Article by Simonmattia Riva, Biersommelier
Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas. (Dale Evans Rogers)
Making special beers for Christmas is a consolidated tradition in all countries with a great beer history. But it’s mainly thanks to Belgium and the amazing (an often crazy) creativity of Flemish and Walloon master brewers that Christmas beers have become famous all over the world. With their daring combinations of aromas, scents and unusual ingredients, they have won the palates and stirred the imagination of consumers, including in countries such as Italy, where the trend of good quality beer is relatively new.
The ingredients of Christmas beers
There are no specific rules that define how a Christmas beer should be made: each master brewer is free to give their own interpretation. However, it is possible to identify some common characteristics: the high alcohol content, as the cold season calls for invigorating and warming beverages, and the prevalence of warm, smooth aromas.
Very often Christmas beers tend to be sweet and are enriched by special ingredients: warm spices, used also in Christmas sweets, and citrus zest.
The birth of Baladin Leön
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that a brewery like Baladin, which took inspiration from Belgium before becoming a symbol of Italian beer in the world, has been making its Christmas beer since 1998 and has called it Nöel to pay homage to one of the two languages of its country of inspiration.
One of the reasons why the world and life are so fascinating is the so-called “heterogony of ends”. Nöel’s remarkable success made it unwise to limit its production and marketing to the Christmas period alone. Also, its simple, straightforward and inevitably “seasonal” name risked becoming a limitation.
The solution found by the brewery in Piozzo was to create yearly versions enriched with special ingredients (Nöel Chocolat, Nöel Café, Nöel Liquirizia...) and to rename the original “bare” version - true to the Belgian tradition of creating spicy and fruity notes relying on the action of yeasts alone - Leön. The name was reversed to reverse the fate of the beer.
Olfactory analysis of Baladin Leön
Once the cork and shellac are removed, Leön should be poured into a balloon or a snifter, the perfect glasses for its warm aromatic richness.
The dark copper - mahogany color has charming ruby red hues. As it is not filtered, the liquid is slightly hazy, topped by a fine, dark ocher colored and interestingly crackling head, like a winter fireplace.
The bouquet is a game of back-and-forth between warm and roasted notes and more refreshing fruity aromas. The former include scents of walnut husks, cocoa beans, carob, milk chocolate and dates, and immediately fill the nostrils. They are followed by hints of ripe pears, peaches in syrup, dehydrated pineapple and mango.
The combination of these two worlds creates velvety synergies reminiscent of Chinese lanterns dipped in chocolate or peach melba with cocoa cream. After a few minutes in the glass, the beer releases a fruity note of strawberry - the signature flavor of many Baladin beers - and warm notes of coriander and cumin. The alcohol content can be gently smelled and makes you think of a rum praline.
Taste analysis of Baladin Leön
Leön has a moderate carbonation and a round, full body. At first, the taste is dominated by cocoa and carob flavors, but it is immediately enlivened by a lively acidic note of sour cherries and raspberries. When the beer becomes a bit warmer, hints of papaya blend with the initial roasted flavors and create the feeling of an Ethiopian single-origin coffee.
The medium palate is pleasantly hit by a dusty note of cocoa, but the taste remains smooth, with touches of cappuccino, dark caramel and rum pralines. The silky finish has no harshness or pungency and, once again, is characterized by notes of cocoa and single-origin coffee from the Horn of Africa. In the after-smell, these are accompanied by the enveloping warmth of the alcohol that can warm you up at any season.