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 An 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 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 CheerSpoetzl 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 TuxedoDemonstrates 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 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
You would have to have lived for awhile to comprehend the enormous changes in the beer universe over the last 30 years. Not so long ago, many people believed that Holiday beer simply meant putting a ribbon around a six-pack of Michelob… just as there are still some people who believe that bock is brewed in the spring, when breweries ‘clean out’ the bottoms of their vats.
On the other side of all this, there is a growing awareness that some fabled brews at Christmas time, which were once very difficult to obtain, have now been folded into the mainstream beer market. Being fairly old, I still remember when obtaining Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, anywhere east of the Mississippi river, was very rare indeed. Now, at least until very recently, 12 pack boxes of SN Celebration could be obtained at the local Kroger, in ample supply. It is hard to believe that not so long ago, even the late fabled beer hunter, Michael Jackson, wondered if there was an actual market for beers that put emphasis on hops. By gobs, that seems like ancient history now, where a whole generation of new beer drinkers arrived at drinking age when hops and flavorful brew has become a given, from Samuel Adams, Magic Hat, Sierra Nevada and Stone, among many others.
At one time, I foolishly believed I could sample all the winter-holiday offerings available. But logistics, state tax laws, put an end to that illusion. Even beers once available in the Midwest have disappeared, often because a brewery’s production schedule simply can not keep up with distribution demands. Then there are (and still are) those special beloved brews that get snapped up as soon as they become available. This year it was Shiner Holiday Cheer that immediately comes to mind, A unique brew that used peaches and pecans… it disappeared in less than a week.
One barely noticed offering this year, from The Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, PA is the Stegmaier Holiday Warmer, a strong ale take on English Winter Ale. A showcase of malt strength, it is not always fully appreciated by some of the younger beer drinkers, who think that hops and all of its extreme presentations, is the last word on what is beer. The same people who will shell out big time bucks for a sixer of Bell’s Hopslam, because for them, it is the ultimate beer, sometimes have difficulty fathoming malty depths.
But this Christmas, I am pretty well set up, with Lakefront Holiday Spice Lager, Breckenridge Christmas Ale, Stegmaier Hol;iday Warmer, Left Hand’s Fade To Black, Sierra Nevada Celebration in the 24 ounce bottle, etc etc…
As they say in the space program: “I am good to go and ready to launch.”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Thank you as always, my only prayer,
The Beer Doctor
When it comes to beer, the winter/holiday season will always be my favorite time of year. The annual return of many favorites made over so many years, they can rightfully be deemed classics. Memories abound here too. For I recall first tastings: Samuel Adams Winter Lager, when it was just a non spiced, raw wheat beer. La Binchoise Speciale Noel: the incredible Belgian Christmas wassail, back when a gentleman from Michigan, Jeff Dafoe, introduced this world classic to the United States for the first time, 14 years ago.
I will also never forget my friend Gar’s reaction to first tasting Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 1993: “that’s one spicy taco!”
It is impossible for me to forget these things. The first Anchor Brewing “Our Special Ale” was the 17th edition of their Christmas offering. As a determined seeker of beer, this was quite a revelation.
The same can said of my beloved Saranac Season’s Best (an all-time Beer Doctor favorite). At one time it was a Holiday Amber and then later, Nut Brown Lager. A Vienna style beer, rich in malt flavor with lively hops, but not extreme or boozy in any way. It has become nearly impossible to obtain in Ohio any longer. The brewery was kind enough to send a gift of a six pack, right after the New Year of 1997. Such kindness and generosity I will never forget.
There have been many surprises along the way. Coors Winterfest 1995, was truly a shock for how good it was in those days, when macro and mini breweries were marketed like the Berlin Wall, where never the twain shall meet.
I would also like to mention that Leinenkugel’s Winter Lager was a great moderately priced holiday beer, that alas, was abandoned. Much of the distinctive aspects of the Leinie portfolio has been lost, as they aggressively market more pedestrian beers.
Moving away from remembrance of beers past, I would like to mention that this year is the first time I’ve tried Shiner Holiday Cheer, a unique dark wheat ale brewed with peaches and pecans. A very tasty, original recipe contribution.
For flat-out big time boozy wassail, Lakefront Brewery’s Holiday Spice Lager Beer, is what the doctor ordered. A massive, full strength, bold Holiday beer.
My only prayer is Thank You!