Holiday Beer 2011 #3: 2 Wassails

First let me get to the new kid on the block: Rivertown Winter Ale, from Lockland, Ohio. This is a big time local wassail where Rivertown reveals its Cincinnati location. Its use of cinnamon reminds me immediately of locally famous Gold Star Chili, just a bit, despite its 7.5% strength, a remarkably drinkable ale. A smooth-spicy experience, with molasses providing additional fermentation, and of course the cinnamon. A  home town recipe to be sure.

Then there is the 37th edition of Anchor’s famous “Our Special Ale”. A Christmas wassail that uses the signature spruce profile, but in a more subtle presentation. It reminds me of James D. Robertson’s comments that the first few “special ales” were not wassails at all. This latest version serves as a reminder of its holiday roots, where spices compliment, rather than overwhelm, the final presentation.
Incredibly well made. I also recall recall what a sales representative from Anchor told me a couple months ago: that the parameters of the basic recipe have been thoroughly established. Who knows? Next year’s recipe may not be a spiced ale at all.



The re-introduction of Yuengling beers to Ohio has brought about renewed interest in beer in general. The fact that many special beers have found their way into grocery stores is an affirmation of this. Although there are memorable beers from past holiday seasons that are no longer available, all in all, there has never been a better time for beer. Especially not having to go on a safari-like beer search (although there was a limited charm in that eternal quest) is very welcome indeed. And the pleasant surprise of seeing quality beers at the grocery and convenience stores is a blessing I do not take for granted. As always my only prayer is thank you.
The arrival of Summit Winter Ale fits the bill quite nicely.  An English nut brown ale approach with a new world dimension, this has an unmistakable flavor profile, that I am certain I would be able to identify in a blind tasting. The smooth rich malty quality of this recipe I have grown to cherish over the years, where 2-row Pale, Caramel and Carafa II malts are combined with Willamette. Fuggle, and Tettnanger hops. To put it succinctly: this ale is like the return of a long absent friend.

Something I never tried before this year is Full Sail Wassail from the Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon. Seeming to take a note from Belgian Christmas beers, this has a complex flavor profile: orange citrus, a touch of dark chocolate notes combine with a very solid finish. An outstanding spiced ale, where the emphasis is on the finish, which is long and very festive.
Speaking of festive, the return of Dundee Festive Ale,  is for myself, a very joyous occasion. A remarkably underrated Holiday beer, the recipe achieves a balanced presentation that makes it a joyous drink. A bah humbug eraser from start to finish.


The eve of Saint Nicholas Day is a good a day as any to raise a toast and a cup of cheer  to the magical effects of human goodness: With Saint Nicholas speed as it were, the patron saint of brewers.

I find it difficult to bah humbug those who think of cellaring holiday beers. For myself, nothing is quite so great as a freshly completed limited edition, so I do not consider ‘putting down’ (sounds like organized crime lingo) a few special edition bottles for some time later. I’ve always had the suspicion that people who obsess about ‘vertical tastings’, have a secret desire to be wine collectors. But what I am concerned with here is beer, and when it comes to holiday beer, it is most certainly, time to drink.

One of the great beauties of fresh beer is that you get to taste what the beer actually tastes like when it came out of the brewery. Affligem Noel, available fresh at the grocery store this year, is a prime example of what world class beer actually tastes like. How is it possible to describe its enormous quality and character?  And without those typical musty notes attributed to cellared versions? Fresh is best. I would say for all holiday beers, whether spiced (wassail) versions or not. Sure many a winter beer will keep for quite some time, but that is most certainly not the point, because holiday beers are designed to be festive and celebratory.
Wassail recipes abound. 21st Amendment Brewery’s Fireside Chat is quite a kick both graphically and physically. A six-pack of cans containing strong spiced winter ale, with a depiction of FDR enjoying a holiday glass and a smoke. The ale itself is a powerful statement for beer in cans. Made at the old Cold Spring Brewery in Cold Spring, Minnesota. One of those “ho ho whoa!” brews available at this time of year.

“When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance. cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

The game is afoot…