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12 Beers of Christmas

December 22, 2009

By Monsieur Anton


About a month ago I compared the two heavyweights of the Christmas Ale scene in Northeast Ohio, Great Lakes Christmas Ale and Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs (  Man, do people take their Christmas Ales seriously.  A lot of people were upset I didn’t proclaim Great Lakes the winner.  You’d think I told their children there was no Santa Claus.  I guess I’m about to upset even more people.  You see folks, Christmas and seasonal beers exist even outside the Cleveland area.

I went out of my way the last few days to drink as many Christmas Ales as I could find.  It’s these things I do for you, dear At the Pass readers.  Yeah, I know, tough job!  Once my liver and headache recovered it was time to rate these once a year brews.

Just to be consistent, I’ll be grading on 1-5 tickets at the pass, with 5 being the highest.  Since I didn’t rate Great Lakes and Thirsty Dog by tickets, I’ll award both of them 4.5 tickets at the pass, with a slight edge to Thirsty Dog.  That’s right; I’m sticking with Thirsty Dog.  I shall not be intimidated!

Seeing as I’ve already reviewed two beers, I owe you ten more to coincide with the 12 Days of Christmas.  Depending upon when you read this, there will be considerably less time to drink these beers, so hurry up.  You may even want to leave something a little more potent than milk and cookies for Santa this year!

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale Chico, CA, 6.8% ABV A hoppy entry to the winter seasonal contest, but what would you expect from Sierra Nevada?  You would also expect quality, and Celebration Ale does not disappoint. This is not the typical Christmas beer.  There’s no cinnamon and spice here, just a rich, hoppy brew with a slightly, but not unpleasantly sour finish. Sure to make for a “hoppy New Year.”  Four tickets at the pass.

Goose Island Christmas Ale Chicago, IL, 5.7% ABV  A rich copper color with a thick white head , there is kind of fruitcake nut and berry flavor with a slight berry and citrus aftertaste.  Four tickets at the pass.

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale England, 6.0% ABV Lots of carbonation for a higher alcohol seasonal beer.  Lightly hopped, it is the malt that shines in this amber-colored beer with flavors of raisins and caramel.  This is a satisfying brew, but a bit heavy to drink more than one.  Four tickets at the pass.

Samuel Adams Winter Lager Boston, MA, 5.8% ABV Sam Adams is a large brewer with a craft beer mindset, and it shows with the Winter Lager.  Lighter than most winter beers, this ale is more along the lines of vanilla tones offset by a light citrus finish.  Much easier to drink than many of its winter brethren, this is a beer that will be acceptable by many, but not exceptional to any.  Three tickets at the pass.

Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale St. Louis, MO, 6.0 ABV The St. Louis pedigree of this beer should give it away.  Yes folks, Anheuser-Busch is trying to pass off one of its beers as a craft ale, but they couldn’t fool me!  While I’ll admit, this is a notch better than AB’s run of the mill swill with a light amber color and just a hint of vanilla.  To call this bourbon cask ale is an insult to bourbon.  I’m being a bit generous with the rating, because it is a slight bit better than the Clydesdale urine we’re used to from this mega-brewery.  Two tickets at the pass.

Great Divide Hibernation Ale Denver, CO, 8.7% ABV  To call this a “big” beer is an understatement.  This strong, malty English style ale ages three months before bottling, and could easily age another year.  A deep dark brown beer with a fluffy white head, this is a rich malty beer well balanced by the hops.  A superb beer, I was really bummed when my neighborhood bar ran out of this on tap.  Four and a half tickets at the pass.

Bell’s Christmas Ale Kalamazoo, MI, 5.4% ABV How fortunate for me that my above mentioned neighborhood bar replaced the Hibernation Ale with this draft offering!  This Scotch Ale drinks bigger than the relatively modest by winter beer alcohol content would suggest.  The amber brew was accented by a rich white head that provided a thick lacing as you work your way through the pint glass.  Think honey on biscuits, and you’ll get the gist of what this winter warmer is all about.  Four tickets at the pass.

Anchor Steam Our Special Ale (Anchor Christmas Ale) San Francisco, CA, 5.5% ABV Many consider Anchor Steam to be the first craft beer, and this seasonal brew shows they still haven’t lost anything off the old fastball.  They tweak their recipe and label slightly every year.  This year’s offering will be appreciated by all the Great Lakes devotees.  All the spices are there; cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a well-rounded world-class beer.  This is what Great Lakes is on its best years.  Five tickets at the pass.

