If I were to ever get a portrait done it would be of me wearing a woolly jumper in an armchair by the fire, enjoying a dark, fruity beer from a tulip glass.
I’d be staring into the flames, looking like I’m contemplating the finer points of Neitzsche’s more complicated philosophies, while actually working out whether I can be bothered to get some Cheddar from the fridge.
There is something uniquely special about enjoying a beer by the fire. It’s not nostalgia (believe it or not, I didn’t drink much as a kid) but it might be a sense of history. When I sit down in the armchair by the fireplace with a beer, I can almost see centuries of ancestors doing the same. Fire is the original Sunday night TV – mesmerising but ultimately pointless – and beer is the new wine. This winter, join my ancestors and me and in trying to find the best winter beers by the fire.
Arguably the beer that started the craft beer world’s obsession with barrel ageing, Bourbon County Stout used to have a mythical status among beer nerds. Essentially it is a black-as-night stout aged in bourbon barrels until it reaches a whopping 14.2%. By then it’s loaded with oak, vanilla, coffee and rich chocolate flavours that along with the booze make it like a warming hug in a glass. Luckily it’s now produced in large enough volumes for anyone to get their hands on it. So get a brandy glass and settle into that armchair.
Brewed on the banks of the staggeringly beautiful Coniston Water in the English Lake District, this best bitter is named after the boat that crashed and killed Donald Campbell during his world speed record attempt in the 1960s. And like Campbell, this is a plucky, popular creation. The amber hue yields a soft malt and pure bitter hop flavour, which is soon subdued by a fruity finish of dried apricots and a touch of mango. The bitter and fruits make this a lighter but distinctive choice for your fireside festivities.
We features this beer in our best winter beers on Jamie Oliver’s Drinks Tube, along with an amazing Vintage Ale from Fuller’s and Brewdog’s 5am Red Ale. You can see what we said below.
Back to this beautiful winter beer though. You know that thing when you drink something that surprises you so much you check the label, even though you know exactly what it says? Well that’s me, every time I drink this beer. I love it so much I simply can’t believe I’m drinking it. It’s technically a “doppelweizenbock”, but that means nothing to most people so let’s break it down.
First, the “bock” part. Bock is just a dark, strong, malty lager – so you get a light mouthfeel but some dark stone fruit flavours. Next, the weizen means there is wheat in there as well as barley. Wheat gives beer a smoother taste and a sweet edge, which is usually paired with and backed up by a yeast that smells of bubblegum, clove and banana. You get all that here. Finally, “doppel” just means double – roughly double the amount of malt that is – so you get a much stronger beer at 8.2%, which adds to the sweetness of those dark fruits. You need to taste it to believe it.
Don’t let the stubby bottle fool you. This beer is just about as special as it gets (and even more special with Cheddar). It’s a quadruple, which is essentially a Belgian stout; it has all the roasted coffee and chocolate notes, but instead of bitterness it has sweet banana and elusive dark fruit notes that come from the Belgian yeast. As if that’s not enough, all these flavours are heightened by the fact that this beer is aged in cellars for 10 years, which means the 2012 vintage I had was made when I was 15 – before I could even legally drink.