Noel is a festive Australian Wild Ale aged in ex-Muscat barrels, unspiced and made entirely of Voyager malts. We brewed this beer back in July when winter was in our bones and Christmas was on our minds (well at least mine). I wanted something suitable for the table at Christmas lunch, something to pair with spiced ham, to share with family and friends. An occasional beer made specifically for that occasion.
Noel is the first beer we have released to expressly name the type of barrels the beer was aged in. For pretty much all the rest of our beer, the barrel is a vessel, not a flavour additive... but this just had to be an exception. Right when we brewed this beer we were offered to purchase some very freshly emptied Muscat barrels from our friends at Clonakilla. With the end goal of a Christmas beer, there couldn't have been a better match. We are incredibly thankful for the entire team at Clonakilla for giving us the opportunity to work with these barrels, some of which had been holding fortified wines for over 20 years.
The inspiration for Noel comes directly from a beer I once had in 2015. On a trip through Wallonia, I slipped across the border into France to visit Xavier Bailleux at his family brewery, Au Baron in Gussignies. I wrote about the trip on my old blog here if you want the whole story. While I was there, I tasted their Biere de Noel 'Saison Saint Médard' made in time for Christmas each year. Up unto that point, I had never experienced such a flavour filled malt character in a beer. It wasn't sweet or cloying, just bursting with fresh red berries and dried fruit notes. Even though this beer had such an impact on me, it took me more than 3 years to get back in touch with Xavier to ask him a few questions about it.
Earlier this year we started noticing a lot more fruity notes in our Amber when increasing the munch malt percentage in the grist. They took me back to a brick building along a river and tasting Saint Medard and the connection clicked, what if I beefed up the Munich malt in the Amber to get closer to that taste I had in 2015. Luke and I talked back and forth about spicing this beer or not, but in the end decided against it to really let the malt and fermentation do the talking. Looking back, I think we made the right call. Noel is teeming with fermentation spice and fruitness without any additions.
At release it has aromas of blackcurrant, sour cherries, blackberries and raisins that develop into a more chocolate, turkish icecream and woody spice box notes. The flavour is upfront with intensely concentrated flavours of red fruit and blackcurrant, as the beer opens cloves and tropical fruit move into the back palate. Overall this beer exemplifies a mildly sweet oaky-ness from the Muscat that develops in the glass as it evolves with each bite.
The base beer was brewed entirely with New South Wales cereals from Voyager Craft Malt. It's grist is 99% Munich and 1% freshly roasted Chocolate malt. It was hopped with Saaz (CZ). Finally, it was fermented with our house culture: brewers yeast, foraged wild yeast and naturally occurring souring bacteria native to New South Wales. We transferred it to freshly emptied ex-Muscat barrels for 3 months ageing. It was bottled on August 27th 2018 and naturally conditioned through refermentation for 20 weeks. At bottling it was 8.0% ABV, 23 IBU and 3.0°P (FG= 1.012 SG).
We will make around 250 bottles of Noel available online and another 200 at cellar door. The remaining 15 cases will be sent to our wholesale stockists.
Like all our beers, Noel is best enjoyed when decanted off a settled natural yeast sediment at cellar temperatures (10-12°C). It will even be better at Christmas lunch.