Category Archives: Samuel Adams Winter Lager

Homeless For The Holidays

There was a time when people held on to the quaint notion that the marketing of the holidays was performed within a limited window of opportunity. Thus, you had complaints about Christmas decorations being put on display before Halloween was concluded. But in this neoliberal age of on-line smart phone shopping, that is so 20th century.
The same principle applies to the release of winter/holiday beers. It used to be the short window approach, but now, it is best to sample these beers as soon as you obtain them. In other words: the fresher the better.
This certainly applies to Great Lakes Christmas AleglcThe state of Ohio’s favorite wassail, the Christmas Ale recipe speaks for itself. Certainly the beer fans of Ohio have spoken. That is why you find stacks of this ale, often in convenience stores. The unbeatable combination of spices and honey make this a much anticipated annual treat. The fresher the better.

When it comes to American wassail, the grandfather of the style is of course, Anchor’s “Our Special Ale” 43rd edition43edThis the first Anchor Christmas Ale since the brewery was acquired by Sapporo Holdings. This is my 27th sampling of this legendary ale, where the recipe changes from year to year. Often in the last twenty years there was a touch of what has been described as a spruce essence. But this year that signature has all but disappeared, along with the associated aromatics. Instead is a deep malty presentation accentuated with unnamed spices. This produces a semi-dry dark chocolate palate that is the strongest edition to date at 6.7%. Malty from start to finish, with subtle complexity , and despite all legacy implications (or the lack thereof) this is a very enjoyable Holiday ale.

bellxmas There is that old overused saying that if it’s not broke don’t fix it! This certainly applies to Bell’s Brewery Christmas Ale. A Scotch ale, this is a classic wee heavy take on holiday festivities. To be clear, this is a beer I love to drink.

Then there is from Marshall, Michigandarkhorsexmas Dark Horse Brewing’s 4ELF ale, a winter warmer spiced ale, where cinnamon and cloves are combined with malts to create a palate that produces an impression of vanilla, swimming in a sea of dark chocolate. Despite the enthusiastic complexity, this is a surprisingly drinkable ale.

Christmas Ale party 2017 square It has been 2 years since Anheuser-Busch InBev bought the Breckenridge Brewery. Besides being banished to the Craft Brewers Association of outer darkness, the real question is: has the recipe of their Christmas Ale changed? A famous Scotch ale take for the holiday, the recipe seems unchanged and delicious. The only difference is the corporate streamlined label and packaging, which is graphically colder than their original presentation.

jubelaleThe 30th Anniversary of Deschutes Brewery Jubelale reveals that this recipe has stood the test of time. A five malt, five hop, creation that is spicy without the use of spices. Even the IBU rating of 65 is somewhat misleading. This is not some over hopped bitter bomb IPA, rather, it is a masterful example of American winter ale.

index A spiced dunkelweizen bock or as it is said on the carton: wheat bock with spices. I would not be surprised that many people in the beer world have forgotten that Samuel Adams Winter Lager has been made annually for 28 years. Not that there haven’t been a few tweaks over the years ( I still recall the first time they employed Saigon cinnamon) but this tried and true recipe I have always loved. I wish the Christmas Bock tradition would return because bock is my very favorite style of beer.
Love and peace, and that’s not so funny in these tumultuous times.
The Beer Doctor


That Time Of Year Again

Where to begin? In 2016, what can accurately be described as the year of the improbable the festive celebration of Holiday beer continues unabated. The tried and true, along with the new, provides a tasting experience of unprecedented variety. As my beloved late father might say: there was never a better time.
For the new, I would first like to thank the excellent beer writer Peter Rowe of The San Diego Union Tribune, who sent me his impressions of a beer I have been seeking for the last two years, and that is Xocoveza from Stone Brewing stone-2016-xocoveza-12-ounce-bottleAn incredible leap of faith take on a Mexican inspired, winter spiced mocha stout. It is a One-of-a-kind recipe, with its own very special idea of what a smooth finish should be to a chile infused ale. With an enormous body, this stout’s complexity somehow manages  to be very soothing at the same time. Delicious all the way through to a malty rich, dark dry finish.

This year, Anchor’s “Our Special Ale” is the 42 edition, which is my 25th year of sampling this Granddad of American Holiday wassail merry-xmas tradition. This year’s version is also the strongest at 6.5% abv. The spruce-like elements long associated with this malt forward recipe give the palate an orange dark chocolate note. An outstanding un-compromised recipe where the word craft actually has meaning, reminding me why I started exploring the world of beer in the first place.

Something I have grown to love is the annual return of Shiner Holiday Cheercheer_6pk_background__largeSpoetzl Brewery’s unique take on a dunkleweizen that employs peaches and pecans. A lovely off center take on holiday festivities. I was somewhat shocked the first time I tasted this, but in subsequent years, it has become an unmistakable, tried and true friend.

Dogfish Head’s Pennsylvania Tuxedodogfish-head-pennsylvania-tuxedo-bottleDemonstrates that experimentation with spruce tips can produce a pale ale that hides its 8.5% strength with a tangy, citrus like palate that finishes wonderfully dry. Outstanding.

