It is about tradition… not style.
Christmas beer is a long standing tradition among breweries large and small in that wonderfully quirky little country. A tradition that is, rather than a style, in a country where beer is taken as seriously as its fine cuisine.
In the town of Essen near Antwerp in the North, there is even a special beer festival held annually specifically to showcase the beers brewed for the holiday season. In 2014, over 190 holiday beers were represented at that festival. As I mentioned before, this type of beer is a tradition rather than a style. Some are dark, some are blond. ABV can range from 7% to well above 10%. One interesting side fact…the famous Trappist brewery Chimay once brewed a Christmas beer. After its initial release, it was in such demand that the monastery decided to make it available year round so they gave it a new name so today we know it as Grand Reserve (the one with the Blue Label).
Although the tradition of the holiday brew does not dictate any necessary recipe guidelines, there are some general tendencies. The majority tend to be higher in alcohol. They tend to be darker. Many have holiday type spices and some have fruit.
In effort to showcase the tradition, our Yule has many of these qualities. It is rich and dark. I have always used holiday spices, but very lightly so. To acknowledge the fact that there is a wide spectrum of interpretation in recipe formulation, I have changed the fruit from year to year. Our first Yule was in 2012 and was made with tart cherries. In 2013 I used Italian plums and 2014 was fermented with black current which gave a nicely tart edge to the big, dark and bold 13% ABV beer.
That brings us up to this year, 2015 Yule. The story begins with a word or two on cellaring. Most beer is intended to be consumed fresh. Filtered and artificially carbonated beers are very vulnerable to oxidation, which is exposed to the liquid at bottling time. I am a passionate advocate for one particular element in the Belgian tradition of brewing and that is 100% natural, re-fermentation in the bottle. This means that at bottling time, a little bit of fermentable sugar is added to the beer allowing the yeast in the unfiltered beer to undergo a final fermentation in the bottle, once the bottle is sealed. Belgian brewers refer to it as “Living Beer”. The advantage is that this process consumes the oxygen in the headspace of the bottle making beer inside very shelf-stable. The beer is now able to mature just like fine wine and without risk of oxidation.
All that being said, earlier this year we opened a bottle of our very first Yule which was more than 3 years old. Its flavor development over time was incredible. With cellaring in mind, we brewed this year’s Yule about four months ago and allowed it to mature a slight bit ahead of time for you. I also went back to that original recipe which used tart cherries. We made a bit more this time than we did on that first batch, now 4 years ago so you can grab an extra bottle or two and lay it down for years to come. Happy Holidays and Happy Yule!
Yule will be available at the Friday, Nov. 6th taproom release party at 6PM. Join us at 2014 Washington Ave N., Minneapolis, MN 55411.