Nostradamus: Unwrap something different this year
How about a Christmas beer that isn't a "Christmas" beer at all? Caracole Brewery in Falmingnoul, Belgium makes what they call artisanal beers – think small, craft brewery – that are standouts in a country of standout beers. I believe the absolute best of their excellent bunch is Nostradamus, a strong Belgian brown ale. You can get it anytime, but it's an ideal winter beer and, for my money, easily better and more appropriate than any typical Christmas ale.
First, maybe we better state right up front exactly what this beer is meant for, to eliminate any confusion. It may not be what you think of, or want, as a Christmas beer – mainly because, well, it isn't one. This is a special-occasion beer that you're not going to have very often; a few times a year will do. It is also not going to be a Christmas party beer. One big bottle at 9% alcohol is an ideal way to put a nightcap on a cold winter's evening, but you won't want to knock back several of them, for reasons other than just the alcohol. It has some spice and incredible flavor, but it isn't Christmas in a bottle.
What it is, is a big, bold, brown ale with so much carbonation that the cork exploded off the bottle as soon as I removed the wire cage. That carbonation gives it a nice fluffy head with a solid, lasting lace. This is an unapologetically malty beer, so hopheads run for cover. The sweetness is right up front in the nose; mainly ripe plums and berries, with some alcohol and spice to keep it in check.
An immediate champagne tingle from all the carbonation registers before any flavor, but the fizz fades surprisingly quickly. The taste is as intricate as you'll find in a beer. Juice – full, ripe and soft – is the first component. It's mainly berries, but plums and pears and grapes all play a part. Then, all that juice is enveloped in chocolate. Yes, it's every bit as good as it sounds. A nibble of crusty bread follows, and finally, a crisp shot of hops to dry it all out for the next sip. It's incomprehensible how they can create these flavors in the perfect balance and order. Don't even try to figure it out, just enjoy. It's more than a bit like eating the best alcohol soaked, chocolate covered cherries you'll ever have.
Don't bother pairing it with any proper food. Maybe with some chocolaty dessert or some cheese, but I wouldn't. This is a "sipping by the fire to toast a successful day" kind of beer. It would also be enough of a dessert in its own right, following an excellent meal.
Consider Nostradamus your Christmas present after sorting out everybody else's. Those other holiday ales will be all over the beer aisles as usual, but if you want something a bit different, and much more than a bit better, grab a big bottle of this instead. It may not be your favorite, or the one you'll drink the most this winter, but it is a magically excellent beer that everyone should try every once in a while.