Friday, November 29, 2013

Nurse the Hate: The Ultimate Christmas Beer Tasting

I cannot stress to you the stupidity of drinking 26 Christmas beers in one sitting.  This makes the pumpkin beer tasting fiasco seem reasonable in comparison.  However, anything worth doing is worth overdoing.  They were arranged in groups of three, and in samples of about 3 oz each.  I doubled back to try the ones I especially enjoyed to figure out how they held up while being tasted next to different beers.  It wasn’t especially scientific, but I’m no scientist either.

There are a million winter seasonal beers out there that aren’t Great Lakes Christmas Ale, the #1 selling beer in the region in November/December.  Think about that for a second.  Bud Light moves to #2 for two months for a beer that is $14 a six pack.  It has made the category very popular here, so it’s good to know what the options are for your dollar.  Plus, I’m one of those guys that gets out of things when I see the herd move into it. 

Consider these…

Affligem Noel-  This was really terrific, and highlighted how Belgian ales are in a class in their own.  It’s hard to compare this to one of the American craft beers as there aren’t too many points of comparison.  It’s like debating the merits of a BMW 4 series coupe to that of a Chevrolet Van.  If this ale was a band, it would be one of those confident British bands like Radiohead.  You may not always be in the mood for Radiohead, but even people that don’t like them will begrudgingly say, “Yeah… They’re good.”.

Alesmith Yulesmith- I’ve been to this brewery in San Diego.  All of their beers are named things like “Skullbuster” or “Angry Assfucker”.  The alcohol contents are always really high.  This beer reminded me of sitting in the stands at an NFL game on a freezing December day.  Suddenly the stranger to your right fishes a flask out of his coat and offers you a swig.  You brace yourself for something harsh and cruel.  Instead it’s warm and surprisingly flavorful.  You have no idea what is in that flask, but it was kind of good.

Anchor Steam Christmas- Each year the brewery changes the recipe slightly, theoretically making note of how each holiday season follows tradition but it is still a unique experience of its own.  I would say that if the beer is meant to comment on the year past, the people of Anchor Steam had a year spent crying in a musty room while a black and white TV flickered in the background.  There is a musty quality to this beer, like an old bowl of potpourri at an elderly woman’s house.  I didn’t really like it if you couldn’t guess.

Avery Old Jubilation Ale- This is a pale red ale with a heavy cinnamon streak.  It’s OK.  It reminded me of one of those classic rock bands that hasn’t written anything really good in years, but puts a good concert on anyway.  It’s like going to see Bob Seger in the 90s or something. 

Bell’s Christmas Ale-  I was disappointed in this.  It’s not because it was bad.  It’s just that I expect more from Bell’s.  In comparison to all the other holiday beers that had been assembled, it sort of drinks like a pale ale.  It just seemed out of place, like the one Jehova Witness kid in elementary school that had to watch all the other kids do fun Christmas shit while he sat in “the Brown Activity Room” in the basement by the furnace doing a workbook.

Bison Brewery Gingerbread- This is a brown ale that I tasted and said, “Damn!  This really does taste like gingerbread!”.  It’s a Colorado brewery that makes a big deal out of how organic they are on the packaging.  Usually when I see a beer or wine trumpeting how organic they are, it means “this tastes like shit but give us a break because it’s organic”.  This is pretty good though I’m not a brown ale guy.

Brew Kettle Winter Warmer- This beer seems almost like homage to Great Lakes Christmas Ale, but the flavors aren’t as complex.  If Great Lakes is Bob Dylan, this is Tom Petty.  If I was one of the Brew Kettle guys reading this and thinking, “Who is this loudmouth saying we’re Tom Petty?  Our beer is kickass!”, I urge caution.  Being Tom Petty is way better than being .38 Special.

Breckenridge Christmas Ale- This didn’t show very well.  Where the other beers tasted like fresh herbs, they tasted like dried herbs from a bachelor’s kitchen.  It was kinda stale tasting to me.  It’s a Christmas Beer, but not a great one.  It’s the Minnesota Twins of Christmas beers.

N’Ice Chouffe-  This is in the Belgian brewer La Chouffe house style, but with the telltale nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon flavor notes.  It has a crippling 10% alcohol content, which shouldn’t be surprising as the bottle showed cute gnomes building a fire.  I will repeat the golden rule of Belgian beer.  The cuter the mascot on the bottle, the more likely the alcohol content is close to rubbing alcohol.  If you ever see a bunny on a Belgian Ale bottle, run away as it is probably like liquid LSD inside.

Dark Horse 4 Elf- This had a very unique style, as it was basically a holiday porter.  It reminded me of having coffee cake with a mocha.  You can tell a bunch of dudes with beards made this beer.  This is one of those beers that big guys in work jackets and beards drink while telling each other how great it is.  If they make a mistake and ask a woman to try this, the woman’s face will crinkle up and say “Oh my god!  How can you drink that?  Get me a wheat beer!”.

Fat Heads Holly Jolly-  This was my personal favorite.  It was spicy and the flavors are lively and intermingling.  Whoever makes the beer here knows what the fuck they are doing.  Their Headhunter IPA is awesome, and all their limited edition brews at the restaurant are always good.  I urge everyone that is drinking the ocean of Great Lakes Christmas Ale to at least try this.

Harpoon Winter Warmer- This is a cinnamon bomb.  If you don’t like cinnamon, don’t even open this.  I can’t even imagine what would happen if someone dropped a shot of Fireball into a pint of this.  It would be a cinnamon explosion that would leave the bodies of Keebler Elves strewn everywhere.  It’s really smooth and tastes like the Harpoon house style.  I dig this.

