Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ho Ho Ho! Beery Christmas!

A few years ago I tried to do the 12 Beers of Christmas...a beer advent calendar of sorts.  This did not go well.  Between days of travel, work, and illness I missed more days of beers than I succeeded in documenting.  So this year I thought I would just do a couple of quick reviews of some Holiday/Christmas beers that have come into my possession.  Holiday beer used to mean "tastes like someone mixed the mash with a pine tree," but nowadays they can be just about anything.  Spiced and juniper beers are still the cornerstone, but stronger winter versions of beers are becoming more popular.  Even hoppy beers like Sierra Nevada Celebration are considered Holiday beers.  This year I really didn't have too many of this style, and as you can see I'm trailing behind Christmas time in my write up.  Better late than never right?

Brewery Kerkom's Winterkoninkske: This is a strong juniper ale from one of my all time favorite breweries in Belgium.  Sj and I have been to the brewery twice now and I really wish we could get their beers in Minnesota!  Producers of the Bink beers, they have a big selection of different styles including some hoppy ones.  This beer is 8.3% ABV and my bottle is at least 2 years old.  They have an incredible Grand Cru version of this beer that is out of this world.

This beer was a bit past its prime.  Caramel and some cardboard were dominant in aroma and flavor.  I couldn't pick out juniper in this, though it is supposed to be there.  I'd like to try a fresher bottle.

Brasserie de Blaugies La Moneuse Special Winter Ale: This beer came into my possession from a friend, Brett, who moved and left me much of his amazing beer cellar.  This one is from 2005, nearly a decade old!  The beer is a saison, so usually something to be drunk fresh.  When in Belgium this past year we were able to try a 20 year old bottle of their sour beer with plums that was Heavenly.  A few days later I was able to meet the brewmaster/owner and thank him.  So I wasn't quite sure what I was going to get when I cracked this venerable brew.

Aroma: Some caramel and maltiness present.  Hint of old paper, but more like a pleasant old library than musty cardboard.  No hop aroma.  Very subtle Belgian yeast esters.  Some figs as it warmed.

Appearance:  Caramel in color with a hint of haze from long dormant yeast.  Fine off-white head that faded quickly but was easily roused.

Flavor: Sugar and caramel dominant.  Mild dried fig or date flavors.  I do get some sherry-like oxidation, but not unpleasant.  No spicing or hopping to speak of.  Not incredibly complex but well balanced.  Finish is off-dry and not astringent.  Body is medium.

Overall: This beer was still quite drinkable after all these years, but had likely lost a lot of its fresh and Belgian "saison-ness."  3.5/5

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale: I really like St. Bernardus beers.  They are more accessible and often cheaper than many of the true Trappist ales.  I have had several people tell me that the St. Bernardus 12 is as good or better than Westvleteren 12.  Having had both within a day of each other, I disagree!  But still a great beer.  I haven't had the Christmas ale for a few years and was happy to find this smaller bottle at The Four Firkins the other day.  This beer clocks in at 10% ABV.  No spices that I can find.  This is served in the matching glass in proper Belgian fashion.

Aroma: Caramel up front.  Dried figs and prunes as swirled.  Light honey and sugar sweetness.  A bit of alcohol zip on the nose.  Light clove and allspice notes as it warms.

Appearance:  Deep brown in color with a slight yeast haze.  Large, fine, off-white head with tight bubbles.  Head very persistent.

Flavor:  Initial strong sweetness and sugary flavor.  Medium to almost light bodied.  Very high carbonation adds to the semi-dry finish.  Lingering cinnamon and light sweetness on tongue at tail end.  As it warms I get more of the dark fruit I smelled in the aroma, but more subtle than expected.  Alcohol warming borders on a burn.  No hop flavors.

Overall:  A well balanced and flavorful Belgian dark strong ale.  This is a bit hot and would probably be best aged a year to mellow the alcohol and bring out the dark fruit character.  4/5.

Goose Island Christmas Ale 2009: The Christmas Ale has been around a long time.  Basically a 6% brown ale, with no spicing.  I used to look forward to this one when I lived in Chicago, but that was a very long time ago!  This vintage bottle was a blind gift at the JAB Holiday party this year and I can't remember who it was from.

Aroma: Strong oxidation on this one--cardboard and wet paper.  Some caramel sweetness.  Hint of citrus hop.

Appearance: Very hazy deep amber color.  Despite cautious pour into the appropriate Goose Island nonic pint glass I got some big chunks and floaters. Fine tan head that fades fairly quickly.

Flavor: As in the aroma, strong oxidation takes center stage here.  Hint of caramel and indistinct spice (old nutmeg?).  Very thin in body.

Overall:  This one is just too old.  I'm not convinced this beer is a great example of a Christmas ale anyway, but it should not be aged.  I think I gave the beer a 3 of 5 when it was fresh, but this one is 2.5 of 5.

So this year's Holiday Beer extravaganza was something of a fail.  I discovered that many of these do not age well.  But hey, maybe I'll try to do a better job with this next year!

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