New graphics adorn the venerable Samuel Adams Winter Lagersam-adams-winter-lager

Alway delicious here in a city where it is brewed. The hipper-than-thou crowd might disparage this brew, but do not believe it. This has been a quality beer for a very long time. As TV’s Maury would say: “Unitl next time America!”
With best holiday regards,
The Beer Doctor

There’s Always A Cure With The Wintertime Brews

It is always a pleasure to try a winter sampler pack of beer. This year the folks at Matt Brewing in Utica, New York, creators of the Saranac brand, have some tasty options in the six selected. Their Big Moose Ale is a triple dry hopped creation, where Amarrilo, Centennial and Cascade hops are combined with pale English and Caramel malts, producing a good medium to full bodied ale, with a nice citrus note finish.

Their Red IPA uses the very marketable West Coast style of IPA, to create this well balanced red ale, using European dark crystal malts and Chinook, Paradise and Calypso hops. Not seeking to be an example of hops extremity, this is quite drinkable.

The Belgian Pale Ale is for myself, the least interesting of the group. Not that it is bad, it’s reliance on the Belgian yeast strain gives it flavour, but without much complexity. Just a bit too simple for my taste.

The 4059′ Porter is outstanding. This has an expertly achieved balance, full of malty flavour notes, without being too heavy. An unequivocal pleasure to drink.

The Saranac Chocolate  Lager is a testament to the perception that chocolate is synonymous with the holiday season. A delicious dessert beer, made with Cacao nibs from Belize, combined with Caramel malt Hallertau hops.

My favourite of this sampler, and in fact a Beer Doctor favourite, is the Saranac Black Bear Bock which is a new name for Black Diamond Bock, which is one of my favourite Saranac recipes of all time. A dark amber coloured pour, with the kind of balance I truly love, using traditional German malts and hops. Outstanding in every way.

Locally, the Samuel Adams Winter Classics selection is very strong this year. The newest beer to the lineup, Samuel Adams White Christmas is an unfiltered, golden hazy version of a White ale, using holiday spices, and is quite refreshing. A focused wheat and citrus dry finish, make this very festive indeed.

The return of Samuel Adams Holiday Porter is always welcome. This fine interpretation of a taditional English porter reminds me of a line from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:  “When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out ‘Well Done!’ and the fiddler plunged his face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose.”

Which is as good a lead-in as any, to Samuel Adams original Holiday wassail. the magnificent Old Fezziwig Ale I am old enough to remember the first year it appeared, when it was presented in a 25.4 oz bottle. It was contract brewed by Hudepohl-Schoenling, before the Boston Beer Company acquired the brewery outright. Strangely, despite being a beloved beer by many Sam Adams drinkers, it disappeared a few Christmas seasons, only to reappear as part of the Winter Classics sampler only. But putting old marketing considerations (or errors) aside, this is one of America’s truly great holiday recipes. A dark brown-red coloured spiced ale, with a full body that is fully delicious.

The inclusion of their flagship brand Samuel Adams Boston Lager is always a good idea. Although I have read some preposterous comments about this wonderful beer, I only have to taste it once again, to be reminded what a perfect recipe it is. Alas for those jaded craft beer drinkers who believe that familiarity breeds contempt. How wrong they are. As the late Fela Kuti would say: “I must look and laugh.”

The evolution of Samuel Adams Winter Lager includes the use of the very aromatic Saigon cinnamon, which has been tweaked the last few years, producing a refined Holiday beer that is a kind of subtly spiced wheat bock, where the brewing mechanics remain hidden, all the way to the fully integrated finish that is bright and malty.

The Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock like the Saranac Chocolate Lager, prove that sometimes great brewing minds can sometimes think in the same direction. This too is a marvelous chocolate beer, where dark nibs from Ecuador are utilized with roasted malts to produce a velvet chocolate finish.

Suddenly, the notion of upcoming winter, doesn’t seem bad at all.

Moving Forward Towards The Holidays

For beer seekers this autumn has been a remarkable time. The celebration of marzen and pumpkin ales has proven remarkable. For The Beer Doctor, this year produced what I consider the beer of the year, in the United States at least: Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier. A successful recipe that deliciously adheres to its German malty roots, and is a crowd pleaser, much in the same way as Samuel Adams Octoberfest. Designed to be enjoyed during this season, before giving way to the Holiday Special Brews, which have already started to arrive.

What for example, is to make of the perpetual  favorites from out west, such as Breckenridge Christmas Ale, which has always been a beautiful New World take on Scottish Winter Ale that over years, has become a sublime achievement, where nothing is out of place in its palate profile.
The same can surely be said of Great Divide Hibernation Ale, a dry-hopped take on an old English Winter, where malts and hops do all the talking. As is also the case with Brooklyn Winter Ale, their holiday/winter tribute to the power of Maris Otter malt.

A careful perusal of spiced beer reveals there are many choices. Samuel Adams Winter Lager always has a huge fan base and rightfully so, considering the balanced obtained with spices added to the wheat bock recipe.
“A damn tasty winter beer,” is part of what Beer Advocate’s Todd Alstrom said of this beer, 9 years ago. Considering that I have sampled Winter Lager for at least 20 years, I marvel at the brewmasters’ skill at refining these exquisite recipes, bringing them to fruition, year after marvelous year.