figgy pudding in the finish. It's a little thin and could do with more complexity but overall I'm rather fond of this. 

I can guarantee this calendar is picked out at random but I do tend to cheat when it comes to Window 24 by putting aside the beer I'm looking forward to most for Christmas Eve. I've wanted this beer to be included in previous two Calendars so it's appearance this year excited me, no less because I'm a fan of Port Brewing Company. I would've rather had time to age this a little, but I was too excited by the prospect to do anything so sensible. 

Santa Claus is blacked out on the label for advertising reasons, in case you were wondering. This beer pours like you want an Imperial Stout too. Opaque black with a big off-colour head. The nose and flavours are all a swirly delight. You expect plenty of roasted malt on both and you get it in abundance. There's also hints of peat and wood as well as burnt toast. The flavours really follow in on that darkness. It's like porridge oats, fresh smoked malt, vanilla ice cream and percolated coffee. It's long lasting and finished with a bite of dry hopping that makes for another dimension but would fade with ageing. Still, this is definitely a beer for cellaring before opening again on another Advent Calendar. A long, full bodied way to round off this year's Advent. 

There we have those loose ends tied up. This year was an interesting time but I still take great enjoyment from this calendar. Will it return next year? It is unlikely I'll be moving house so there is always that chance, if I manage to get hold of another 24 Christmas themed beers. This year, my favourite posts were the rather silly taking apart of Oakleaf's Reindeer's Delight and Burton Bridge's Festive Porter. They were fun to write but not fun to drink. I suppose that is the blogging conflict. 


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Advent Calendar Window 14 - La Goudale de Noel

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