The late arrival of the grand daddy of American wassail was a welcome sight indeed. Mind you dear reader, I have had Anchor’s “Our Special Ale” since the 17th edition. This is the 39th year. So I have tasted the changes through those 20 plus years. This year’s version is, at least for myself, a subtle but marvellous departure from recent editions. Here it seems, what might be called the spruce element has been toned back a bit, leaving the malts to move forward. Delicious from start to finish.
Between the holiday beers, the seasonal and special editions, there is something here for every kind of palate. Perhaps it is just my age, but experience has taught me that when it come to the flavor of beer, it is best to accept the unexpected. Take for example Shiner Holiday Cheer the first time I tasted it was, an unexpected shock (peaches and pecans, who would have thought of it?). But now it has become a Christmas tradition: the Holiday wheat bock brewed with peaches.
Southern Tier Brewing Company has several seasonal selections. Krampus, their imperial helles lager is deceptively smooth. This is a Christmas devil full of bottom fermented goodness. While their 2XMAS “brewed in the tradition of Swedish Glogg” is, what could be described as big time wassail, designed for celebrations. Their Old Man Winter Ale the use of any spices.
For beers with malty depth there are the Imperial Stouts to consider. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout immediately comes to mind, with its incredibly rich yet smooth presentation. Sierra Nevada Narwhal proves that even the hop-centric brewers understand the malty depth of the imperial stout style.
Porter is always good this time of year. For those who want a sweeter example of the style, there is Leinenkugel’s Vanilla Porter, brewed on a bed of vanilla beans. For Bavarian purity law goodness there is Hudepohl Classic Porter. Need more complexity? Try Flying Dog’s Imperial Gonzo Porter. As Doctor Thompson might say: “Ok, let’s party.”
Bell’s Christmas Ale is a rock solid take on Scottish wee heavy, beautifully balanced.
Goose Island Ten Hills Pale Ale is a tribute to the hops grown at Elk Mountain Farms. A citrus hop study, with a gentle finish.
I was also able to obtain, from their FS pub series, Full Sail Pale a wonderful tribute to English style ale, available for 90 days only.
Mendocino Brewery’s Oatmeal Stout could serve you well during these winter months. But hey I am partial to oatmeal, I eat a bowl everyday.
Madtree Brewing Company’s Gnarly Brown Ale is a welcome reminder of how to the local beer making culture has evolved. To put it bluntly: what an outstanding ale this is, packaged in a can. A special thanks to therapist Toni, who first alerted me about their brewing operations.