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TOP 15: Ales For Christmas

Neil Sowerby’s festive picks from the indie bottle shops

Written by . Published on December 19th 2014.

TOP 15: Ales For Christmas

HAVE yourself a Crafty Beery Little Christmas. 2014 confirmed us as a nation who can’t get enough of the ales of many flavours pouring out of our microbreweries via cask or keg. In the New Year I’ll be rounding up several new brewery arrivals in Manchester alone and checking three imminent new bottle shops catering for the craft beer boom.

The Baltic Sea was new market for Britain’s brewing companies, so created an export version of the traditional British Porter, styled like an IPA to preserve it for the voyage, with a subtle lick of black licorice.

Meanwhile, what better festive prezzie for the hop-head or malt-teaser in your life than a bottle of strong ale, preferably dark and fruity. Or if you refuse to be seasonal, a dense hoppy blonde or a challenging sour little number. There’s something for everyone. I’ve asked the best of our region’s craft beer shops what’s best to shove in our stockings. Here are their tips. Cheers.


@theAleManMcr. Early in 1215 he’ll open a taphouse and bottle shop in Heaton Moor (or thereabouts – he’s keeping the exact address under wraps). The aim is to offer takeaway beer as fresh as you’d get it from the brewery with, in addition, meet-the-brewer evenings and food/beer pairing events. For more info follow @HeatonHops.

Cheshire Brewhouse The Smokehouse Porter

Cheshire Brewhouse Smokehouse Porter 6.2%

Congleton-based Shane Swindells’ restless innovation bears fruit with this monster, melding beechwood smoked malts with Willie's Cacao Venezuelan Black 100% Rio Caribe Cacao and dates. It’s dark-fruity with salted caramel and chocolate evident alongside the omnipresent light smoke.Damiaj distributes for Shane in Manchester.



108-110 Rochdale Road, Todmorden, West Yorkshire OL14 7LP. 01706 839305, http://www.barearts.com.


Matured Vintage Ale From Bare ArtsMatured Vintage Ale from Bare Arts

Mature Vintage Ale 2013 9.5% £6.50


The late Trevor Cook concentrated on producing bottle-conditioned ales that might develop in the bottle for up to a decade. Sadly cancer struck him down in 2014 and he didn’t live to see what 12 months’ development did for this beer, a near unique dry, pale barley wine, whose honeyed power could easily accompany both a pudding and a proper cheese board with chutneys. A true British classic.



70 Tib Street, Northern Quarter M4 1LG. 0161 222 4001, http://beermoth.co.uk

Lost Abbey

Lost Abbey Gift of The Magi 2013 vintage 75cl 10% £13.60

It’s a Belgian style biere de garde made by a Belgium-barmy brewery in San Marcos, California. The Beermoth team recommend it as a perfect Christmas Beer. It hits the palate with dark dried fruits, big malt, spice and dark sugars. The initial comparison is  dense fruit cake, but on the finish it comes over surprisingly light and well balanced. Serve with the Christmas pud. As an alternative try De Dolle Stille Nacht, which has the highest density of any Belgian beer. Nugget hops and dry hopping gives an extra bitterness to balance the extreme sweetness. It finishes almost pungent and peppery. 


34b Greenwood Street, Altrincham, WA14 1RZ. 07842 809334, http://www.biercell.co.uk.

Gouden Carolus

Gouden Carolus Christmas, 10.5% £4

Strong, dark ruby red beer from the Flemish Het Anker brewery that rests a few months to reach an optimal balance. Three kinds of hops and six different kinds of herbs and spices define the rich taste of this traditional Yule style whose strong smell is drier and more hoppy than expected. Sherrylike on the nose with hints of nutmeg, almonds and raisins, its alcohol hits you in the mouth along with treacle, bittersweet fruits and definite wine characteristics. Bier Cell owner Wyn Reece, who runs the gorgeous, subterranean Mort Subite bar around the corner, says: “My all time favourite Christmas beer has to be wonderfully complex and very festive!”



322 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester M21 8AY. 0161 881 0099, http://carringtonswines.co.uk.

Ilkley Mary Christmas

Anchor Christmas Beer

Ilkley Mary Christmas 4.7%  £2.79

Malty, sweet nose, close to nutty through the presence of cinnamon, spice and cloves. Brewed with rum. Very quaffable UK brown ale.  

