It is a pleasure to write this article. First, let me cover what is undoubtedly the original American wassail, now in its 40th manifestation: Anchor Brewing’s “Our Special Ale” This year’s version is one of the best I have ever tasted.
Having sampled 23 of the 40 versions, this year’s achievement, dials back a bit what is sometimes called the spruce essence to emphasize the incredible balance of this beer, where the Anchor house yeast has a chance to display how drinkable and soulful this delicious ale is. Outstanding.
The Silver Anniversary of Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome 2014-2015 reveals that a Winter/Holiday ale, does not need spices, nor a kitchen sink of hops, to produce a festive ale that is rich and yet subtly nuanced. Whole dried Golding and Fuggle hops support luxurious malts. After 25 years, this is indeed a time honored recipe.
One of the world’s great examples of a malt showcase are the five specialty malts used in Avery Brewing’s Old Jubilation Ale. A masterpiece recipe that has amazing malty depth, revealing chocolate, hazelnut, mocha and toffee. The finish has what I would describe as chocolate grape. This beer is a law unto itself.
The overuse (or should I say abuse?) of the IPA style has diminished, at least in superficial perception, the greatness of the original Holiday IPA: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2014 . Now brewed in California and North Carolina this annual recipe of fresh hops has what many of the extreme examples of this style do not: proper malt support. When the lupulin obsession has run its course, Celebration Ale will still be there as a supreme example of what can properly be called New World Holiday Ale.
Christmas time means the return of another exquisite strong ale: Breckenridge Christmas Ale where 2-row pale, caramel, black and chocolate malts combine to create a very festive ale with a full body character that is timeless.