Goose Island Sixth Day- My tasting notes said “malty and kinda musty… I kinda hate this… Brown Ale… This reminds me of Jethro Tull”.  I don’t know why it reminded me of Jethro Tull now that we are in the cold hard light of morning.  I do know that being reminded of Jethro Tull is never a good thing.  Tull is my rock n’ roll kryptonite.  This is the kind of beer that guys in beards and stinky tights drink while getting ready to play flute solos no one needed or wanted.

Hoppin Frog Frosted Frog Christmas Ale-  The flavors on this are at 11.  It’s too much.  This is a bleached blonde in skintight pants that blew Richie Sambora in a sports arena in 1991.  Her hair is so processed it is crunchy.  She smells like the perfume she uses too heavily that she thinks masks the scent of cigarette smoke on her.  She is chewing Juicyfruit gum which leaves her breath a mix of smoke, Scope, onion, vodka, and gum.  You wind up going to her condo in her beaten up Fiero, and have a great time doing things with her that don’t even have names.  Afterwards you feel ashamed.   

Lakefront Holiday Spice Beer- I really like this Milwaukee based brewery.  This beer has a dominant clove flavor, sort of like a hippie chick named “Freebeam” that you let stay on your couch and later steals your wallet while you are in the shower.  She is in such a haste to leave that she forgets her Baja style poncho which smells like the clove cigarettes she favors.  This event was, no doubt, the inspiration for this beer. 

Lagerheads Winter Mischief- I found this to be slightly disjointed and unsatisfying, like a Bob Evans breakfast.  It is like one of those beers your buddy gives you that just started to home brew.  You don’t really want to drink it, but you don’t want to be rude.  While you are pleasantly surprised that it is actually drinkable, you are really hoping he leaves so you can drink something you actually like and pour his down the sink.

North Peak Blitzen Festivus Ale- It has a heavy cinnamon nose, and a deep low finish.  I didn’t really find this too holiday inspired, but then again it’s“Festivus Ale” so maybe that’s the whole point.  I liked it overall, but if I am in the mood to drink holiday ale I would look elsewhere.  This is one of those beers to drink when you want to look like you are having a Merry Fucking Christmas, but you are really just having a cold one.

Revolution Fistmas Holiday Ale- This is not super Xmasy, but it is a pretty good IPA style with slight spice notes.  At 6.1% it almost qualifies as a “session” beer in this category.  I love the idea of the term “session” by the way.  It’s so much more civilized than saying “bender”.  The can design is really great too. 

Red Hook Winter Hook #29- Is there anything going on here?  This is reaching for Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” CD for a ride in your car, and then you find out you put “Washington Square Serenade” in there by accident. 

Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve- This is a really bitter beer, with almost none of the sweetness that most in this class flaunt.  I wrote something really terrible in my notes about this that I can’t in good conscience write here.  It apparently reminded me of a leathery old woman that screams at you for stealing her parking place.  I think the gist of what I was trying to say is that it isn’t a very “friendly” beer.

St Bernadus Xmas Ale- The smiling monk from this Belgian brewer practically screams at you “Hey!  We are going to really fuck you up!”.  This is smooth as silk with rich flavor complexity.  Have another sip my son.  Yes…. Drink deeply my child… Do not concern yourself with the 10% alcohol content…  yes… slip out of your pajamas while I pour you another goblet…  (Try looking at the smiling monk while saying this.  It will creep you out very badly.)

Southern Tier 2Xmas- This is really intense in cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg flavor packing 8% alcohol.  It’s almost like a shot.  I know I am supposed to like this, like the music of Elvis Costello, but I just don’t.  That is not to suggest that much like the musical output of Elvis Costello it is not without value.  It’s just not my thing, which is disappointing as Southern Tier is one of my most reliable go-to brewers.

Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas-  In what is the worst kept secret in the beer world, this is the original recipe for Great Lakes Christmas Ale.  I am pretty sure that this is a con game launched by the brewery, but it’s working.  Most of Northeast Ohio residents will lean in and tell you this fact with a conspiratorial whisper. It actually is very similar to the Southern Tier, but mellower.  I really like this, and had it in my top three.

Troeg’s Mad Elf- This 11% monster is spicy with a stewed fruit quality.  This will destroy you like Judas Priest with a wall of Marshalls shoving a hot poker up your ass sideways.  Or maybe a band of Hell’s Angels beating you with pool cues while a Melvins record blasts out of a jukebox.  This would be a great beer to knock back a six of right before heading to your work Christmas party with the intention of “straightening some shit out”.

Victory Winter Cheers- This is a winter wheat ale, which is odd to me.  When I am thinking wheat beer, I am thinking summer.  Sunshine.  Grills.  Thirst quenching.  I don’t want to sit out on my deck in a speedo in a blizzard, which is what this makes me feel like.

Weyerbacher Winter Ale-  I think I hated their pumpkin beer, and I hate this too.  This is all bass notes.  I should have looked at the bottle more closely to see if Black Sabbath bass player Geezer Butler is involved in this.  They could have named this “Doom Ale” and sold it at heavy metal shows.  Fat metalhead guys in their 40s would like that I think.

This was one tasting on one day.  I broke up the Belgians and the Americans as they are so utterly different.  I don’t think these preferences would necessarily hold up if I did this again, but on this day here’s how it shook out…

Top Beers

1)      Fat Heads Holly Jolly

2)      Harpoon Winter Warmer

3)      Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas

Top Belgian Beers

1)      St Bernadus

2)      Affligem

3)      N’ice Chouffe


At November 30, 2013 at 8:01:00 AM EST , Blogger Frank said...

Nicely done and yes, and the fat heads headhunter IPA is awesome indeed.

At November 30, 2013 at 2:02:00 PM EST , Blogger Greg Miller said...

The Ace of Cups had Mad Elf on draft. They should require people sign a permit before pouring them a pint.

Frank, what are your personal seasonal favorites?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home