Encouraged by the hoopla around the annual Tuborg Julebryg release, brewers all over have long since started crafting special seasonal Christmas brews to boost their sales. Traditionally, Christmas beers are slightly darker, richer in taste (more malt, spices, caramel), and feature higher ABV than your everyday offerings. Here is the cream of the crop from this year’s Icelandic Christmas brews.
Boli Doppelbock 7,5%
The continued popularity of the Einstök Doppelbock may be the singular reason this beer exists, but I am glad it does. It just slightly improves on everything I love about the Einstök, with slightly darker and deeper tones in both colour and taste. There are very subtle differences, but god is in the details. I would probably say this is my favorite of the Icelandic Christmas beers, right now.
Einstök Doppebock 6.7%
This is a very pleasant beer in the German bock tradition. Nice amber tones and tan head. It is pretty smooth, caramelly, with a hint of malt. Leaves a little alcohol aftertaste. This is definitely not one of the hoppy new-school beers, so if you are into traditional lagers, this should move your needle. Will pair well with smoked Christmas ham.
Ölvisholt Jólabjór 5%
Of the beers sampled here, this one scores the highest on the “Christmassy” scale, by far. Golden brown, and a medium-sized head; the smell is infused with ginger, cinnamon and cloves. There is a strong caramelly undertone, but the defining characteristic is the cloves, with a hint of ginger. I like this beer a lot, since it puts me in a celebratory mood, but I am not sure I would drink much of it off-season.
Víking Jólabjór 5%
This seems to be the regular old Víking, infused with more sugar and malt. Very basic, very un-adventurous. Amber tones, and medium-sized head. Very smooth taste and slightly sugary. It’s there, I don’t know what else to say about it, really.
Borg Giljagaur 10%
Nice red amber tones, medium-sized yellow head. Flowery and slightly hoppy aroma. Tastes slightly fruity, with toffee and a little malt. I like the balance and love the potential, but… and it’s a big but. This beer needs time. It will be so much smoother and more rounded in a few months’ time.
Gæðingur Jólabjór 4,7%
This is the Taylor Swift of Icelandic Christmas beers, fun and sweet and inoffensive. Pours golden brown with a small head of foam. Sweet, with a faint spicy caramel on the tongue, bearing a hint of orange on the nose. It tastes nice, but lacks body, to the point that it is almost watery.
Kaldi Chocolate Porter 6%
Seasonal chocolate porters are never more in-season than around the holidays, I guess. Except for Easter, maybe. Definitely Easter. That said, I would drink this every season. Pours dark, dark brown. Rich cocoa on the nose. Sweet malty chocolate on the tongue, with a spicy finish. It strikes a nice balance, but could do with a richer body. Should pair well with a chocolate dessert.
Borg Pottaskefill 6.2%
The balance and the quality is there, but not a lot of excitement. Smudgy brown, with a yellowish head. Tastes of sweet bread and nuts, followed with a hint of hops. This aims for a traditional brown ale, but I would love this so much more if it had a little more definition.
Jóla Gull 5,4%
Gull is the best-selling beer in Iceland. The Christmas version takes the familiar German-style beer and swaps out Germany for Belgium. This is a Belgian pale ale, with slight citrus tones. Despite the Jóla- add on, this is still definitely beer developed for mass consumption, and thus it is not experimental in any way. However, it is absolutely not bad.
Pleasant and completely inoffensive. This is a lager style beer, slightly darker than average, with a touch of caramel taste. Unlike some of the beers featured here, a complete novice might pick this up and exclaim: “Mmmmm… beeeeeer!”—this potential mass appeal is not necessarily the case with many of the other beers in this review.
Ölvisholt Jóli 10%
Ölvisholt has set out to create a challenging Christmas brew, with a high ABV, lots of definition and caramelly and fruity tones that slightly evoke an English Christmas cake. However, as is often the case with strong barleywine beers, this one needs time to age and develop properly. In a few months’ time, this may very well be one of the best of the lot. However, by then, Christmas will be over. If you have time to wait, though …
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