Oh wow! Hubby got me a ton of holiday beer this year, and we’ve been having great fun drinking it! The labels are creative and beautiful, the beer is gorgeous, and the craic is mighty! I’ve been drinking these over the last few weeks, so I can’t quite recall how most of them tasted now. Please accept the brewery’s description (in quotes).
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Our first one – our tree doesn’t even have lights on it yet!
“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. Famous for its intense citrus and pine aromas, Celebration is bold and intense, featuring Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops—honoring everything we have at Sierra Nevada.” 6.8%
Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale. This was our favourite, at least up until today’s tasting…
“Our Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale is a hand-crafted “winter warmer” with a deep amber hue and a rich, malty mouthfeel. Hints of toffee, spice, and caramel tickle the senses while the smooth, creamy finish will lift your spirits; a perfect beer to share with friends and family during the cold days and long nights of winter.” 6.9%
Barbar Bok. It kinda kicked our asses!
“The Barbar Bok is adorned with dark colours and a ruby reflection. It undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle and merges the softness of honey with the strength of alcohol. The honey originates from Yucatan in Mexico and is hardly noticeable. In the brewery they maintain that the Barbar does not taste of honey but when accompanied by a dish with added honey, the dish tastes of Barbar. In the beginning, it was only brewed in the winter and was called Barbar Winter Bok. However, since 2008 the consumer decided otherwise. You can now also enjoy it in the summer to the great delight of lovers of brown beer.” 8%
Anchor Steam Christmas Ale. I’ve had this in previous years, back when I was still an American.
“Every year since 1975 the brewers of Anchor Steam® Beer have brewed a distinctive and unique Christmas Ale, which is available from early November to mid-January. The Ale’s recipe is different every year—as is the tree on the label—but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. Our tree for 2013 is the California White Fir. It was hand drawn by local artist James Stitt, who has been creating Christmas Ale labels for us since 1975.” 5.5%
Smithwick’s Winter Spirit. I can’t get a brewery quote, just a press release quote – a shame as this is the first Irish beer on my list. Not enough spice – it tasted like a really good pint of Smithwick’s.
“…in making a winter ale, they sought a beer that would have body and colour and he believes that they’ve got it right with Winter Spirit. Winter Spirit provides a warmer, deeper flavour as a result of the roasted barley used in the brewing process.” 4.5%
O’Hara’s Winter Star Spiced Amber Ale. Another Irish brew, it had a very spiced scent and smelled lovely – but not strong enough for us. The necessary warming note of a winter ale was lost here.
“In our 2013 edition, subtle use of spices and orange zest bring out a refreshing and different touch to this winter beer and also make for a dry finish. The orange zest and mild coconut flavours are the first to hit the palette, closely followed by the warmth of cinnamon spices mellowed in the orange essence. Dual purpose hops finish the aroma combination adding just a touch of evergreen, perfect for this winter amber ale.” 4.3%
On to tonight’s smorgasbord! First was Italy’s Birrificio del Ducato Winterlude. ‘The champagne of beer’. Well, yes; it bubbled all over the damn countertop! We drank it a bit too cold – once it warmed up I got the wonderful fruity taste. I thought it was orangey, but it seems I was wrong.
“Top fermented beer which undergoes a secondary fermentation in bottle. It is intense gold, almost orange in color, with aromas of fruit in syrup (pineapple, peach and apricot), candy sugar, bread crust and a note of chives from the Belgian hops of Poperinge. Warm and sweet on the palate with a firm fizzy finish. Strong and structured, sweet and inviting. A tribute to a friend who went missing, who we may meet again one day, just like the sun that is hiding behind the hill. Winterlude is also named after a Bob Dylan song, a perfect fit since it is a winter warmer. The idea of winter as an interlude representing both the pause before awakening and the oblivion before new life.
This beer is inspired by some varieties of the Belgian Tripels. The hops come from the Poperinge region, a variety I have always been fascinated by. I connected with one of the region’s local farmer and had him set a preferred variety aside from his most recent harvest.” 8.8% (we like to start off at a gallop)
From Denmark: Mikkeller’s Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas. Once again we had it a bit too cold at first, but once it warmed up? Pine needles. Not kidding. It worked! A lovely beer, I could have had several, no bother.
“Pours orange golden with a off white head. Aromas of fresh pine and tropical fruit with hints of floral notes. The pine aromas comes through on the palate along with citrus fruit. This is full of flavour with a touch of dry bitter hops on the finish.” 7.8%
Alaskan Brewing Company’s Smoked Porter. The best. Best. Best! Technically, this is not anything remotely Christmas, Holiday, Seasonal… I don’t care. I got it for Christmas and had it tonight. I don’t think we said anything but ‘Wow!’ for five minutes. The smoke… wow! It was a strong, strong taste. It was amazing and wonderful and damn, if it didn’t cost as much as a bottle of fine wine, I’d have more. Wow.
“Smoked Beer. Known as “rauchbier” in Germany, smoke-flavored beers were virtually unknown in the U.S. until Alaskan Smoked Porter was developed in 1988. The dark, robust body and pronounced smoky flavor of this limited edition beer make it an adventuresome taste experience. Alaskan Smoked Porter is produced in limited “vintages” each year on November 1 and unlike most beers, may be aged in the bottle much like fine wine… Prior to brewing, selected malts are smoked in small batches under carefully controlled conditions in a commercial food smoker using local alder wood.” 6.9%
I can’t say enough how wonderful the porter was. If you try anything on my list today, try this! And pay what they ask: it is worth it when it comes all the way from Alaska (where two good friends and now my sister, brother in law and only niece are enjoying the long nights and snowy cold days).