I was recently asked: What is Holiday beer? My only answer was: Whatever the brewers at a brewery decide. Which is the holiday season truth of it. Time was, a few decades ago, holiday beer or bier was usually considered to be a Christmas bock, or an old (or olde) English winter ale, or a celebratory spiced ale known as Wassail. But then the explosive growth in artisan recipes has led to many different brewing styles to be considered: from black bier, porter, stout, IPA, and all manifestations in-between.
Take for example Leinenkugel’s Snowdrift Vanilla Porter. I shared a six pack with a group of non-craft brew seekers, outside on a chilly November evening, which they drank straight from their bottles, glad that the Leinie’s came with a twist off cap.
Call it my research group, but these folks who drink beer with the only criteria that it be cold, liked the Snowdrift Vanilla Porter, which in that drinking context, seemed richly sweet and boozy, even though it is only a 6% brew. A more formal tasting later (inside and poured into a glass) revealed a Snowdrift that was nuanced, with vanilla and malts combined to create various chocolate notes, but still somewhat sweet, without being overbearing.
Then there is the intense Wassail approach that has become somewhat popular on the American brewing scene. Southern Tier Brewing Company’s 2XMAS Aleis a good example. A dark, amber- brown coloured ale, this is a spicy and boozy production, especially if served at American ice cold temperature. Is there balance here? No, its more of a conglomerate battle of spices and malts, with hops serving as a reconciliation, in the long, somewhat dry finish. Strong and flavorful, with subtlety giving way for intensity.
Which is quite a contrast to Ohio’s beloved Great Lakes Christmas Ale a magical combination of spices with honey, that creates a flavor profile that seems to press the buttons of Holiday consciousness from Christmases past. A strong 7.5% ale where all alcohol mechanics are completely hidden. It is not surprising that this beer is loved by drinkers of spirits of many stripes.
Across the Atlantic, at St. James Gate, Dublin, Ireland, there is Arthur Guinness Generous Ale A traditional Holiday Amber style ale where the interplay of barley and hops are given a winter body context that finishes dry.
For the beer doctor, the return of beloved holiday recipes is always a welcome sight. Such is the case with the very tasty brown ale known as Smuttynose Winter Ale with its rich malty, chocolatey, nutty approach, which serves as a beautiful reminder that the holiday season should be a joyous occasion indeed.