I read somewhere that Scaldis Noel is one of the top five Christmas beers in the world. Naturally, I had to try it…on Christmas. It is a very good Belgian Christmas/Strong Ale. It carries a 12% ABV, but masks it well. Still, it will sneak up on you. This beer really has everything I’m looking for in a winter ale. It’s warming, because of the alcohol content. It’s dark – brownish-copper. It has a combination of yeast, orange, and raisin in the aroma. The flavor is a melody of yeast, orange, raisin, fig, cherry and caramel. This is about my favorite combination of flavors. It drinks really easily, so you may not want to be going anywhere after you drink it – 12% ABV – in a 25.4 oz bottle. I really like this beer and next year I plan to grab several and see what it tastes like after cellaring it for a while. I give this one five out of five proper pints.
Zowie! This beer is chocolatey. It is a chocolate stout made with chocolate malt and real Belgian dark chocolate. It is literally like having a slightly bitter hot chocolate, only cold with some bubbles in it. It pairs fantastically well with some dark chocolate or some other dessert. In fact, I made the mistake of initially trying it with pasta, but my wife quickly had the idea of saving it for dessert. What a capitol idea! It does have some other flavors, a little bit of roastiness and some vanilla on the back end. But the nose and the flavor are of big chocolate. I really love this beer. I ran out and bought two more bombers right away. Five out of five proper pints.
It’s my favorite time of year again. Of course I like Christmas and the gifts and family time. The movies – It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Charlie Brown Christmas, etc… But, one thing I like most of all is Christmas beer. There are some I literally look forward to every year. This year there were some new ones I hadn’t seen before, as well. It was interesting though, I didn’t notice as much of an explosion of Christmas beers as I did pumpkin beers a couple of months ago. I’m not sure what that says. Sometimes they do have to be aged and maybe some of the smaller breweries don’t like to use up the space. Anyway, this year I tried some old favorites and some new ones. I think the old standbys fared very well though. Nevertheless, there were some really good new ones. I’m going to put them in reverse order from my least favorite to my favorite. Also, there were clearly more than just 12 beers, but I had to cut it off somewhere and 12 seemed like a good number. Also, some of these are winter beers, not necessarily marketed as Christmas beers. Another thing to note is that breweries have different ideas of what is a winter or Christmas beer and so it is not really one discreet style of beer. Sometimes it’s hard to compare, but I will do my best. 12) Abita Christmas Ale – Abita is a craft brewery in Louisiana that has been around a while. They brew quality beers, but they are not often my go to. This beer reminds me of Sierra Nevada Celebration in that is very hoppy, really more like an IPA or a hoppy amber than what I normally think of as a Christmas beer. Sadly, while it does have a strong hop aroma and bite, the flavor is not very complex and it was a little disappointing. I give it two out of five proper pints. 11) Flying Dog K9 Winter Ale – This was was brown and malty. It wasn’t especially sweet. It carried some bread and apple flavors. It tasted like a Marzen or Oktoberfest beer. It was also not really among my favorites. I would also go with two out of five proper pints. 10) Sixpoint Global Warmer – This was a winter IPA, for sure. It had a very bright hop bite with aromas and flavors of grapefruit and pineapple. I like IPAs, but they’re not my favorite in the winter. I would also not have called this one a “warmer,” though I get the climate change reference. It wasn’t bad as an IPA, but it wasn’t my favorite. I would give it three out of five proper pints. 9) Long Winters Nap – This one comes from Blue Mountain Barrel House, which has two entries here. I love the “Brew Ridge Parkway” outside Charlottesville, VA with Blue Mountain, Wild Wolf, Starr Hill and Devil’s Backbone all within a short distance of each other in a beautiful setting near the Blue Ridge Mountains. This was is a Helles Bock. It pours a golden copper color and has aromas of honey and pears. The flavor is along similar lines, but not very complex though. It does have a strong 10% ABV, so watch out. It was a little disappointing because I like almost all of Blue Mountains other beers I’ve had. I wouldn’t say I disliked this one, but it wasn’t a favorite. I give it three out of five proper pints. 