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12 Beers of Christmas pt. 3 – Deck the Halls with Beers aplenty…Beers #9-12

Here we are and Christmas is upon us. I can smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire but I can’t let that distract me from the visions of great holiday beers that are dancing through my head. Let’s wrap this up like a present to put under the tree.

Picking up where we left off…

9. Lost Abbey – Gift of the Magi – Belgian Golden Ale 9.5%ABV Leave it to the mad geniuses at Lost Abbey to create a beer based on the Three Kings and the gifts they delivered to the baby Jesus; Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. What we get is an ale of golden color that uses the bark of Frankincense to add the bittering component and a dash of the herb known as Myrrh. The beer is delicious! Even if you don’t care for the bible, this beer might cause you to reconsider. Once the big, frothy head on this beer settles down you will find a pleasant spiced aroma waiting for you. First taste will bring a mild sweetness to your palate then the hops will come on the back end. The beer has some crispness to it as well and as it warms there will be a little bit of dryness to the finish. As usual with beers from Lost Abbey, this can be bottled aged which is never a bad idea if you can be patient.

If it's good enough for Jesus...

If it’s good enough for Jesus…

10. Delirium – Noel – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 10.%ABV – In my house there are few rules as simple as the “The pink elephant will never steer you wrong.” OK, so maybe the rules in my house are a little weird. Noel is another fine example of Belgian’s making great beers, especially for the holidays. The pour is a rich mahogany color with a strong nose of holiday spice and fruits. The beer drinks much the same way with a hint of sweetness and bitterness surrounded by strong spices. This beer also finishes with a slight dryness. As it happens, this beer can be aged as well.

Pink Elephant on a sled. Normal Saturday.

Pink Elephant on a sled. Normal Saturday.

11. Brasserie Dubuisson – Scaldis Noel – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 12%ABV – If you go looking for this one, the name on the label that jumps out is simply the ‘Scaldis Noel’. This is a big beer in a little bottle. It pours a rich dark amber color with a big frothy head of a creamy color. The nose is all spice and fruits and you can detect a hint of the strong alcohol that lies waiting for you. It has a sticky sweet quality that mingles well with the spices involved. The beer drinks incredibly well especially as the flavors warm and have a similar effect on your body. This is another beer that came on my radar late as I was formulating my list and came on strong to knock other contenders to the side with relative ease. This beer also cellars well so I might grab a few more to stuff my own stocking with this year.

The surprise performance!

The surprise performance!

12. St. Bernardus – Christmas Ale – Belgian Quadrupel 10%ABV – While it was not initially my intention, I did save the best for last. This beer ranks right up there with actually witnessing the birth of Christ, minus seeing placenta and all that nasty stuff. This beer is worth turning into Ebeneezer Scrooge and hoarding for your self. It’s that damn good! It pours super dark and with a wonderful cream colored head and a sensual nose of dark fruit, candied sugars and mulled spices. The taste is complex and understated with notes of caramel and Belgian hops on the backend. It refrains from overwhelming the palate and it masks its high alcohol content superbly. The Christmas ale goes down silky smooth and can do nothing but remind you of all the comforts of the holiday. If I had need of a fireplace in Southern California I would sit in front of it with this beer and think of Christmases long, long ago. As it happens, this beer is also prime for ageing and it may be the first beer that I attempt to cellar. I can’t recommend St. Bernardus’s Christmas Ale enough, it’s it alive with the spirit of the season.

If it's good enough for Snoopy...

If it’s good enough for Snoopy…

 

So that wraps up the list of my twelve favorite beers of the Christmas season. Belgium made its presence felt on these final four didn’t they? With any luck, next year, I’ll find twelve all news ones to rave about and as always, I’d love to hear any recommendations that you might find.

Cheers and Merry Christmas,

Tom

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12 Beers of Christmas pt. 2 : I’ll have a Brew Christmas (with or without you) Beers 5-8

Here we are, Christmas is less than a week away and you know what that means, I need to get the rest of this list out fast! So let’s cut the chit-chat and get right down to the brass tacks.

The 12 beers of Christmas numbers 5-8.

A holiday tradition

A holiday tradition

5. Alesmith – Yulesmith (Winter) – Imperial Red Ale 8.5%ABV. This beer is a long standing tradition for me, the beer presents a rosy amber color with an aroma of sweet malts balanced by a nice combination of pine and citrus hops. The strong malt backbone is what makes itself known first on your palate. You get a little sweetness almost like caramel notes, just as the bittering hops kick in and make all the flavors pop together in your mouth like a symphony. While this Yulesmith is slightly less enjoyable than its summertime counter part it is no less an essential of the holiday season.

Lost Abbey's 1st ever IPA

Lost Abbey’s 1st ever IPA – Not my best photo

6. Lost Abbey Merry Taj – Imperial IPA 8.0%ABV – When setting out to write this series of Christmas blogs I had put together a pretty good list of beers to drink that I then would then narrow down to twelve. This beer wasn’t even on the list, partially because I had somehow never heard of it and Lost Abbey has NEVER made an IPA. So you can understand my surprise when I was drinking at Stone World Bistro in Liberty Station and saw this on the menu. I even asked if it was a mistake. Luckily for me, and the rest of the beer drinkers lucky enough to find this draft only beer from the brew masters at Lost Abby it wasn’t. Lovers of IPA will find a lot to like from this beer as soon as you catch a whiff of the aroma on this one. Piney hop notes will lure you in and coat your tongue with holiday cheer. The malts are subtle but bring a light, crisp quality to the beer. Easy to drink and very tasty, I only wish Stone had offered up a bigger pour, 8oz just wasn’t enough. Lost Abbey’s first IPA is a delight and that fact it’s a holiday beer is just a bonus for me to include it in this post.

