This is a time to share with family and friends (after the frantic shopping, of course). Once the shreds of wrapping paper settle to the floor, what better way to celebrate than to savor some treasures of Christmas, pint by pint? Here is some of the wealth of choice, a round dozen brews. Enjoy the season!
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome
Here’s a pint of winter warmer, straight amber with a smooth off white head. Looks like an ale! The aroma is of malt malt malt with fruity notes and just a touch of spicy hops or spice and hops. I need to let this warm a tad, it should be cellar temperature rather than refrigerator temperature. Almost an ideal ale, to my taste, perfect for savoring in a pub. 6.0% ABV
Bruery 8 Maids-a-Milking
This is an Imperial milk stout, nearly opaque brown with a moderate tan head. The nose is hard to describe with almost a bacon note with liqueur and dark malt. The flavor is like maple smoked bacon with nice notes of both maple & smoke. It’s very smooth but not exactly to my taste. Give me some sharp cheddar and things will balance right out. 11.5% ABV [Switching from this to a maple porter (not reviewed here) produced a shot of chocolate that I didn’t get in either beer, fading into a light smokiness.]
Sierra Nevada Celebration
They say “First brewed in 1981, Celebration Ale is one of the earliest examples of an American-style IPA and one of the few hop-forward holiday beers.” It pours yellowish amber with a moderate yellowish head. The nose leads with hops before malt, nice resin and citrus blend over a bed of biscuity malt. There is a nice body and light effervescence on the palate followed immediately by hop bitterness, plenty of hops throughout the boil. The finish is mild emphasizing the hops. The number of hop-forward holiday beers is rising, but this is a leader. 6.8% ABV, 65 IBU
“A festive winter ale,” dark brown and ruby with the light behind it and a generous foamy light tan head. The nose is malty, both bread and caramel with roastiness and a hint of chocolate. It’s a rich mouthful of malt with chocolate, coffee and a liquor note. The flavor is actually not so much coffee as Louisiana coffee with chicory. There’s vanilla as well. The finish is smooth, some dark plummy fruit emerges and the flavors come together in balance. I could drink quite a few of these. In fact, I had a six-pack (not all at once!) unlike my usual singletons. 6.7 ABV 67 IBU
Bell’s Christmas Ale
Pours slightly cloudy amber with a medium yellowish head. The aroma is gentle, bread & cake malts with hop spiciness. It has a very malty flavor, fairly light body and light effervescence. There is moderate bitterness in the finish. This is a good straightforward ale, not fancy, and its holiday “spice” comes from hops and barley. This would pass the test of the Reinheitsgebot. A Christmas ale for real ale fans. 5.5% ABV
The Shed Mountain Ale
Not specifically a holiday beer, it’s a solid brown ale with a brief off white head. As malty as an English ale should be, it delivers full bodied caramel & toffee with lightly roasty undertones. This is accented by moderate English-style hops, the notes say Mt. Hood & Northern Brewer. It has a nice caramel finish dried by the hops. 7.4% ABV
Victory Winter Cheers
“A celebratory wheat ale” this pours cloudy straw with a generous foamy white head. The nose is yeasty and estery with banana and stone fruit plus a distinct but subtle spiciness. On the palate comes sparkly refreshment with a touch of cloved orange. The finish is long and lightly spicy with almost a hint of cinnamon, dry, but retaining that estery quality all the way. 6.7% ABV
21st Amendment Fireside Chat
This “Winter Spiced Ale” is dark brown with a moderate off tan head and an aroma of spiced fruit bread. The mouthfeel is soft and the flavor is earthy, almost meaty, with roasted grain and dark malts. The finish gets very dry as substantial hops come in, a nice finishing bite. On further sips, slight sweetness develops in the flavor and spice increases on the finish. This is a 50-degree ale, not a 40-degree brew. 7.9% ABV 45 IBU
Founders Project PAM
This is a black IPA with maple syrup & bourbon, inky brown with a brief off tan head. It delivers a rich bourbon nose over deep malt. It continues with maple-malt flavors blending with bourbon and persisting into the finish getting sweeter on the end. I was curious about the name, and I simply have to quote what they say about it:
Venture into the shadows of our brewers’ minds and discover their mad genius. From this unknown emerges Project PAM. In development for years under a shroud of secrecy, this Black IPA is brewed with a cornucopia of hops then aged in maple syrup bourbon barrels to add complex oaky bourbon notes and the sweetness of maple syrup to keep the bitterness in check. Like its creator, the origins of its name will forever remain a mystery.
Ommegang Lovely, Dark and Deep
They call this one an “oatmeal stout winter ale.” It pours opaque brownish black with a persistent moderate tan head. The aroma is so roasty it almost crosses to tobacco, then rich malt comes in with a hint of smoke. The flavor starts with smoke, almost ashy, with malt building in. This makes me think of rauchbier and that impression persists into the finish. Never sweet, it dries out more on the end. 5.3% ABV
Great Lakes Brewing Christmas Ale
Pretty chestnut in the glass, tinged amber with a very brief off white head. The nose is spicy-fizzy, if that makes sense, with cinnamon & ginger. On the palate there’s plenty of malt and just a hint of barnyard below the spice. It has a light ginger ale body with increasing spice as it flows into the finish, with and light honey sweetness that grows from sip to sip. I like it more from sip to sip. At the very end some hops dry it out. Quite drinkable–refreshing–though not outstanding. From the body and freshness you might think this is sessionable, but it won’t be a very long session. 8.5% ABV 30 IBU
Tröegs The Mad Elf Ale
“Ale brewed with honey and cherries,” this pours a clear chestnut with almost no head, just a light pinkish ring. The aroma is of cherry soda with a hint of biscuit malt.This left an expectation of cherry soda and the flavor is not far from that, just adding a base of malt and a smooth layer of honey. The finish holds both cherry and honey but adds a spicy hop note. It’s pleasant sipping and a good follow up to the Great Lakes. 11% ABV and not a hint of that strength. This stuff could be dangerous!
I doubt I’ll get in another blog post before Christmas, but hopefully these will tide you over. Happy holidays and a happy, healthy New Year!
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good pint!