20071105-anchor67270010_d4fc03ad4bpyramid_inline1195075013-26964_fullhibernationale_small1holidaybrews_christmasaleaveryoldjubilationwinterwarmerThere are many different approaches to holiday beer. There is the English style old winter ale, the hoppy IPA style, the wassail style of ale, not to be confused with spiced versions of lager, such as Samuel Adams Winter Lager, a spiced dunkelweizen bock. Add to that the many variations of porter, imperial stouts which utilize cocoa and such, and you have a plethora of products to choose from.
To start off, I would like to cover some annual classics… given that distinction after many years of sampling. Snow Cap Ale from Pyramid Breweries comes to mind, its dark amber color, with its unmistakable malty nose. I could certainly make this one out in a blind taste test. The rich malty character made even more distinctive by the spicy interplay with the hops. Unmistakable.
Three Holiday offerings from breweries in Colorado, reveal how great United States brewing has become. Breckenridge Christmas Ale has always been good, but over the years this recipe has evolved to the point of greatness. A rich semi-dry palate from an invigorating malt presentation, that is complex but without being ponderous. A very festive holiday ale indeed.
Great Divide Brewing’s Hibernation Ale is a rich brown pour with a coppery undertone. A glorious take on strong winter ale, with plenty of malted strength and flavor complexity to make this a go-to choice on a cold winter night.
The same can be said of Avery’s Old Jubilation Ale, another big time malt creation, full of chocolate to mocha to vanilla notes. Another Colorado brew of marvelous depth. These beers seem to beg the question: do you want to slam some swill? or do you to drink an actual beer?
When it comes to holiday spiced ale in the United States, the inimitable champion is Anchor Brewing’s “Our Special Ale”, the 34th edition of their Christmas wassail, with its pine-spruce essence reappearing every year in the aroma. Staying within the palate parameters of this much discussed ale, that changes, or more accurately, adds variations to the recipe, year after year, this version in no way disappoints. A very festive, flavorful, easy to drink Christmas ale. I would forget about storing this for later, this beer has no need need to improve with time. There is plenty of complexity to experience while enjoying this fresh.
By contrast, Harpoon’s Winter Warmer is a straight forward, rather rough recipe, which simply puts emphasis on cinnamon and nutmeg.
Blue Moon’s Full Moon Winter Ale makes Belgian claims by its use of dark candy sugar, but it is not Belgian style ale at all. Instead, there is a full body, malty ale of moderate strength, that is hearty, smooth, and approachable.
One holiday creation, it is said will develop over five years, and that is Goose Island Christmas Ale, the mahogany colored pour from the Chicago beer company. Having sampled “vintage” versions, the ale will reveal its British based lineage, but this only deprives you of the wonderful flavor of a fresh bottle. With its chocolate-citrus flavor notes. This finishes with an orange-chocolate note. Fantastic. Not to be missed.
Probably one of the greatest recipes in production at present is Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyn Winter Ale, an almost unbelievable tribute to the Scottish Maris Otter malts. Of all the wonderful beers of this season, I hold this in the highest regard. Cheers!



seasonsbestLet’s face it, there is so much momentous stuff taking place. Politics, the economy, it is all one big rockin’ ball of confusion. But this year, I am not going to let any of these matters get in the way of enjoying the great holiday beers, and there are so many to choose from. Well choose is not the right word, because I want to sample as many as possible. The annual favorites return, but I am also seeking new samples everyday (Point Brewery’s St. Benedict’s Winter Ale come to mind, I will have to go out of state to obtain it.) It is time to celebrate.
A remarkable sampler this year is Saranac’s Winter Classics. Not only does the collection contain some remarkable recipes, but also included is my beloved Christmas favorite, Saranac Season’s Best. The nut brown lager that uses Belgian malts, this absolutely delicious (at least for myself) beer has a nutty profile unlike any other. Combine that with the other selections, E.S.B., India Dark Ale, Vanilla Stout, Belgian style ale, and the Bohemian style Pilsener, and you have a flavor adventure, all ready to go. The Bohemian style Pilsener would be great watching football, it is a mouth watering slammer. The E.S.B. is so dead on accurate, Fuller’s would approve. The Vanilla Stout, although is modest in strength, is in fact a meal in itself. This is one of Matt Brewing’s very best samplers.
Over in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the people at Troegs have released their MAD ELF ALE. The Mad Elf Ale is an amber-brown coloured holiday offering. An eccentric recipe that uses cherries and honey. It is reminiscent of Belgian microbrewery celebrations, with full strength (11% abv), spicy and mysterious.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2008 is the classic hoppy offering from Chico, California. It is good to see this available in the twelve pack box. I never tire of its distinct personality.
The same can be said of Summit Brewing’s Winter Ale. This deep roasted malty ale, is very porter like, and perfect for whenspaceball the weather turns cold. There is not a better time of the year to showcase a brewery’s personality.
There are so many more to get to. This is but a humble beginning.
My only prayer is thank you…