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Oh Christmas Ale, Oh Christmas Ale...


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I really enjoyed the conversation around pumpkin beers that we have had for the past few months, and I thought we could just carry this into the new line of seasonal beers, the Christmas Ale.

My first Christmas Ale was probably Delirium Noel, and as opposed to Pumpkin beers, I was instantly in love with the style.  It was malty and spicy, and was somehow a perfect drink on a cold night.  This was close to fifteen years ago, yet I still get excited when the Christmas beers start trickling onto the shelves.  I went to Total Wine this week to put together my first Xmas beer collection, and here's what I picked up.

Christmas Ale - St. Bernardus - This is the brewery that supposedly makes the same recipe as Westvleteren, but without the secrecy or cool monk backstory.  I don't think I've ever had any of their beers, but am excited to try this one.

Santa's Little Helper 2013 - Mikkeller (link to 2012 bottling) - Mikkeller is the gypsy brewery owned by to friends from Denmark.  Each of their beers is brewed at someone's else brewery, some with collaboration and some just by Mikkeller.  Here's the wikipedia page for more info, Mikkeller.  This is a Belgian Dark Ale, so I'm assuming it's close to the Delirium in style.

Delirium Noel 2013 - Brouwerij Huyghe - And back to the beginning for me.  I hope this lives up to my memory, since it's probably been five years since I've had this.  My memories of it are of gingerbready goodness with some orange peel and cloves.  I wonder if the craft beer explosion and the amount of amazing beers available now will relegate this to the back of the pack.

And finally I have two localish stouts that I've been aging for a year that I'm interested to try against this year's batches.  I've found that I like my stouts, especially the high alcohol content ones, with a little bottle age.  It mellows them out, and really brings the flavors forward.

Gingerbread Stout - Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - This beer is what put Hardywood on the map, scoring a perfect 100 from the Beer Advocate boys (and a 96 from the field).  I was able to get one bottle from the 2012 offering, but rumor around Richmond is that they upped production and it should be a little easier to find this year.  So I haven't had it yet, but am very much looking forward to it.

Silent Night - Mother Earth Brewing - I'll admit that I had a bottle of this a few months ago, and it blew everyone away.  Unfortunately I didn't take any notes and don't really recall what people really liked about it.  I do have another bottle of the 2012 batch, and hopefully I can get a 2013 bottle to compare it to.

I know everyone has their favorites, so I'm hoping we can have another conversation in this thread about this season's offerings.

Happy Drinking,

Eric

(And Yes, I get the irony of VikingJew loving Xmas ales, I just haven't been impressed with the Potato Latke Porters out there.)

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Liked instantly for the "Potato Latke Porters" line. :D

I had a good bit of the Sam Adams Winter Lager the other night. Like most Sam Adams brews, it was solid - not "OMG SO GOOD" but solidly drinkable for a bit while eating wings and watch UVA scrap with VCU on the TVs at B-Dubs.

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Any beer with a polar bear on the bottle is welcome in this discussion.  Don't worry about it not being officially labeled a Christmas beer, all winter seasonal recipes are open for this discussion.

I did have some Delirium Noel last night, and it didn't come close to matching my memories.  It wasn't bad, but the flavor wasn't as satisfying as I remember it being. I did get the cloves and orange peel, but the flavors didn't blend as well with the maltiness of the beer like I would've wanted.  Oh well, there's a lot more out there to try.

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I believe I like the Scaldis Noel better than the Delirium Noel, though I do like the Delirium as well. Looking forward to having the Scaldis Noel in a couple weeks (I really refuse to have a winter beer before Thanksgiving).

Distribution of Evil Twin is a bit spotty so not sure how easily it is to get Christmas Eve in a New York City Hotel Room. Possibly wins the award for most interesting name, but probably not an award for best tasting. Three of us tonight summed it up as smelling faintly light bandaids and formaldehyde and tasting like burnt tires. For all that the beer, oddly enough, wasn't entirely horrible. Though not something I'll probably ever feel the need to have again (on the other hand, the Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail, while not a Christmas beer, was delightful).

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The St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is great.  I drank it last night while watching my Chiefs wilt to the Broncos, but it made the game a little easier to watch.  This is how I remembered the Delirium Noel, with cloves, orange peel, and sweet, malty goodness.  The only drawback is the size of the bottle, it poured pretty heady into my glass, and the amount of beer to foam was a off.  The bottle had about three solid pours in it, and the beer was warm by the end.  I think a tulip glass or a more skilled hand might have been able to mitigate some of the foam loss, but that's my only real complaint.

I picked up a Scaldis Noel this weekend too, looking forward to adding it to my list.

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Probably the grandaddy of them all and longtime claimant to the title of World's Strongest Beer (until the relatively recent alcohol percentage wars got out of hand): Samichlaus.  I haven't had it in several years, but recall really enjoying it (and I'm not a general fan of holiday beers).

For several years running I brought a large format bottle of beer to New Year's gatherings to toast with instead of champagne.  Usually it was Stone's Double Bastard or one of the Belgian abbey beers in a magnum, but also DeuS which has a reputation for being the "champagne beer" (it's just a light-bodied Belgian ale with fizzy carbonation, and overpriced for what it is).

Somebody at Miller needs to get a sense of humor and start bottling High Life ("The Champagne of Beers!") in magnums for the season.

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Probably the grandaddy of them all and longtime claimant to the title of World's Strongest Beer (until the relatively recent alcohol percentage wars got out of hand): Samichlaus.  I haven't had it in several years, but recall really enjoying it (and I'm not a general fan of holiday beers).

