Full Sail: Wassail Winter Ale (USA: English Strong Ale: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Ruddy red, or brown if not held to the light. Some carbonation. Large solid toffee brown head.

Nose: Cinnamon. Cherries. Caramel. Slight cream. Slight cloves and nutmeg.

Body: Nutmeg. Raisins. Malt chocolate. Warming vinous red wine notes. Caramel. Earthy bitterness.

Finish: Glacier cherries. Dry malt chocolate. Crushed peanuts. Cloves and nutmeg. Dry roasted peanuts. Toffee. Earthy bitterness. Sour red wine vinous notes.

Conclusion: This feels like a Christmas spiced dopplebock in a lot of ways – a quick search tells me it is a English strong ale – Michael Jackson’s book calls it an old ale – though that may have changed since the book was published. Any which way – definitely has some dopplebock like notes.

Anyway, this is a dry malt chocolate and dry roasted nut tasting base – smoothly deliverer and grounded by what feels like an earthy British hop style – a part that made me finally decide to list this as English Strong Ale style. A solid base, and one offset by slight caramel sweetness, but one that could have become wearing if not for the other two big influences.

Influence one is a vinous – sour red wine and sweet glacier cherries style set of notes – giving high sweet notes and vinous depth that makes for an interesting top and tail to the beer. This develops the more dopplebock like elements, bringing out rich raisin notes and Christmas cake imagery to this winter beer.

The other influence is the moderately used spice notes– a nutmeg middle, clove heaviness and cinnamon sweet spots. Again it really widens the range of the beer and is used heavily enough without dominating the beer.

Together it is very Christmassy, very solid. Very smooth and with a very good range. A medley of Christmas experiences – cake, wine and spice, all shown in one beer. Very high quality and well worth trying if you can grab it. Not a world best, but about as good as you can get without reaching those echelons.

Background: An American beer? As part of my China trip? Yep, found this in a supermarket in Chengdu and memory told me it was one of Michael Jackson’s 500 beers. I checked when I got back, and I was right! Go me! Before I get too full of myself though, the supermarket had another Full Sail beer that was also one of Jackson’s 500 picks which I did not remember, so missed a chance to grab. Stupid me. Anyway, drank this on a cruise down the river – had to ask the staff for a fridge so I could chill it as the room didn’t have one by default. Due to being a solo traveller I had to share the room with another traveller – a Chinese man who spent a lot of time walking around in his boxers and rearranging his junk. So, yeah, a …unique background to doing these notes.