Gav abandons the shopping, and goes in search of some special Christmas ales.

IF you’re heading into the city centre to go Christmas shopping today, then you have my sympathies. I tried last Saturday, and it’s hellish.

You’re much better off avoiding the crowds, leaving the panic-buying for another day, and instead finding yourself a good pub. Great Aunt Mary’s pot pourri can wait for now.

For if Britain’s pubs and breweries do a good job all year round, many of them positively excel at Christmas – and across York this weekend, there are some brilliant beers and fabulous festive fun to be had.

The Phoenix in George Street, for instance, is playing host to its first ever beer festival, from yesterday until tomorrow, with a dozen or so Christmas specials from across the north, as well as a raffle and – believe it or not in December – a barbecue.

I was drawn in by the very first beer on their list: White Stout from Durham, a fantastic brewery whose beers are gradually appearing more frequently on York’s bars. It’s billed as a “very pale, full bodied, strong beer” and sounds tempting, to say the least.

If that doesn’t take your fancy – and at 7.2 per cent it may be a bit daunting – there are plenty of other goodies to try too. Rudolph’s Revenge from Walls Brewery in Northallerton sounds a cracker, brewed with chocolate malt and promising an orange taste. Terry’s eat your heart out.

A quick dash round the Bar Walls from The Phoenix, The Waggon and Horses in Lawrence Street is also getting into the festive spirit.

Its “rock around the Christmas tree” event today consists of seven Christmas beers, mulled wine and cider, music from 12 local artists, snacks and a tombola and raffle in aid of Martin House Children’s Hospice.

Rosey Nosey, by the pub’s owners Batemans, will almost certainly be on and – with a bit of luck – so too might WassAle from WharfeBank. I had this last year and it’s remarkable – like Christmas pudding in a glass. Both of York’s Wetherspoon’s pubs have also ordered that in, so try there if you miss out at the Waggon.

In fact, the chances are that wherever you may venture this weekend, you’ll find a winner. When I embarked on a search earlier in the week, I found Ilkley’s Mary Christmas at The Ackhorne, the pleasantly-sweet Jenning’s Redbreast in The Spread Eagle, Copper Dragon’s biscuity Christmas Classic at The Guy Fawkes, a great bottled range in Brigantes and – although not explicitly a Christmas beer – the deliciously-festive Darkangel cherry porter at the Old White Swan in Goodramgate.

That last one is the latest in the collaboration between Cropton Brewery and Mike Hall from North Peak in Michigan, and was a great counterweight to the cold weather.

And for those who’ve had enough of Christmas already, and are looking forward to it all being over? Head to any of the York Brewery pubs and try their December special, a tremendous pitch-black beer, full of chewy liquorice, chocolate malty flavours. It’s the best beer I drank this week. And it’s called, quite simply, Humbug.


NATIONAL newspapers at this time of year are full of guides telling you what wine to drink with your Christmas dinner. Don’t be fooled!

If you choose wisely, beer can be a far greater accompaniment to the turkey, pudding or whatever else you choose to indulge upon.

Our resident bottled beer boffin Jim gives his recommendation in his own weekly column, but here are a couple more expert views as well to help you along.

• Zak Avery, co-owner of Beer Ritz in Headingley – Anchor Porter (£2.29 from good independents or – A delicious dark beer that has enough body to cope with rich desserts. Christmas pudding? No problem. With vanilla ice cream? Even better. Coffee, chocolate and dark fruits with soft, warming caress of alcohol in the finish. (visit Zak's blog here)

• Mark Dredge, winner of the British Guild of Beer Writers’ award for writing about beer and food matching. – Chimay Grande Reserve (£7.80 for 750ml from House of Trembling Madness in Stonegate, York) – A big bottle for sharing, and a beer first brewed for Christmas. Dark fruits, brown sugar and seasonal spices pair perfectly with the turkey and trimmings. (visit Mark's blog here)

• Ian Loftus, owner of The House of the Trembling Madness shop and bar in Stonegate - Deus (£18.15 for a 750ml bottle) - I have this Champagne beer with Christmas dinner. It's quite light but with a good strength to it, and it's a celebration beer.