South Hams Brewery Santa Monium (500ml bottle, 5.0% ABV)

There’s a time-honoured way of making a beer for Christmas: brew up a strong ale, then throw loads of spices at it. Cinnamon? Check. Nutmeg? Check. Cloves? Check. Star anise? Check. That stuff has been in the spice rack for years, so it probably needs replacing. Bung it all in!

But there’s another approach, one that doesn’t risk making your ale taste like a festive potpourri, and that’s to use the traditional ingredients of beer (malt, hops, yeast) to achieve a similar, if more subtle, effect.

South Hams Brewery have taken this latter route with their Santa Monium (so called, because it’s a Christmassy offshoot of their Pandemonium ale). A deep red in the glass, it has almost no head, which is a shame because a bit of white would have been more Santa-esque.

The malt gives a richness without straying into the roasty territory of a porter or stout. The hops contribute a red berry kind of flavour, a touch of spice, and a fruitiness I can’t quite identify. Peaches? Apricots? Whatever it is, it gives a rounded hoppiness that gels well with the malt.

It’s low on fizz, like a classic hand-pumped English beer. The finish is surprisingly tangy and juicy for such a dark brew, but the hops never elbow all that velvety malt out of the way.

If Christmas is too often a whirlwind of commercialism, overeating and panto, this beer is like a quiet night in, watching something good on the telly.

Written by Richard Salsbury

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