The Belgians sure know how to celebrate Christmas - the three beers I tried had ABV's ranging from 9% - 10.5%!
Affligem Noel Christmas Ale (9%) pours a gorgeous amber colour with a tan head. The alcohol content comes through on the nose, but was pleasantly mixed with toffee, biscuit and spicy aromas.
The flavour, however, was mildly disappointing. Although there was a complex mix of malt, toffee, sweet spice, raisin and grape flavours, all were overpowered by the almost spirit-like taste of alcohol, which left an unpleasant aftertaste. Great to try if you can get your hands on a bottle though, and I would suggest tasting it at a warmer temperature (about 10-12 degrees C), as the malt bitterness came through more as the beer warmed, subduing the alcohol flavour.
I tried the Delirium Christmas (also known as Delirium Noel) next, which pours a dark brown with ruby colouring and has an off-white head.
The aromas weren't too strong, spice, caramel and dark fruit all coming through, with a hint of yeast.The flavour, however, was amazing. Toffee, warming spices, prune and plum flavours all come through strong, with a strong malty bitterness to balance the intense sweetness nicely. Incredibly warming, and what is even more impressive is there is not a hint of the 10% alcohol on the nose, in the flavour, or in the aftertaste. My favourite of the three, plus it has the coolest bottles. Although it looks like a beer aimed at seven year-old girls, it would make even the most hardened drinkers feel light-headed!
At 10.5%, Gouden Carolus Noel was the strongest of the Christmas Ales. It pours a dark brown, close to black, with a tan head and has very dark aromas, including aniseed.
The flavours are both bitter and strong. Burnt malt, burnt coffee and spice, but it does have a subtle dark chocolate and caramel sweetness to pmake it drinkable. Incredibly dense, I couldn't even finish this one, but also very warming. Perhaps keep one in the beer cellar for those cold winter nights, as it would fare far better on those frosty nights than New Zealand's warm summer evenings.