Sometimes the beer doctor has a problem with BeerSpeak. The term winter warmer for example, has come to be a rather loose description for holiday wassail, although a beer that is warming in winter does not have to (here I go with the beer geek speak) actually be a spice bomb, nor does it have to assume the boozy parameters of extreme beer. A good example of a great winter warmer is Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome which does not rely on spices, but rather a subtle, nuanced body, achieved through a time-honored method where hops are employed to support a judicious blend of malted barley.
The same can be said of Smuttynose Winter Ale a very tasty malt showcase that proves that a winter warmer can be more about body than booze.
But of course extreme beer has been in vogue the last few year (imperial this, imperial that) so there are numerous examples of what might be called wassails gone wild. A sterling example is Troegs The Mad Elf Ale an 11% production utilizing cherries and honey. Beers brewed to such strength assure that if you knock back a few of these, your holiday celebration will soon metamorphose into a sleepy silent night.
Strangely, one of the most festive and drinkable wassails, Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale seems to be made these days as only an after thought. Two decades ago, this delicious ale appeared in 25.4 oz bottles.
From there it went to 12 oz size, and then it only appeared as part of their winter variety packs. This year 3 bottles can be found in their winter variety pack, which is a shame, since it is not a novelty beer, but a recipe that deserves to stand alone.
This year, the Bend, Oregon brewer Deschutes has their famous Jubelale available throughout Ohio. A non-wassail that presents a very spicy palate through its expert use of malts and hops. And yes it is, in the traditional sense a festive winter ale.
Just what exactly is Holiday Beer? Well that depends on who you are asking. In the German tradition, bock and most importantly dopplebock, were a part of holiday tradition for centuries. This influence appears in Samuel Adams Winter lager, a wheat bock that departs from that tradition by being subtly spiced. For a more traditional winter bock approach, there is Penn Brewing Company’s St. Nicholas Bock Bier a 6.5% masterpiece, or if you want to kick it up another notch in strength, there is the Brewers Reserve version at 9%.
And so I have heard: Xmas time is coming and Santa will soon be here.