Anchor Christmas Beer 5.5% £2. 43

Very malty nose though with golden syrup and cloves on the palate. Essentially Christmas pudding in a glass. Bitter and sweet yet very rewarding ale from the great San Francisco brewers, famous for their Steam Beer. 



226 Burton Road, Manchester M20 2LW. 0161 434 2549, http://www.theepicureanbeers.co.uk. 

Wiper And TrueWiper And True

Wiper and True Small Abbey Rye Winter Ale 3.9% £3.30

Dates and orange zest are used in making this surprisingly delicate Trappist style amber ale. Employing Bramling cross, Phoenix and Caypso hops, the experimental Bristol brewers have delivered a lovely warming blend of sweet malts, light spice and subtle fruits.  


Lifestyle Hall, Bolton Market, BL1 1TJ. 07815 058862, http://www.greataleonline.co.uk.


Hiver The Honey Beer

Hiver Bee Keepers 4.4% £3.20

Recommended to accompany the Christmas turkey, this straw-coloured delight smells beguilingly of biscuits and honey – understandably since Urban London, English Blossom and Heather honeys were used during fermentation and conditioning to produce a beer of medium body and low bitterness. Organic malts, toned down hops, no pasteurisation and long maturation add to the delicate complexity.

Cocoa Hops From Irwell Works

Irwell Works Cocoa Hops 4.4% £3

This chocolaty and hoppy porter style is perfect with cheese, suggest stall owners Anne and Steve Sims (who also sell beer online).

Delirium NoelDelirium Noel

And for a special treat Delirium Christmas 10% £3.80

From Brouwereij Hughe, this Belgian Strong Dark Ale offers huge pear and caramel aromas but tastes of green apple and gigs with a a brown sugar undertow.


Unit 25, Victorian Market Hall, 19 Market Place, Stockport SK1 1EU, http://highpeakbeer.webs.com and from the end of January 2015 at Bottle, 9 Shaw Road, Heaton Moor, if all goes to plan for owner Corin Bland. It will be Stockport’s first craft keg bar, with an ultimate capacity of 12 keg lines and a range of 250 different bottle beers plus spirits such as their own Gooseberry Gin. Follow @bottlestockport.

Uncommon Beer Baltic Porter

Uncommon – Baltic Porter with Licorice and Star Anise 7.8% £5

The Baltic Sea was new market for Britain’s brewing companies, so created an export version of the traditional British Porter, styled like an IPA to preserve it for the voyage, with a subtle lick of black licorice. In reviving the style these guys from Santa Cruz, California have gone a step further, brewing it with whole licorice root and star anise and fermenting it warm with an ale yeast. Behind the licorice sweetness there’s a balancing smoky, chocolate malt character. Comes in a can. 

Even More Jesus Viii

Siren/ Evil Twin – Even More Jesus VIII 12.4% Price tbc

Provocatively titled Imperial Stout collaboration between one fof Britain’s most innovative breweries and Danish mavericks Evil Twin. It’s brewed with heaps of muscovado sugar and English licorice (again) and pours thick to make an excellent, syrupy dessert beer with cocoa, vanilla, roasted malt and dried fruits asserting themselves on the palate. Yuletide decadence in a bottle.


510 Wilbraham Road, Manchester M21 9AW. 0161 882 0005, www.tinystipple.co.uk.


Brasserie St Germain Page 24 & Nøgne Ø Rhub' IPA 6% 33cl £2.90

Crisp, yellowish gold collaboration between French and Norwegian cult brewers. Kiwi hops and spice on the nose, it is caramelly, floral and mildly sour on the palate.

Bollington Winter Reserve

Bollington Winter Reserve 4.5% £3.20

Golden brown colour with hints of winter fruits, a very warming smooth bitter and easy drinking despite its strength. 

Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro 6% £3.10

America’s great milk stout has a head liked whipped cream, smells of brown sugar and vanilla with roasted coffee hints, followed by a milk chocolate fullness in the mouth with a slight hop and roast bitterness in the finish. 

Nitro Milk Stout:Fade To Black RyeNitro Milk Stout:Fade To Black Rye

Left Hand Fade to Back Rye Ale 8.5% £4

This dark brew envelopes your nose with aromas of dark coffee, maple wood and hints of dark agave nectar. The flavour is of molasses, followed by a taste of licorice with spicy rye, earthy hop and a slight black pepper sensation. 

Follow Neil Sowerby on twitter for more beer and wine picks @AntonEgoManc

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