The decorations are up, the overbearing cinammon-scented Yankee Candle is lit, Phil Spector is on the turntable, and there are twelve bottles of beer lined up under the tree. Yep, it's time for the 12 Beers of Christmas. Overseen by Steve of the Hopinions podcast, this is simply an opportunity (excuse?) to drink and discuss, and for me, it's a particularly good way to clear the backlog of beers that were too strong or too special for casual drinking and lend themselves to the air of festive decadence.
Day One - Omnipollo Noa Bourbon (Sweden/Netherlands, 11%)
Omnipollo's Noa seems emblematic of a certain trend in beer. It tastes very much like an imperial stout with Betty Crocker cake mix stirred in, and that may not be too far from the truth. It's easily dismissed as infantile and gimmicky, but I'm a big fan. Sweet as it may be, it has enough stark, burnt bitterness to balance it out. This edition incorporates bourbon in some way (barrel ageing? Soaked wood chips?) and I imagined the experience to be a bit like tucking into a gooey chocolate brownie with a glass of bourbon on the side.
Well, that's not too far from the reality. Imagine taking a mouthful of sticky chocolate cake and washing it down with whisky; there are elements of the flavours that will marry, but also nuances in both constituent parts that will be lost in the combination.
The aroma is powerful, evoking childhood memories of licking the spoon after baking. But there's a hint of something more adult in there; somewhat woody, perhaps a little tobacco. From the first sip, it's clear that this beer is more austere, less goofily fun than the original Noa, as the confectionery is softened by a musty honey note and something savoury - water biscuits or maybe the advertised pecan nuts, stripped of their maple glaze. That burnt bitter finish I remember is still there, like the crisp corners of a chocolate brownie, and it leaves a lasting bitterness.
It never tastes, to me, exactly like bourbon, but this addition adds a complexity that isn't necessarily welcome. It's more grown up than the classic Noa, but less indulgent as a result, and I like it less for that.