December sort of rocks, doesn't it. Less than a month away to Christmas, most of us are mentally unwinding towards the end of the year- especially to what festivities await. Visiting a drinks retailer at this time of the year throws up a bewildering array of choices on what to buy as gifts, but also what to buy for the staple festive drams to keep one warm and more importantly, blissfully contented when you're staying at the in-laws for a week.
So we've decided to scour the shelves for the best 18 buys this year, with one rationale - that each release has to be under £30. Consider it Club 18 Under 30, but with fewer TOWIE'esque fake tans, deck shoes and appalling luminous, happy hour style drinks. Almost.
Our first in the series is a little controversial. It is easily the cheapest of all our festive suggestions and, in some way is the oldest of the bunch.
The story behind Batemans Limited Edition 2012 Vintage Ale is an interesting one. When the Bateman's brewery in Wainfleet near Skegness decided to stop brewing their barley wine back in 1976, the owner George Bateman decided to keep back the last four cases, intending to open them on his son's 21st birthday, which was four years away. But the brew lay forgotten in the cellars until recently, when one of the bottles happened to explode, alerting the cellar master to the hidden treasure trove. Fearing the contents would be totally ruined, George's son Stuart- now 50 years old was delighted to find that the beer was totally intact, albeit rounded, mature and completely unique.
This prompted Bateman to endeavour to recreate the style of the ale, using original brewing records and techniques. It was then aged for 7 months in oak casks to retain the unique characteristics of a vintage ale.
So ok, technically, it's not 35 years old, but it is as near as dammit a recreation of something born out of exceptional circumstances. The ale is available from Aldi, a supermarket chain, who are now emerging as real players in the luxury drinks market. Last year, they impressed us with their ridiculously under-priced 40 year old Glenbridge single malt and a quick glance at their latest offers shows an array of wines and spirits which you'd usually find in a very specialist shop. So how does their latest proposition hold up?... let's find out.
Batemans - Limited Edition 2012 Vintage Ale - 7.5% - 50cl - £3.29
Nose: Incredibly malty, with rich malt extract notes, some meaty caramelised roast beef, chocolate malt and dried fruits. Given time in the glass, the beer has distinct notes of port, some woody spice (anise) and dates. Superb and definitely festive.
Palate: More malt extract on the first sip, with sweet ruby port and distinctly spiced/sherry oak notes. It is heavy, but balanced out with some cleaner maltiness and a little aromatic bitterness on the back palate.
Finish: Lingering notes of sweet malt and spice.
Overall: Well, this really is one hell of a beer. It won't appeal to those in search of a refreshing Christmas pint during the festive edition of Total Wipeout, but it is exactly the sort of thing that will pair nicely with a second helping of Christmas pudding, a leather club chair and a James Bond Anthology DVD. If you can, grab yourself a case of this - and then maybe stick a couple away to forget about. Who knows - you may end up with as much of a surprise as George Bateman...