I would like to specifically point out that this edition of Brew Blog was not, in fact, inspired by Bruce R's comment on my recent post about Brooklyn Winter Ale. Just kidding, Bruce. Not really. What?
The truth is, I probably would have tried Jubelale on Bruce's recommendation, but I didn't. When I built my six-pack, I focused on holiday brews, taking it as an opportunity to get festive without a tunnel-vision-inducing sense of commitment. I mean, six of the same beer?! Who does that? Turns out I wish I had. Jubelale is good stuff.
Jubelale is a Winter Warmer, which is exactly what it sounds like. Designed to be nourishing and comforting on brisk English nights, Winter Warmers are typified by strong malt flavors and a warming demeanor. They frequently call to mind other flavors strongly associated with the season, from dark fruits and spices to vaguely piney nuances. Think of it as Christmas in a bottle.
Jubelale pours its Christmas out as a lovely, nutty brown, with a slightly plummy purple tint. The colors seem to glisten ever so slightly in the night, like the flicker of firelight reflected off of tinsel. Or something less ridiculous-sounding; take your pick. Very little head becomes a thin, gauzy cap pretty much immediately.
The aroma is rich with malt, ranging from slightly biscuity through a dark-roasted bite, with chocolate, and coffee bringing up the rear. Raisins, prunes, blackstrap molasses, dried fruit and dark sugars sweep in behind the malt and wind through it. It smells like Dickensian desserts, figgy pudding and blazing pudding and mincemeat pie dancing like sugar-plums in my childish brain, barely holding onto consciousness while the lovely, monotonous drone of Dylan Thomas reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales" crackles out from my father's turntable, and I wait for Christmas morning, and breakfast under the balloons.
As a slight tobacco spice competes for dominance with raisins and coffee, I think again of Thomas, and of uncles. "There are always Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles. . .trying their new cigars, holding them out judiciously at arms' length, returning them to their mouths, coughing, then holding them out again as though waiting for the explosion." As the warm, dusky sweetness of fortified wine blooms forward, bearing with it those same notes of prunes, plums, and all the dark and sticky fruits of Christmas, I think of "Auntie Hannah, who liked port, [standing] in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush."
That dusky sweetness, which is not inconsiderable, is kept in check by a judicious hops bitterness, and by that un-spiced spiciness. Behind the bevy of dark fruit flavors, jewel-like in their own right, ring some unexpected high notes, bringing with them the simple joy of Thomas' "Useless Presents. . .moist and many-colored jelly babies" of pear and pineapple bubbling up like laughter around the hearth. A tart and tannic whiff of apple peel signals the end, followed swiftly by a rousingly bitter rejoinder of dark chocolate.
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If you let the beer warm a bit, which I recommend you do, the fruit flavors come to the fore, and the malt takes on a nuttier quality. Banana and clove make slight but unmistakable appearances before the beer whispers its way out with an amazingly layered finish, swinging through banana, pear, mild chocolate, spicy hops, and a slightly grassy close.
As ripe as holidays are with tradition, and as deeply imbued with the hard-coded memories of past years' feasts and festivities, so too are they ripe with possibilities for the future. A new year, a new possibility, a new tradition. Dylan Thomas has been part of my Christmas since before I can remember. His voice rings sonorously in my mind even as I write this. This Christmas, read it to your children; I promise they will grow to love it. While you're reading, you might enjoy a bottle of Jubelale. That's what I'm going to do.