Australian brewers make specialty Christmas beers

Australian brewers are putting their own spin on the northern hemisphere tradition of creating a special beer for Christmas.

Europe's Christmas beers are typically winter warmers: higher in alcohol, darker in colour and often spiced.

It's a beer style that seems largely irrelevant to the festive season in Australia, where you'd get far shorter odds on 40-degree heat than snow.

But that hasn't stopped us from eating roast turkey and pudding at Christmas, argues Karen Golding, of Red Hill Brewery on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

"In Australia, we still seem to respect a lot of the food traditions of northern hemisphere Christmas," she says.

It's designed to be a celebration beer so it's got bigger flavours.

Ben Kraus

Christmas on the Hill

One of Australia's few breweries to champion almost exclusively northern European beer styles, Red Hill has just released the 10th successive vintage of its Christmas Ale.

"It's a Belgian Abbey-style Ale. The Belgian breweries bring out a special Christmas beer every year," she says.

While these Belgian beers are rich, dark and typically highly potent at up to 14 per cent alcohol, Red Hill tailored its version to better suit the Australian climate and palate.

"It's not hugely dark, it's really quite a dry, fruity ale and it definitely goes with both the Christmas ham and Christmas pudding or cake really well," she advises.

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Winter warmer

Sydney's Redoak Brewery is celebrating the 11th release of Christmas Cheer, a beer founders David and Janet Hollyoak based on their grandmother's Christmas pudding recipe.

"We describe it as an English winter ale, but it's brewed with currants, sultanas, nutmeg and oranges," Janet Hollyoak says.

"The beauty of it is that it's quite light drinking at only five per cent alcohol, so it's beautiful for a hot Australian Christmas.

"It is quite interesting to have with the pudding, but it will also go really well with your lighter style Australian desserts. If you're having a pavlova, it'll be beautiful with that. It'll go nicely with cheese or even with pork and chicken."

Dark and stormy

Also in Sydney, 4 Pines Brewery decided some time ago that its Manly Beach locale was not quite suited to the nine per cent ABV dark, fruity Christmas ale it had experimented with in previous years.

"We thought, let's do a southern hemisphere take on that. We still wanted all of those flavours that you associate with Christmas, but we dialled it right back, both in body and alcohol," 4 Pines founder Jaron Mitchell says.

The resulting 4 Pines Christmas Saison has been tweaked and refined over the last three years, and 2015 marks its first ever release in bottles.

"The spices and 'Christmas flair' we used this year include coriander seeds, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, allspice, ginger cloves and orange peel," Mitchell says.

Fat man, red suit

Victoria's Bridge Road Brewers, meanwhile, has continued its annual release of Fat Man Red Suit Big Sack.

A Red India Pale Ale that showcases exclusively Australian hops, Bridge Road founder Ben Kraus says the beer is firmly inspired by Australian, rather than northern Hemisphere Christmas.

"It's designed to be a celebration beer so it's got bigger flavours," he says. "It's red so it's got some body, but it's refreshing. It's not dark and spiced and sweet and cloying and designed to keep you warm while the snow's falling on the rooftop outside."

Festive MO

Kraus is also collaborating with Sydney's Modus Operandi Brewing in creating two beers designed to mimic Christmas pudding and vanilla ice cream, to be unveiled at a Christmas dinner at Grain Store Craft Beer Cafe in Newcastle on Thursday, December 17.

"We're trying to do something a bit interesting and a bit creative and create three beers from two," explains Modus Operandi founder Grant Wearin.

Modus Operandi has created a porter infused with the fruit and spice of a traditional Christmas pudding, which will be paired with a beer Bridge Road has titled Magical Christmas Unicorn.

"It's a vanilla ice cream ale," says Kraus. "We made it as white and cloudy as we could and we used madagascan vanilla in it as well as adding lactose to make it sweeter. Then we let it ferment at higher temperatures to get some booziness, so it's got that boozy brandy burn at the end."

The two beers will be served separately with an empty glass on the side for punters to mix them together as they desire.

Countdown to the 25th

Kraus's devotion to celebrating Christmas through beer does not end there. The innovative brewer this year released the Craft Beer Countdown Christmas pack, a slab of 24 different beers from Bridge Road and other breweries.

Inspired by the advent calendars we all remember fondly from our childhood, the countdown packs have a perforated lid that reveals one beer at a time throughout the month of December.

Twenty four days until Christmas Eve and 24 bottles in a slab. Perhaps it was all planned out from the beginning.