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A beer for every Christmas occasion

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Wave your hand Obi-Wan style at the offer of cheap sparkling wine on Christmas Day and go about your business with a malty ale. John Krüger recommends some quality SA beers for every awkward or trying festive situation.

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The stronger beers

Don’t go too crazy with these delicious beers. They’ve got plenty of alcohol and fulfilling malty bodies – better for the down time after lunch or dinner.

When the aunt who doesn’t drink brings out the old stale booze she keeps for visitors and you need an alternative …

Goodieson’s Brewery – Red Ale

For dessert, skip the unusual fortified wine that’s been open since last Christmas and try a Goodieson Red Ale, straight from McLaren Vale.

It pours with a thick rich head over dark ruby ale. This beer looks like it has a generous thick malty body with the pour – and thankfully, it does.

It smells of fresh malt, grain and just-baked biscuits. It has a generous mouthfeel that covers the tongue in biscuits and hot buttered grainy wheat toast, then finishes with a clean dryer finish and a surprising resiny hop aftertaste.

There’s no cloying sweetness lingering and you’ll keep reaching for the glass long after it’s empty.

The 5.5% abv (alcohol by volume) Red Ale comes in a 330ml stubbie – pour it into a tulip beer glass or large wine glass and make the most of the malt aromas.

Food match: Christmas pudding with brandy custard or a handful of Pfeffernusse cookies. So much biscuity malt body deserves spice.

When you realise you’re stuck wherever you are for the rest of Christmas Day and everyone has started watching sport on TV …

Brewboys – Seeing Double

The down time after the disgusting gorging during Christmas lunch must be one of the year’s lowest points. Napping, burping and watching televised sport. It’s like time slows.

Ride out the sugar low with a Seeing Double Wee Heavy. It’ll placate with 8% abv in a 330ml bottle. Make sure you decant it, because it’s a masterpiece.

This heavily malty aromatic beer style has a history in Scotland and some versions can be just plain weird. Sweet and burned, weedy, medicinal … there’s a few versions out there. Thankfully, Simon at Brewboys has honed this one to perfection.

Seeing Double has won plenty of awards and you’ll taste why when you slide into one. It’s like being a dinosaur and slowly slipping into a tarry peat bog full of sticky malt and smoke. It’s so complex, it’ll  keep you absorbed for hours. Don’t struggle, just enjoy it.

Food match: Write off the rest of the day with a Boilermaker (beer cocktail) using a peaty single malt scotch. Failing that, hot fruit mince pies with a drizzle of hot caramel sauce. There’s not much that’ll go up against a beer like this, so think complementary flavours of raisins, butter and dark sugars. If you’re a lactose fan, try some lavender whipped cream with that.

The Lighter Beers

As with most light and also some mid-strength beers, as soon as you drop the fermentable ingredients that are also the precursors to alcohol, the residual unfermented sugars also drop, and that’s most of your mouthfeel. It’s not just all the alcohol that makes beer feel big in the mouth, it’s what the yeast couldn’t eat that is left over.

The biggest challenge in light and mid-strength brewing is maintaining a full malty body and satisfying mouthfeel, instead of producing a watery and insipid beer. If you’re going to keep a lid on your alcohol consumption, which is a good idea, here’s a few mid-strength options.

When Uncle Frank starts bending your ear about everything …

Pirate Life – Throwback

It’s the extended family’s time to shine after hosting Christmas lunch. The AC/DC mixtape is on the second rotation and Uncle Frank is keen to bail you up in a drunken discussion about all that’s wrong with the world, according to something he read on Facebook. Smile politely at his offer of another can of boring beer and reach for a Pirate Life Throwback.

These 3.5% abv 355ml cans contain a “session IPA”. The style is almost passé with beer hipsters already, it’s that popular. All the hops and flavour you could want, only with lower alcohol.

Throwback has loads of grapefruit and pine hop character with a refreshing body yet satisfying mouthfeel. It’s the perfect beer when over-consumption is on the cards but you still should make a feeble attempt to behave.

The carton price may surprise some, but the flavour is spot-on. These will easily become your summer go-to beer, even if you’re not looking for a mid-strength. If you need to decant it, try a Craftd “Uncle Frank” craft beer glass. It’s a glass in the shape of a beer can, so your bottom lip can settle into the groove.

Food match: White bread and thick slices of quality off-the-bone ham, or a meat-lover’s pizza. The Throwback has enough bitterness to take on salty ham and a nice subtle sweetness to actually complement the bread or crust.

When you land the job of putting batteries in the kids’ new Christmas toys …

Vale Brewing – Mid Coast Bright Ale

It’s the job that takes a good hour out of at least one parent’s Christmas day: looking for an appropriate tiny screwdriver and pulling batteries out of other things to put in new toys. Who has C-sized batteries these days anyway? The job isn’t so frustrating with a decent beer at hand.

The Mid Coast packaging certainly looks different with the aqua blue sparkly paint on the can, but brewer Jeff Wright says it’s exactly the same colour as the sea just off the coast down south.

Mid Coast is another lower-alcohol beer with some decent hop character. It sits at 3.5% abv in a full size 375ml can (that alone deserves applause). It pours with a puffy white head and has a surprisingly deep tan hue.

The aroma reminds me of toast and marmalade with a hint of passionfruit. In the mouth it has a complex malty body due to a diverse grist utilising cara-aroma, a German dark aromatic specialty malt, and oats to smooth and enhance the mouthfeel.

Australian-grown hops of Vic Secret, Cascade and Topaz get the tastebuds tingling with refreshing bitterness plus a melon and mandarin aftertaste. For a mid-strength, the body is impressive.

Food match: A large scoop of fresh salted nuts. Macadamias and cashews. The biscuity body of the beer matches the salt and buttery nuts.

John Krüger is an Adelaide-based photographer and home brewer with a passion for good beer. He’s on the Royal Adelaide Beer and Cider Awards committee as well as a beer judge with the awards.

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