Ridgeway Brewing - Pickled Santa
Serving Temperature:45-50° F
Suggested Glassware:Pint Glass or Oversized Wine Glass
Well, this somewhat strangely named beer is much tastier than one might expect from its name. The name reflects that the beer is spiced, but don’t worry – there’s no dill in this beer nor does it present any other pickle-like qualities. Many winter beers are spiced, and the catch-all term for the style is “Winter Warmer” due to the rather high (especially by traditional British standards) alcohol percentage that often exceeds 6% ABV. Ridgeway employs real, fresh, spices in Pickled Santa, not spice extracts nor pre-ground blends. In fact, they do the grinding themselves and they do it in their own special way: the spices are measured out, placed in sturdy bags, and then delicately run over by their 4000 lb forklift. We found Pickled Santa to walk the line between ESB (Extra Special Bitter) with its drinkability and moderate bitterness, and Winter Warmer, with its intriguing spiced character. Look for this copper-colored brew to offer up aromas of rich, sweet malts along with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. On the palate, there’s a mild residual sweetness with fruity notes of plum, raisin, and apple, while nutmeg, cinnamon, and gingerbread come through strongly with a hint of coriander. Goldings hops add a citrusy, floral note that provides an excellent accompaniment to the spice mixture. You could pair this brew with spiced desserts or use in an eggnog recipe for a twist (brewnog??), but we tend to like this one best on its own. Cheers!
When the iconic Brakspear Brewery was shuttered and sold off to create room for a new luxury hotel in 2002, both British citizens and connoisseurs of British beer were shocked. In business since 1779, the brewery was well-known as the home of one of the most renowned Bitters in England, and its closing appeared to be a sign of the times – another in a long string of traditional British brewers to close down as the beer landscape shifted further in favor of huge conglomerate beer companies.
Fortunately this is not the end of our story, but rather the beginning. After the brewery closed, Brakspear’s brewmaster, Peter Scholey, set out on his own in order to keep his craft alive. Ridgeway Brewing rose like a phoenix from Brakspear’s ashes in a new location not far from Scholey’s old brewery, about 30 miles west of London. Ridgeway Brewing was named after a very, very old road that traverses England’s southwest region. Currently passable only on foot or by horse, the Ridgeway was built by Britain’s oldest inhabitants, the Druids, thousands of years before Roman invaders arrived and put down their own roads on the island. In fact, the road is the oldest in the British Isles and is almost 100 miles in length, passing near both Stonehenge and Peter Scholey’s home. Naming the brewery after the road was a symbol of Scholey’s determination to keep Britain’s very rich tradition of brewing alive despite the passage of time and ever-expanding development.
With Ridgeway Brewing, Scholey manages to successfully join innovative modern brewing techniques with the old-world brewing traditions that find themselves increasingly under attack. We congratulate him for working hard against modern pressures to keep the craft of traditional British beer alive and well in the 21st century. Peter Scholey has quite the sense of humor, and many of his beers bear tongue-in-cheek Christmas-themed names like this month’s Pickled Santa, as well as Lump of Coal, and a slew of elven names: Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf, and Insanely Bad Elf. We’re waiting to see what he comes up with for further installments—we could dream up a few even wilder names, but they’re not exactly Christmas-like, so instead of pushing the envelope here we’ll just wait and see what new brews come along in the future.
In addition to their Christmas seasonal beers, Ridgeway produces a core lineup including traditional English IPA; Bitter; ESB; Golden Ale; Stout; and Red, Black, and Brown Ales. On top of those, Ridgeway brews a trio of vintage "imperial" beers which all tap into the theme of a Russian Imperial Stout (which is actually an English style that was famously imbibed in large quantities by the Imperial Russian court of Catherine the Great). Not surprisingly, one of the trio is Ridgeway's Imperial Russian Stout, which is joined by this month's feature, Imperial Barley Wine, as well as Imperial Red Ale – all of which are capable of extended aging. Each vintage is a limited run, so we're very excited to have the opportunity to share the exceptional 2015 vintage of the Imperial Barley Wine with you this month.
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