8) New Belgium Accumulation – This was another among the winter IPAs. It was actually a White IPA. It had a light golden color and a fluffy white head. Nice grapefruit nose. A sharp hope bite with a piney after taste. It was surprisingly light bodied. It said “summer” to me. I’m not sure why it’s a winter beer at all. Nevertheless, it was pretty good. I would give it three out of five proper pints. 7) Schlafly Christmas Ale – This was more of what I would expect of a Christmas Ale. It pours a dark brown. It wasn’t very aromatic. The flavor was of caramel, toffee, cinnamon and nutmeg. I was a little disappointed with it given that I really like their pumpkin ale a lot. This one was good, but not great. I would give it three out of five proper pints. 6) Blue Mountain Blitzen – This was also from Blue Mountain Barrel House. I liked this beer a lot more than the Long Winters Nap. From here on, it is much harder to separate the rankings of the beers because they were all good. This was a Belgian dark ale. It poured a dark brown color. The aroma was a of caramel and Belgian yeast spicy-ness. The flavor added some toffee and figs. It was a very smooth drinking beer with a creamy texture to it. I give it four out of five proper pints. 5) Port City Tidings – I have previously tried some Port City beers that I called average or unexciting. This one was really very good and makes me think again about Port City. This was a Belgian Blonde or Strong Belgian Blonde. It has a 7.8% ABV. It comes out a dark golden color, but cloudy with a little white head. There is a strong Belgian yeast aroma with some coriander and clove. The flavor is similar, but adds some honey and a nice little hop bite as well. I liked this beer quite a bit. I give it four out of five proper pints. 4) 21st Amendment Fireside Chat – This one may become a new favorite. It poured a dark brown with a medium off white head. The aroma was slight, but with a pleasant maltiness with a little oak and pine. The flavor has an initial note of orange with a follow up of vanilla, caramel and hazelnut. I give it four out of five proper pints. 3) Great Lakes Christmas Ale – There is a lot of hype that surrounds this beer, probably in part due to the fact that it sells out of wherever it is very quickly not to return until the following year. I do like it a lot, but it’s not my all time favorite. It pours a dark copper with a small white head. It has aromas of honey, vanilla and cinnamon and tastes along the same lines with a slight maltiness. It is nicely balanced though. I would call this one very, very good. I give it five out of five proper pints. 2) Avery Old Jubilation – This one pours a dark brown. It has aromas of toffee, caramel and molasses. The flavor comes across with molasses and a nuttiness as well. There is also just a hint of roastiness. It is nicely balanced with a strong ABV. I like this one a lot and it was hard to separate it from my number one choice. I give it five out of five proper pints. 1) Troeg’s Mad Elf – This one really is my all time favorite Christmas beer and I look forward to it coming out every year. This one has the highest ABV at 11%, but I do think it is still pretty well balanced. It pours a dark brown with a small white head. The flavor is malty with molasses, cherries and honey. It is slightly on the sweet side and there is a little booziness. Nevertheless, I really, really like this beer. I give it an enthusiastic five out of five proper pints.
Gigantic is a brewery out of Portland. I wouldn’t normally be able to get it here in Virginia, but for my friends at Letspour from whom I order things not otherwise obtainable here. Massive! is their really big Barleywine. It’s a 12% ABV behemoth, so be prepared. Mine came in a 22 oz bomber and I’m glad I shared it. This one poured a nice ruby-ish brown with a small off white head. One thing that really stands out is that the folks at Gigantic let this one boil for 8 hours instead of the usual 60 or maybe 90 minutes. What that does is really saturate the wort with the malt of the barley. They also added a massive amount of hops to balance the maltiness of the flavor. The malt is very pronounced, but they have done a pretty good job of balancing it out. The beer has a creaminess to it and the aroma is definitely of malt and caramel. The flavor is strongly caramel, toffee and almost like an egg cream or milkshake flavor to it. Not necessarily super sweet, but in the malt. It was very smooth and easy to drink. There was a hint of booze to it, but much less than you would expect at 12% ABV. I really liked this beer. It was especially good on a snowy and cold night. I give it four out of five proper pints.