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Christmas beer 2015 edition

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This year a few new Christmas beers were released from Icelandic breweries, providing an opportunity for me to have a beer tasting with my friends again. A lot of the new beers were dark beers, porters and bocks, probably due to the popularity of the Einstök Christmas beer last year.


Barleywines are very strong beer (around 10% alcohol) , which is why they are called wine despite being a beer. The high alcohol content and the fact that some of us had already had cocktails (not me ) lead to some flowery descriptions.

The first we had was Giljagaur from Borg brewery. Last Christmas they had Þvörusleikir, a beer that had my respect, despite it not being the type of beer I enjoy and which my flatmate really liked. Giljagaur is the second of the Jule Lads. He sneaks into cowsheds to steal milk.
The barleywine tastes like you know that Christmas is coming, but it is still some time away (my other flatmate had a poetic day). One can compare it to a dark winter night, according to another friend of mine who jumped on the whole being poetic about beer bandwagon. It is a low carbonated beer with a nice balance of bitter and sweet. There are slight hints of caramel and licorice in the sweet tones and not much of an aftertaste.

Jóli Barley Wine from Ölvisholt brewery had the nicer label, though it is a bit confusing as it is the same label and name as the Jóli Christmas Beer last year, which isn't the same as this one.
It inspired more beer poetry from my friends: "It tastes like Christmas morning with fresh snow. The Christmas tree is in the basement and there is a fire in the fireplace." Yet they actually liked it less than the beer before. There is a lot going on here, it is slightly citrusy with an oaky aftertaste, which might be nice, however it gets overpowered by the bitterness.

"Brown beer"

RIP wine glass, killed by Jeff and our dishwasher.

My (actually ex) flatmate and me decided to skip on going swimming and have more Christmas beers instead. We tried to be as poetic as the guys had been at the last tasting, but did not really succeed, maybe because we only had two 33ml beers with 6-7% alcohol for the both of us.

Potaskefill is another beer from Borg brewery and named after the Jule Lad which licks the pots after everyone had gone to bed. It is a "Brown Beer?" according to the label and confused Mariska who was in vain looking for something Christmassy about it. The description claims it has caramel, chocolate and coffee notes, none of us tasted them. It has a murky dark colour, is little carbonated and has a nice foam crown (as a German I appreciate beer foam). After I finished my glass and some effort I decided it tastes like the smell of pine. It is not bad, not too bitter, not too sweet, a beer you can give to everyone and which will be liked and then forgotten. Meh.

Boli a doppelbock from the mother company of Borg brewery and biggest beverage company in Iceland, Egills, was more memorable. You might want to drink this beer after a walk in the snow in front of a fire while the wind is howling outside. Ok, half a beer and poetry happens with me, in Icelandic they call this "hænuhaus" (chickenhead). Not that having a low tolerance for alcohol is a bad thing in a country where any of these 33cl bottles of Christmas beer cost something between 2-3 €.
Boli has a clear dark colour, is medium carbonated and has another nice foam crown (maybe I just get better at pouring?). The outstanding taste here is the smokey flavour. It is quite mild though and balanced out by the slightly sweet licorice taste. It isn't a beer I would drink all night, but I would enjoy a glass with my dessert.

Dark chocolate and bitter licorice

Jóla Kaldi Chocolate Porter was a beer I was excited about because a) chocolate and b) Jóla Kaldi was my favourite Christmas beer last year. It tastes like very dark chocolate (more bitter than sweet). Case closed, we can go home now, we have a winner. What there is still a licorice beer to be reviewed? Well I guess if I have to (my flatmate, who I still refuse to call ex-flatmate refused to give up the chocolate beer for science).

Steðji almáttugur jólaöl is the darker sibling of the Steðji Jólabjór which positively surprised me last year. Unfortunately here the licorice did not work out. The beer smells repugnant (can licorice rot?) It tastes like weirdly bitter licorice. This is the worst of the licorice added beers and the worst of the ones tried this year. Sorry Steðji.

A list!

  1. Jóla Kaldi Chocolate Porter -- mhhh chocolate

  2. Boli doppelbook -- smokey and interesting

  3. Giljagaur -- nice if you like sweelty, malted beers (but the Einstök Icelandic Doppelbock one is better

  4. Potaskefill -- good, but a bit meh

  5. Jóli Barley Wine -- interesting, but does not really come together

  6. Steðji almáttugur jólaöl -- what happened Steðji? You got Licorice and beer so right last year and now, ugh.

My favourite Christmas beer is still Jóla Kaldi, but Jóla Kaldi Chocolate Porter comes as a second and I prefer it over Einstök Icelandic Doppelbock, which I found a bit sweet.

Posted on - Categories: Jólabjór

Christmas beer day seven (last day!)


For our last day we tried Christmas beer from the Ölvisholt brewery near Selfoss, who created two Christmas beers, one called Jóli, and another called Jólabjór. Ölvisholt makes one of my favourite beer, a red ale called Móri, so I was quite excited to test their Christmas beers.

