Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Harvey's Christmas Ale

We're going back to the UK for another British holiday offering. This time it's by a brewery I've never seen or heard of until recently - and it's a barleywine. I haven't had one of these in a long time, but it's as good a timeas any to get started on them.

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (596) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 20, 2011
I poured a 9.3oz bottle into a tulip glass.

Appearance: A pretty shade of dark copper/mahogany/maroon; clear body. Forms a small, tan, frothy head which laces very well.

Smell: Strong aroma of dark fruits and refined spirits - yet nothing overly boozy.

Taste: Harvey’s Christmas Ale is probably one of the best definitions of the English barleywine. It has the complexity and flavors often found in American offerings, but without the massive weight. This is a much more lithe palate based on balance and subtlety rather than raw energy and gusto. It begins with a fruitcake-like taste of grape, plum, and cherry along with strong breadiness often found in a doppelbock. Through the middle is spirit-like components of sherry and cognac which impart a slight dryness and gentle warmth. It finishes with a strong confectionery sweetness of caramel and vanilla.

What’s so impressive about this beer is how it’s able to deliver the flavor without making a big deal about it. The fruit and confectionery sweetness are indeed quite sweet, but in an authentic way. It’s not sticky or cloying, but rather just enough to satisfy and impress. The only thing I’d fault it for is that, despite the complexity and balance, it’s missing that certain "wow factor" to put it among the upper echelon beers.

Mouthfeel: For such a bold beer, it’s thinner and gentler than you’d think. Noticeable carbonation. Slight candy-like aftertaste.

Drinkability: It’s rare I encounter a barleywine with such drinkability, but Harvey’s Christmas Ale is that rare (and welcomed) exception to the rule. The palate is strong, but never overwhelming. The mouthfeel and texture are lighter and cleaner than most beers of the style, and the smooth finish and mostly clean aftertaste are impressive. For 8.1% ABV it’s no surprise there’s some alcohol warmth throughout, but nothing the average beer drinker can’t handle. A great beer to pair with fruitcake or enjoy as a nightcap.
Grade: 8/10

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