'Tis the season for Holiday Ales, and the big day is almost upon us. This month I've been drinking Christmas seasonal beers almost exclusively... trying to get into the spirit of Christmas by loading my belly full of malty beers and nutmeg spice. What I've found is that "Christmas Beer" is a term that means different things to different brewers. To me, the ideal Christmas beer is a Winter Warmer, a malty beer that's sweet in flavor and red in color. Spices like nutmeg and cinnamon are welcome but I want my beer to taste like beer above anything else. I'll be the first to admit that drinking 25 Winter Warmers can get a little... boring. So it's nice to see variations on this theme.
I've come up with a list of my favorite (and least favorite) Christmas Beers from this season:
Dundee Festive Ale - This is a traditional Winter Warmer with a great flavor. It's got nutmeg, cinnamon, caramel and little oak. Despite keeping your palate busy with all the flavors, this beer is very easy to drink and at 6.2% it'll warm you right up.
Odell Isolation Ale - Similar to Dundee's Festive Ale but less complex. The Isolation Ale has a more noticeable hop component that leaves you with a slightly bitter finish. This beer has a great "New Cabin" smell thanks to those Pine-y hops. If you're looking for a traditional style Winter Warmer that has a nice bitter hop kick to it, this is your beer.
Breckenridge Christmas Ale - By far my favorite packaging, Breckenridge's Christmas Ale tastes like a handful of toasted nuts that have been dipped in caramel and dusted with nutmeg. This a deceptively easy drinking beer that'll sneak up on you at 7.4% ABV as you keep going back for more.
Boulevard Nutcracker Ale - Chances are you've already had a Nutcracker Ale... This, like the Isolation Ale, is a hoppier Winter Warmer. The Nutcracker is a more strongly hopped than the Isolation Ale and it's apparent from your first sip. The Nutcracker has a sweet malty flavor that is spiked with light, floral hops.
Worth the trouble:
New Belgium Frambozen - Raspberry beer doesn't strike me as being particularly festive... The Frambozen is a Brown Ale with a strong, but not overpowering, Raspberry tartness that works really well. This a great sweet and sour beer that is worth the trouble of tracking down, even if it doesn't come off as all that Christmasy...
Schlafly Christmas Ale - This is one of my favorite Christmas seasonals, but it comes with a caveat... When you buy a six pack of this from the store you'll get a solid, but spicy, Christmas beer. If you can find this on tap, you'll get a different experience. On tap, this beer is much less spicy which allows the other flavors come through a bit more. Definitely worth the trouble of finding on tap.
Sprecher Winter Brew - This caramel and vanilla flavored Bock has a great roasted flavor and has a hint of smokiness that I really enjoyed. This beer isn't as sweet or malty as other Winter seasonals, but it is creamy and finishes with a crisp hoppy bite.
Rogue Yellow Snow - IPAs don't fill me with the Christmas spirit. Rogue's Yellow Snow is a hoppy IPA that has a lot of tart citrus flavor that cuts through the bitter hops, leaving a mild finish. The flavor combination is great, much sweeter and more tart than other IPAs. Still not very festive, but a good beer nonetheless.
New Belgium 2 Below - Beware of any beer that is best served at temperatures near freezing... I didn't think too highly of the 2 Below, it was bitter and hoppier than I like my beers to be. Sure, this is an ESB but even after it warmed up there just wasn't any flavor other than bitter in here.
BridgePort Ebenezer - Bah Humbug! This beer smells like caramel but tastes like water... It looks delicious though, for what it's worth...
Sierra Nevada Celebration - My least favorite Christmas seasonal, Sierra Nevada's Celebration is a hoppy hopped hop bomb that strips the taste buds off of your tongue with an excessive level of bitterness.
Saranac Season's Best - Tastes almost like a Nut Brown should, but ended but tasting too dry with the added spices. Sadly, this is Saranac's best effort this season, and it's a miserable failure.
Have you tried any remarkable Holiday Seasonals this year?