So damn good!

So damn good!

7. Affligem – Noel -Belgian Strong Dark Ale 9.0%ABV. Finally a Belgium beer makes its presence known on this list and this one does so with authority. My serving was on draft at Stone Brewing and the glass presented with a lovely dark gold color and a nice frothy head on top. The nose on this beer is distinctly of dark fruits – raisins, dates, maybe some fig as well as spiced holidays flavors. The beer drinks incredibly well as the candied sugars used in most Belgians help to obscure the high level of alcohol. This one also has a nice warming effect and as is the case with most of the best beers from Belgium, this beers flavors really start to come alive as the glass warms. This is a fantastic Christmas treat.

Santa might be a drunk.

Santa might be a drunk.

8. Rogue – Santa’s Private Reserve Ale – Amber Ale 6.0%ABV – This is the second red ale to make the list, but this one is something of a craft beer holiday classic. Rogue brews this up annually and it’s always a treat. My favorite thing about ales from Rogue is the rich creamy head that shows up in most of their brews. Santa pours a deep red, kind of like his suit. You will notice a sweet malty aroma. When I took my first sip what jumped out at me was the strong malt base of the beer. It’s the back end is where the hops make their presence shown. Chinook hops give the beer a very tasty pine quality that helps to further the idea of this as the beer of choice for Saint Nicholas. I can’t emphasize enough just how impressive the creamy foam head on this beer is.

So that’s beers 1-8 for Christmas 2013. I still have four to go and a few surprises might be waiting underneath the Christmas tree.

Cheers,

Tom


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The 12 Beers of Christmas! Pt. 1 Jingle Beer Rock, Beers 1-4

Tis the season for all sorts of excellent Winter seasonals and Holiday beers to make their way to the shelves of bottle shops everywhere. I have a tremendous amount of love for the Christmas season and so these unique brews that show up once a year like a jolly fat man in a red suit never fail to capture my attention. The festivel labels and creative name are only part of the appeal. More often than not a winter/holiday ale will offer new and unique ingredients and fresh takes on old classics.

As a hop-head, this is sometimes a risk as not a lot of brewers are whipping up wild triple IPA’s to help with your yuletide spirit. This means that what I’ll be sharing with you is a wide variety of styles and flavors. The list is in no particular order and this is by no means a ranking. Also this is nowhere near complete to all the different Christmas beers around, just twelve beers that captured my attention and I thought I’d share with my friends. Some of these might be obvious selections but I hope to point you at a few new ones as well. Here we go…

  1. Sierra Nevada “Celebration Ale” – American IPA 6.8%ABV – This beer is a truly delightful treat. It’s aptly named for the first hops harvested of the season. This is one of the few IPA’s you can find on a regular basis for the holidays and it’s also one of the oldest, since Sierra Nevada first brewed it in 1981. The nose on this beer is a wonderful blend of citrus and pine. The color is a bright golden copper and when you sip it that brightness comes through with a pleasant kiss upon your tongue.   The hops are bold yet not aggressive and helps to makes this a beer that has a nice crossover effect with people who may not be the biggest lovers f hops. A truly winning blend of cascade, centennial and Chinook hops, this beer is a must have for your ugly sweater party.

    The doggie wants the beer too!

    The doggie wants the beer too!

  2. Anchor Brewing “Our Special Ale 2013” – Winter Warmer 5.5%ABV – Anchor has been brewing this fun and tasty season for 39 years. Every year the tree on the label is new and so is the recipe for the beer. This year the label is a California White Fir and the recipe is distinctly Anchor, new and exciting but right in line with their 100 year old legacy. The beer pours a deep mahogany color with a thin off-white head. The smells are straight from your childhood and Mom’s kitchen; nutmeg, cinnamon and the usually suspects. The malts are roasty/toasty and give the ale a sense of warmness. The hops ops are there giving the beer a sense of pine adding the idea that this might be the tree in your living room. I liked this beer quite a bit despite it not being my usual style choice. This is a nice beer for drinking after you’ve opened all your presents.

    Lucky bird!

    Lucky bird!

  3.  AndersonValley “Winter Solstice” – Winter Warmer 6.9%ABV – Another lightly hopped, malt heavy beer that is a wonderful surprise to drink. A nice amber color pours from the bottle with a slightly tan head. The nose is sweet with a only the faintest of hops noticeable. The flavors pop along the tongue where you should be able to detect notes of toffee and caramel and some seasonal spice as well. The beer goes down smooth and easy might pair well with your holiday meal or maybe even better with a slice of pie.

    Snazzy!

    Snazzy!

  4. Port Brewing “Santa’s Little Helper” – Russian Imperial Stout 10.0%ABV – This one is for lovers of stout and coffee and it has the big flavors that are associated with both. It pours a very dark brown, just a shade or two from being black. The foam layer has an almost milk chocolate quality. Despite its high alcohol level it’s hardly noticeable underneath the espresso flavors that coat your palette on the back end. While this brew isn’t my personal favorite I can recognize the qualities that will make a must have for many. Like most other stouts on the planet this beer would probably be exceptionally tasty with a chocolate dessert.

    Super Stouty. That's a word.

    Super Stouty. That’s a word.

So there we have it, the opening salvo in the 12 Beers of Christmas. Hopefully you have already had occasion to try some of these beers or perhaps you’ve found a few that you like that I’ve not mentioned yet. The next installment will be up very quickly as the holiday rapidly approaches.

Cheers,

Tom