It is a dark brown beer with added ginger, cloves and cinnamon. It smells a little bit like gingerbread and is quite strong with 6.3%.
Christmassiness: One can slightly taste the warm winter spices.
Overall tastiness: My flatmate really did not like it. It is an ok dark beer, quite bitter with a strong aftertaste but nice and creamy. One can taste the spices slightly at the beginning. This beer will put hairs on your chest.

It is a lighter red ale (5%) with the same spices as above and added orange peel. The orange taste overpowers the spice taste.
Christmassiness: Typical Christmas taste in beer
Overall tastiness: Nothing special really, but very drinkable. My flatmate liked it more because it was not as dark and bitter. I liked it less for the same reason. I found the orange and spices did not harmonize with the beer as much as the above.

Note on both: I was a bit disappointed, I had expected something a bit more creative than just adding spices. That said to me Jóli was the winner, the gingerbread spices seemed to be better suited for a darker beer and the added orange in the Jólabjór overloaded the beer with non-beer tastes.

The last list (with notes):

  1. Jólakaldi and Einstök Icelandic Doppelbock

  2. I had Einstök again the other day and liked it more this time. Both have a nice creamy Christmas taste going on only by the way the hops was malted. If you feel like a lighter beer, go for Kaldi, for a darker the doppelbock.

  3. Þvörusleikir

  4. They also achieve a lot of taste just using the usual beer ingredients. If you like hoppy beers (like my flatmate) this is a really interesting beer to try.

  5. Steðji Jólabjór

  6. It is possible to put licorice in beer and get something tasty, my mind is blown

  7. Jóli

  8. Solid dark and creamy beer with Christmas spices.

  9. Íslenskur Úrvals Jólabock and Gæðingur Jólabjór

  10. One a bock, the other (I insist to call it that) an IPA which are ok to drink

  11. Ölvisholt Jólabjór

  12. Too many added tastes, which is a bit sad, because I think the underlying red ale might be quite nice.

  13. Víking Jólabjór

  14. A drinkable red ale when there is nothing else around

  15. Tuborg Christmas Beer

  16. If you ever felt like drinking your Tuborg through a licorice straw (they do that with Coke here in Iceland) you will like this. Icelanders do.

  17. Gull Jólabjór

  18. Awful beer made worse by throwing orange into it. Radler gone very, very wrong.

  19. Egils Malt Jólabjór

  20. Sweet and sticky awfulness

Christmas beer day six

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This week was Thanksgiving and it was hard for my flatmate and me to have the motivation to go on with beer tasting. We had one while I was fighting with a blunt knife and a pumpkin making soup and the other at the actual Thanksgiving diner. The theme of this tasting was licorice beer. We are both not enthusiastic about drinking beer mixed with licorice in general, hence we struggled finding more to say than "it's ok".

Why licorice?
Icelandic people have a strange relationship with licorice. It is everywhere. There is a liquor (Topas) one can find it in chocolate and cake and adding it to beer was probably only a natural consequence. On the other hand it is extremly difficult to find good pure licorice in the store. Even licorice only sweets, such as my childhood staple "die Lakritzschnecke" is hard to find.

Steðji Jólabjór
Seðji is a Microbrewery in Borgarfjörður was founded in 2012 and it is very proud to be brewing after the German "Reinheitsgebot". It is also the brewery which invented the Icelandic "Whale Beer" a beer which actually contained milled whale bones and whose sole purpose of existence was to piss the rest of the world off and create hype for the then 1 1/2 year old brewery by using the old "we are proud independent people and no one can tell us what to do" nationalism, which seems to even work on my usually quite intelligent Icelandic friends.

Back to the Christmas beer, with licorice and no bones of any kind in itÖ
Christmassiness: The beer has a pretty red colour and is slightly sweet, in this way it tastes festive, however we both found licorice not to be a Christmas taste. It is well carbonated and light in taste, which makes me think more of summer beers.

Overall tastiness: The licorice and beer work together very well. It starts out tasting kind of sweet with a hint of licorice and then slightly bitter. When my friend first thought me a Chinese recipe she explained that Chinese dishes are based on the thought that all 4 tastes (sweet, salty, sour and bitter) should be in balance with each other. This was achieved here. There are a lot of subtle flavours, but also a lightness. It is by far the best licorice Christmas beer we tasted (comparing Egils Malt, this and the Tuborg Christmas beer below), but alas, we are not big fans of licorice beer. But I'm definitely going to try out their other beers, unless they have milled bones in them.

