Every year as falls starts to roll around one of the things I look forward to the most is the seasonal Christmas Beer Release at the LCBO. This release typically brings to Ontario 10 to 20 exciting beers mostly of exceptional character and rich flavors. It is winter by then after all, and the season calls for warm, rich, spicy and contemplative beers. Among this release is always the Wychwood Ba Humbug Christmas Cheer Ale. It is branded almost identical to the Wychwood Hobgoblin, which is available year round, as over the years has become to taste oddly similar.
The Wychwood Brewery is buried behind the main streets of the brewing town Witney, in the heart of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, UK. The brewery has been in operation since 1841, however it was not until 1988 when they first began to produce their flagship beer The Hobgoblin, and it wasn’t until 1996 when they finally started to bottle it! Regardless, we do still, and have for several years been treated to the Ba Humbug every Christmas. The Ba Humbug is available in a 500ml dark bottle at 5% abv. I do remember older versions being 5.5 and 6%, so I am not sure why Wychwood has decided to tone down this spice beer. This bottle was from the 2009 early Christmas release, so is now about six months old. Every year I am impressed with this beer, so I had bought several bottles, some to drink, and some to age.
It pours with life and energy swelling the glass with a golden bronze beer; ambers, browns, orange and mahogany shining through it. The head was somewhat sturdy, medium tan, about a half inch high with very small fine bubbles. The nose, which is always something I have purely enjoyed about this beer, is ripe with fruits and caramel up front teasing a cinnamon spice which I know lies behind. Its balanced with banana, pumpkin flesh, bread and biscuits in its heart, showing light apples, nutmeg, sweet alcohol and yeast in behind. It does smell like it has built a touch of strength while ageing in my cellar, so I was excited to see what it now brings to my palate.
I did let the beer warm up slightly before enjoying it, probably to around 6 degrees Celsius (42F) so that I would be able to absorb the spices that I expected this beer to produce. It is very creamy and quenching on the palate showing mild carbonation and a full, very wet mouthfeel. Initially warm biscuit, toffee, light malts and pear flow across my tongue, and slowly invite apples, honey, nutmeg and bread along with. Ripe banana and pumpkin slide in the sides with cinnamon and caramel hinting more at sweet malts and warm alcohol. There is still more fruit here too, almost fruit cake like with plums and apricots.
There is a light hop fading in the back which is very soft and distinctly British and also very refreshing. It definitely helps bring all of the flavors together. Overall its all very mellow, none of these flavors are jumping out at me, they are all simply flowing happily along just enjoying the ride. I do remember previous versions of greater strength showing me more spice, more ripe fruits and a bigger more full body. This 2009 is still very nice, and almost every novice beer drinker I offer it to agrees that it is perfect in many ways.
It is the richness though that I seek from this sort of beer, so while I did enjoy what I drank, I was hoping for that big red firetruck for Christmas, not the socks and underwear which were probably more practical.