December is upon us, a long way from the scorching heat of July in Manchester (all right, it was freezing cold and pissing rain, but you get the idea). At the door of the Marble Arch pub, Tandleman proffered to me a bottle of Lees Moonraker and one of the brewery's trademark "Get A Grip" pint glasses. Both have lain dormant as the seasons passed, waiting for the right moment.
With the start of winter proper, hail, fog and all the rest of it, that moment has definitely arrived. I should point out that I was singularly unimpressed with Moonraker the first time I had it. The phenols leapt out of the glass and assaulted my senses in a most improper fashion. So there was more than a little trepidation as I approached the hopefully-tamer bottled edition.
It pours a deep and murky chestnut shade, mysterious and alluring. A sniff reveals those phenols, but they're much more toned down compared to what I feared, though there's still more than a hint of marker pen about the aroma. None of that on tasting, though. Instead it's all about the spices: I got an eastern sort of vibe, with ginger and allspice. This sits on a solid base of chocolate-coated toffee, you know the really hard ones? The finish is heady and warming, with 7.5% ABV providing a rush of alcohol into the sinuses. About half way down I realised that the heat and complexity make this far more similar to a Belgian dubbel than any other English strong ale I've had. And it's definitely another beer which works better from the bottle than the cask.
Continuing the winter theme, I ramped things down a notch with the relatively lightweight Rosey Nosey from Bateman's, one of my favourite British breweries. At a piffling 4.9% ABV, I wasn't expecting a similar sort of warmth from it, and I was right. There's sort of a spiced candy nose and the taste is subtle (for a Christmas ale), letting the hops do all the work, rather than any exotic flavours. It's quite bitter, bearing a striking resemblance to the brewery's excellent XXXB, with added subtle floral overtones and a dry finish.
It's not a beer to get excited about, and certainly not one to save up one bottle of for the Big Day. Rather, we have a plain-spoken sessionable winter warmer which, quite frankly, I'd be happy to drink all year round.