Pros: Delicious, complex winter brew
Cons: Limited availability
Well, one of his favorite beers anyway. And no, I'm not talking about the Gloved One. But more on that later. So why am I talking about Christmas beer, in the middle of August? Why not? I always have a lot of beer on hand, having two DBRs (Dedicated Beer Refrigerators) which hold about 2 1/2 cases each and then another few cases that spill over into the main refrigerator, which my Beloved Barbara for some crazy reason believes we should keep our food in. Winter seasonal beers are among my favorite, and I always end up with Christmas brews in the fridge throughout the year. Come July, a little Christmas in July celebration is a good way to see how they have been aging out, and sometimes I stretch the fun all the way through fall to the new holiday season to do side-by-side tastings.
Many of the winter seasonals are bigger, stronger beers and thus will generally age out nicely. Geary's Hampshire Ale, from the D.L. Geary Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, is no exception. This is a big, malty, delicious ale brewed in the Old Ale/Winter warmer style. I was discussing this beer with Michael Jackson some years ago at a beer dinner and he indicated at the time that this was one of his favorite American beers. He gives it high marks in his Pocket Guide to Beer (***), and praises it in the World Beer Hunter CD-Rom. There's good reason for this, I've never come across a domestically brewed beer in the style that I prefer to this one. The MJ in question, of course, is the dean of beer writers in the world.
Hampshire is a deep ruby in color with a gentle head formation and a rich malty nose. The palate is very complex and the beer has improved with six months of age to it. There's quite a bit of bittersweet chocolatey malt character here, along with a little buttery diacetyl from the Ringwood yeast used to ferment it. That yeast also throws a little mushroom character as well. The hops balance the beer with a subtle but lingering bitterness in the finish, there's a little alcohol warmth there too. This is a sipping beer, better suited for after dinner relaxation than being served with a meal.
I have enjoyed this beer on draft many times sitting in Portland, Maine's Great Lost Bear multi-tap beer bar. Here are some notes I took during the winter of 1998 on draught Hampshire: With it's deep amber color and rich, distinctive Ringwood yeast flavor, this year's draft seems to me the most complex Hampshire yet. Strong notes of rum-raisin and plum-pudding shine against a rich malty backdrop with a notable butteriness, and a balancing hop finish.
Who says such great beers as this need be drunk only during the holidays?