Samichlaus anecdote: one night, at the tail end of a long night of drinking, my friend Roy discovered that FireWorks had one bottle (or so) left of Samichlaus and ordered it for our group to share.

He and I loved it; two other members of our party directly blame the "Santa Claus" for making them throw up all night. :D

(And not the beers, shots, wine, etc., earlier in the evening...)

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I really enjoyed both the Anchor Christmas Ale and New Belgium's Accumulation this weekend.  The Accumulation was a white IPA with just enough citrus to remind you of the season, and the Anchor was the kind of daaaaark, dank winter warmer that really goes well when the weather turns like it did this weekend.

Neither tasted like potpourri.

I think I've been avoiding Christmas Ales for too long.  The hit-to-miss ratio is much better than with pumpkin.

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As I mentioned above, I love Great Lakes Christmas ale - but for me its approaching Hopslam levels of absurdity when getting priced.  Cleveland Park Liquors had it for 16.99 a six pack which for this beer is insane.

Yes its rare.  Yes its delicious - particularly for those who want the warming spice flavor of a traditional Christmas ale with a bit lighter body and a more crisp finish, but at that price it's not worth the tariff.

I will say, having had this every year for the last 3 or 4, they do an excellent job at keeping the recipe stable as there is almost no taste shift year to year (unlike what I experience with Schlafly seasonals).  Ginger, Honey, Cinnamon are the main flavors here, none so overpowering that it feels like you're drinking a scented candle.  It also avoids any cloying sweetness, and the above mentioned crisp-ness allows for you to drink a few without getting totally overpowered by the spice.

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I've been drinking a lot of one off random beers these past few weeks.  Some fall into the Xmas category, others are just out this time of year.  The one thing I can say with certainty is if you see a bottle of Sam Adam Cherry Chocolate Bock, run as far as you can the other way.  I think it only comes in their winter variety pack, and might be fine at a party for people who don't like beer, but wow this went straight down the sink after two sips for me.

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I've been drinking a lot of one off random beers these past few weeks.  Some fall into the Xmas category, others are just out this time of year.  The one thing I can say with certainty is if you see a bottle of Sam Adam Cherry Chocolate Bock, run as far as you can the other way.  I think it only comes in their winter variety pack, and might be fine at a party for people who don't like beer, but wow this went straight down the sink after two sips for me.

Yeah, it was rather not-good. Reminded me of cough syrup.

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I would add the Schlafly Christmas ale to the "run away" list, unless drinking a Potpourri flavored Yankee Candle is what you're aiming for.

I enjoyed the Southern Tier Krampus last night although it was a little boozy. Can't imagine doing more than one.

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Sorry to neglect you, my fellow virtual beer tasters, but bourbon and wine have been my go to drinks for 2014.  That being said, before the clock struck midnight on 2013, I opened my bottle of Scaldis Noel Premium, aka Bush De Noí«l Premium to drink while cooking our New Year's Eve meal.

I don't have any specific tasting notes, but this was clean and delicious.  It's a cage and cork top, that runneth over after I popped the cork.  Once the froth settled down, both in the bottle and in the glass, I was left with a very nuanced beer.  It was definitely sweet, but not overly malty.  Instead the sweetness was fruitier, like figs and plum.  It's not cheap at $16ish a bottle, but I'd highly recommend picking this up if you haven't had it yet.  Not sure how long it sits on the shelf after Christmas, but my local bottle shop still had a few.   

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Not sure how long it sits on the shelf after Christmas, but my local bottle shop still had a few.   

The great post-holidays holiday beer markdowns are in full swing.  If you love these beers many can be had for 30-50% off, and it's not like the past 2 weeks have seen them go skunked all of a sudden!  P St Whole Foods still has cases and cases of the Delirium Noel bombers for 20% off or so; Mad Elf is under $11 a six pack (normally $14+).  If you want to impress friends or bludgeon someone to death in style, pretty much every large format bottle is deeply discounted.

Most of these beers will cellar very well and will be no worse off for next year's overindulging.

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As a heads up - it seems the sheer volume of Great Lakes Christmas Ale sent to the dc area really went up this year. Whole Foods Tenley had a bunch yesterday.

The Great Lakes Twitter feed (@GLBCinDC) had a bunch of tweets showing where it was available in the area.

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Picked up a 6 pack of Great Lakes at Rodman's on Thursday.  they had a good amount, but it is possible they had a run on it.

On another note, although it is not Christmas flavored, my favorite beer this time of the year is Sierra Nevada Celebration.  I have enjoyed this beer since before craft beer was cool and before it was a "fresh hop" beer.  For me, it isn't the holiday season without a 24 of Celebration.

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I decided to homebrew a Mad Elf clone this year, both to avoid the markups and as Xmas presents. I'll let everybody know how it turns out. Procrastinated for a little while so it's still in primary fermentation. If anyone decides to try this out too I'm sure I'll have some suggestions to make your attempt a little easier (11% is definitely the highest ABV I've aimed for). 

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And my non-traditional suggestion for this season would be Fantome L'Hiver--best saison producer on the planet (that I've tried so far).

I looked this beer up because I hadn't heard of it.  Description says that the recipe changes every year.  What is the recipe for this year's version?

If we are going to put in a vote for holiday Saison, I have to go with Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux.  Rate beer describes it as a Tripple, but I always thought it more of a Saison.

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