Tag Archives: wassail

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


and to all a Good night!

Holiday/Winter beer has always been one of my favorite obsessions. Part marketing, part alchemy, the truly outstanding recipes have become a holiday tradition in their own right. An annual welcome return.GREAT-DIVIDE-HIBERNATION-ALEIt is always a supreme pleasure to experience, once again, a masterpiece of American brewing. Great Divide Hibernation Ale is such an example. A dry hopped version of English-style Old Ale, this is a beer of uncompromising quality. A very dark amber pour. This winter non-wassail speaks for itself. Enough said.

63_shelf_Insulated-12oz-LR_originalI have always liked the schwarzbier style and Brooklyn Insulated Dark Lager certainly answers the call. Rich in malt flavors it maintains the viscosity associated with this very drinkable style, whether it is Kostritzer, Saranac Black Forest, or Shiner No. 97. This is a welcome addition to the Brooklyn winter portfolio.

Schlafly-Christmas-Ale-1 This is a dark amber pour with a spicy nose that announces that this is an unmistakeable wassail. A very festive (8%) ale indeed. This seems especially designed for beer drinkers who are not afraid of interesting juxtapositions between the malts and spices. There is no doubt: Christmas time is here.


WW 6x0,33l

Known in the United States as Warsteiner Winter Special Edition, this is imported to Warsteiner USA in West Chester, Ohio, which made this a deliciously fresh sample. A German reinheitsgebot contribution to the Winter/Holiday collection. This is an easy drinking, malt showcase lager, brewed with soft water, and given hop and hop extract support. Well worth an exploration or two.

beer_237574A local holiday favorite for the Beer Doctor. This holiday amber has a direct simplicity, further realized in the very pleasant finish. It also reveals how brewing in Cincinnati has evolved in the 21st century.

thundersnowAnother great example of a Cincinnati artisan seasonal. This very dark coloured spiced take on the Scotch Ale style has an unmistakeable flavor profile. A full depth charge of malts and spices reminds me that I no longer live in the 20th century.

shinerholidayThis was a bit of an unorthodox shock when I first sampled this, several years ago.Since then, I have grown to love this holiday dunkelweizen. Mostly because it is living proof that a creative brewery has its own distinctive personality. Peaches and Pecans? Who would have thought? This is both festive and unusual.

beer_95213Another American classic, Bell’s Christmas Ale is a no-nonsense Scotch ale style beer that is perfectly balanced and a perfect delight to drink. A beautiful reminder that there still is much goodness in this world.

Back To The Good Stuff

Please pardon me for saying this, but the recent post about the M&A of A-B InBev and SABMiller was for the beer doctor downright depressing. Why? Because all it means for beer lovers like myself is that we will see yet another increase in the price of beer, for no other reason than to make these avaricious business types take even more of our god damn money, while simultaneously, forcing many good folks to lose their jobs, in the holy name of streamline efficiency. It may be an early Christmas for the shareholders, but for everybody else, it is just more difficulties.

I take solace in the fact that the creation of beer is far greater than these counting-house concerns.

A prime example of this, is the re-appearance of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2015cele-bottle-pint Now brewed in California and North Carolina, this new world holiday classic remains one of the very best. Its hop signature is Sierra Nevada’s IPA contribution to the holiday/winter portfolio. Their hop-centric concerns are now manifest in all kinds of artisan brewing creations.
Which I should not be surprised that America’s oldest brewery now makes a seasonal version of this approach, in Yuengling IPLYuengling-IPL-B_496625fc7e08e1a56d30726c29f10023 Which is a very hop-forward lager. What I enjoy about this one is the raw (some would say harsh) profile of the hops. A showcase for Cascade, Citra, Belma and Bravo hops, combined with Pale and Munich malts, and given a lively twist through the use of Yuengling’s house lager yeast. This is a powerfully flavoured 5% beer.

As November is halfway to December, I have come to realize after many years of sampling, that the best way to enjoy Great Lakes Christmas Alechristmas-fixed_1is to drink this as fresh as possible. This legendary Midwestern wassail is truly a fantastic recipe. It is no wonder that people in Cleveland line up to experience the first tasting.

When it comes to the granddaddy of American wassail,ageing is not important. The 41st. edition of Anchor’s Our Special Ale is a kind of return to those earlier versions of their Christmas ale where the emphasis was on the malts, dialling back a bit on the spicy complexity, this dark brown (nearly black) pour has a subtle nose, and an almost stout like body. Beautifully balanced, this signature beer could have only come from the Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year indeed.

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

The 38th edition of Anchor’s “Our Special Ale” has the familiar very dark brown coloured pour with the signature spruce-pine essence in the nose, that I first encountered 21 years ago in the 17th edition. Variations on this Christmas wassail recipe have produced some memorable versions (the 1995 edition immediately comes to mind). But there is talk that Anchor may discontinue the wassail tradition after this year. I first heard of this 2 years ago, when a trade representative from Anchor told me that the brewers felt the parameters of the style had been fully reached. Which is really not such a shock when you consider the history of “Our Special Ale”, where the first few versions contained no spices at all.
This 38th edition of their Christmas ale incorporates all the elements that make “Our Special Ale” the legendary holiday brew that it is. Here you’ll find the medium to fully body, the incredible flavor complexity, with layer after layer of warming, if not downright toasty notes, all presented in a medium strength (5.5%) format.
It is a kind of annual pilgrimage to seek out this classic American wassail. If this truly is the last version, the 38th is a glorious departure.

Although more attention is focused on Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Brooklyn Winter Ale should not be overlooked. A delicious tribute to the power of Maris Otter malt, this is a new world take on the Scottish wee heavy style, with all the nutritional goodness associated with it. Expertly made for Brooklyn by the Matt Brewing Company in Utica, New York.

This truly great English style, old winter Holiday ale, is Avery Brewing Company’s proofthat spices are unnecessary when five speciality malts are combined with expert hops support, to produce an incredibly rich flavor profile where notes of mocha, hazelnut, caramel, chocolate and toffee, are presented in a full strength (8.3%… yeah, it is!) format. A great American ale. It is said to be cellarable for 3 plus years. But why bother with that? A fresh bottle of Old Jubilation is one for the ages.