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!