Our 12 Beers of Christmas series kicks off with an English stout. Not just any old stout, either: at 8% ABV, Lump of Coal Dark Holiday stout is quite a mouthful and will certainly warm your cockles on a long winter's eve.
In fact, the very strong alcohol content is perhaps this beer's weakest point. For, while it's very likely to help you overcome the Yuletide blues, the subtler aspects of its charms will probably be lost in a wave of alcohol taste. Shame, because it promises much when you first take a sip.
I was quite surprised to find there was very little in the way of a head when I poured this beer. It could be something to do with cellaring it for a year (Vermont Delegate Mattias Dahlstrom gave this to me for Christmas 2006 and I've been looking for an excuse to crack it open ever since).
But the absence of perfume was even more of a shock. This stout doesn't smell like very much at all -- least of all, a lump of coal. Weird? Definitely.
You won't be disappointed with the initial bite, which is slightly sweetish, a coffee-cum-licorice taste that is far more reminiscent of a porter than a stout. Indeed, with its thin, almost headless body, this is very porter-like.
Almost immediately after the first sweetness and subtle flavours have dispersed, a bitterness will flood your tastebuds. Until you swallow, this is the dominant characteristic, then the strong alcohol taste takes over.
While it's not very subtle, this high-alcohol stout will do the job. As the label says: "It's a deep, rich, sweetly rewarding stout to take the edge off of that grim family gathering, that cheerless annual festival of alienation. This brew is as dark as it gets, as black as the coal you'll be getting for Christmas. Because, let's face it, you've been pretty bad this year."
If only the beer had as much character as the copywriter! Guinness beer would be in trouble.
Lump of Coal is a good beer. It's not great, it's certainly not a classic, but if all you need this year is a way to forget the "cheerless annual festival of alienation", then this will be a complete smash. And you will be completely smashed after two or three.
I'll give it Eight Maids a-Milking on the 12 Beers of Christmas index. Cheers and happy holidays!
Even the impossible can be found on eBay, if you are patient in your searching.
Try searching for Russian River
(you'll need to narrow down by beer name, ex. Pliny, Damnation, Temptation), Black Albert
or any of the BIG beers. Don't overlook eBay's Belgium Beer results either...