Tuborg Christmas Beer
Tuborg is obviously not Icelandic, but it is produced in Iceland and the Tuborg Christmas Beer is actually the most bought one and the first to be sold out or so I heard. I also heard that every special beer of theirs (Christmas, Easter) has licorice inside, because reasons I guess.
Christmassiness: No.
Overall tastiness: When I tried the Gull Jólabjór I imagined someone came into the brewery, dumped a bunch of oranges in one of the barrels with Gull Lager in it, came back after a month and decided that was the Christmas beer. This might also have happened in the Tuborg brewery, just they decided to dumb licorice in the barrel instead. Tuborg is more drinkable than Gull, but there is no harmony between the licorice and the beer.

The list:

  1. Jólakaldi

  2. Einstök Icelandic Doppelbock

  3. Steðji Jólabjór (though I'm not a big fan of licorice in beer, I was impressed with how they made this happen)

  4. Þvörusleikir

  5. Íslenskur Úrvals Jólabock

  6. Gæðingur Jólabjór

  7. Víking Jólabjór

  8. Tuborg Christmas Beer

  9. Gull Jólabjór

  10. Egils Malt Jólabjór

Christmas beer day five

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At this point I have to thank my flatmate for participating or I would feel like an alcoholic, drinking beer on my own.

Yesterday we were testing the Christmas beers from the two breweries who make the beers I usually drink when I go out, Einstök and the Íslenskur Úrvals series from Víking Akureyri.
Both actually belong to the same mother company (Vifilfells, the biggest refreshment company in Iceland), but have specialised in making slightly more interesting beer than the usual mass produced Lager. In this way they are similar to Borg brewery from day 4, but a bit less ambitious concerning the range of products and new experimentations.
Both beers are Bocks, which is fitting as bock style beers were traditionally (in Germany) brewed for special occasions.

Einstök Icelandic Doppelbock
A doppelbock is the beer the phrase "liquid bread" for beer comes from. Franciscan monks were drinking it during fasting time when they were not allowed solid food. This one had 6,7%, which means if I had been a monk in medieval times I would have been drunk a lot.

We started with this beer, because I had a craving for chocolate and the label promised a chocolate taste. The chocolate tones come from the malted barley. It is a very sweet beer. It has a full, creamy taste, it has a slightly bitter chocolaty taste, followed by the sweet caramel taste of the malted barley, which lingers.

Christmassiness: Chocolaty, dark creamy and sweet, it wins in this category.
Overall tastiness: My flatmate loved this beer for the chocolate taste. I found it a little too sweet, especially the aftertaste, which is very mellow. The ummpff is missing, but it is a good doppelbock.

Íslenskur Úrvals Jólabock
Maybe this is because we drank it after the chocolate beer, but this was quite bitter for a bock style beer. It felt a bit heavier, too, though it had less alcohol (6.2%).

Christmassiness: Maybe because it is dark and a bock?
Overall tastiness: It is a slightly bitter bock. A bit of a caramel taste at the beginning, balanced by the bitter. Less smooth and more carbonated than I would expect for a bock. It is pleasant, but not special.

The list:

  1. Jólakaldi (still the winner, though we might have to have another tasting with this and the Einstök one)

  2. Einstök Icelandic Doppelbock

  3. Þvörusleikir

  4. Íslenskur Úrvals Jólabock (this is simply personal preference, I prefer bock to hoppy beer and Gæðingur was very hoppy.)

  5. Gæðingur Jólabjór

  6. Víking Jólabjór

  7. Gull Jólabjór

  8. Egils Malt Jólabjór

Christmas beer day four

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Back to big, commercial breweries. I learned today that Borg brewery is a sister company of Egils, the company responsible for the disgusting Malt Christmas beer and Gull Christmas beer. Borg however specialises in artisan beer. Their first beer was Brío, a German style Pilsner, which won some prices. Their Christmas beer is called "þvörusleikir" which translates to "Spoon-Licker" and is one of the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads, Santa Claus like pranksters, each with their own version of OCD. For example, one steals candles, another looks through windows and the Spoon-Licker licks spoons.

The description of Þvörusleikir was quite extensive, it was supposed to have hints of mango and peach with an aftertaste of oak and intense hops with mild roasted undertones.
It is strong (7%) red and smokey. It was matured in oak barrels. I could definitely taste the roasted hops and oak. My flatmate claims she tasted the mango and peach as well. She was very partial to the beer, which was too bitter and smokey for me.

Christmassiness: In her attempt to convince me to give the beer the second place my flatmate pointed out that a) the smokey flavour has something cosy and wintery and b) the colour (dark red) is very Christmassy (reaching for straws are we?)
Tastiness: It has a very interesting taste. I could imagine people who like whiskey liking this beer, due to the oakiness and the smokey taste. Too me it was too strong, especially the aftertaste.

The list:

  1. Jólakaldi

  2. Þvörusleikir (my flatmate convinced me in the end, the taste is more interesting than 3, and it is more of a winter beer)

  3. Gæðingur Jólabjór

  4. Víking Jólabjór

  5. Gull Jólabjór

  6. Egils Malt Jólabjór

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