Brooklyn Winter Ale Brooklyn, NY, 6.0% ABV I’ve always liked Brooklyn Brewery beers.  Their Monster Ale could easily be reviewed as a winter/Christmas beer, and it would have fared better.  Winter Ale pours as clear and reddish with a medium off-white head that didn’t last long.  This medium bodied beer has a burnt sugar taste, with a bitter hoppy finish.  I notice I used the word medium twice to describe this winter warmer, and that is what it is; medium.  Perhaps I was expecting too much, being a fan of the brewery, and the powerhouse their Monster Ale is.  Two and a half tickets at the pass.

He’Brew Messiah Bold San Francisco, CA, 5.6% ABV From the Schmaltz Brewing Company, it’s easy to dismiss this as a gimmick beer; and the marketing is corny, (“the beer you’ve been waiting for”), but this is a pretty good brew.  This really is not a winter beer as it is made all year-long, but I needed to find one more to round out my 12 Beers of Christmas, and a bit of religious diversity never hurts.  A Brown Ale, this is rich, with toffee flavors and a nutty finish.  If you like Newcastle Brown, you’ll like this.  Three meshugena tickets at the pass.

With all these beers available for only a short time you may want to stock up on your favorites.  The typically high alcohol content in these winter ales generally means they will have a longer shelf life, so you can enjoy throughout the winter.  They make great holiday gifts, and make for a festive toast on Christmas night with family and friends.

Happy Holidays to all our At the Pass friends.  We’ll be sure to be thinking of you as we hoist a cold one during the holiday season!

Chef Gusteau says: “Oh my goodness, friends, I take a break for a little bit and there goes Anton drinking like a fish! Where the hell is he finding all these beers, let alone the time to drink them all and soberly write about them?  That’s dedication friends…dare to find that on any other food/beverage blog!  In any case, I have always loved Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam, so I was pleased to see that I wasn’t alone in regarding them so highly.  But wait, isn’t Pete’s Wicked still around?  Anton, time to start drinking again (this time I’ll videotape him singing at the bar – Christmas Carols have never sounded so disturbed!).

As far as food and beer pairing, I’d like to add that these types of beer do very well with holiday dinners.  Number one, they are strong, so you won’t have to buy as much beer for your guests.  Budget 2-3 beers per adult and you should be good – unless Anton is coming over, in which case you’ll need a keg for when he arrives and a wheelbarrow for when he leaves!  Number two, the spices, nutty and caramel flavors you find in holiday beers make them well suited with braised meats, stews and roasted birds.  The flavors of these foods are strong enough for the bold flavors of holiday beers, and together are quite pleasing. 

Enjoy the holidays, and feel free to let us know what other beverages you’d like Anton to drink and rate.  We don’t have any health coverage at At The Pass, so his liver is your playground.  Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year.”

14 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2009 5:41 pm

    i think there is a definite trend in bigger and bolder xmas beers. More breweries appeared to offer pumpkin and xmas beers this year, which is great. At the end of the day beers are all subjective, and seasonal beers should change slightly every year like Anchor does.. cheers.

  2. Gaseous Orangutan permalink
    December 22, 2009 8:38 pm

    Cheers mate! Glad to see you got out and did a bit more drinking for our sake. If you’re looking for a place to delve into more winter warmers may I suggest La Cave du Vin. Make sure to check out Santa’s Butt (a great holiday brew) as well as Stegmeiers winter warmer (one of my new favorites). Keep up the good work guys and happy holidaze.

  3. RyanM permalink
    December 23, 2009 3:00 am

    I am so happy to see this post. While GLBC Christmas Ale is decent, people don’t understand that it is not even close to being one of the best holiday ales out there. My two favorites are Anchor, and Hoppin’ Frog Frosted Frog.

    • December 23, 2009 4:48 am

      Thanks for the note, Ryan, and might I add that I am quite upset I can’t find any more Anchor Steam left out there!! For the love of Pete would someone just leave a 6-pack out there for me to pick up! Enjoy the holidays and thanks for reading! Chef Gusteau.

  4. December 23, 2009 5:50 am

    The authors of this article have great taste. I posted a similar one on my blog a few weeks back, and I chose several of the same beers! In fact, I’m sipping a Hibernation Ale right now …

  5. December 24, 2009 1:04 am

    Hi there. This is Zak Davis from Shmaltz Brewing Company. Thanks so much for picking up that bottle of Messiah Bold, and glad to see that you enjoyed it. We actually do have a holiday ale…Jewbelation Bar Mitzvah…the only Extreme Chanukah Ale in the country. It’s brewed with 13 malts, 13 hops, and 13% alc. for our 13th anniversary. I hope you have a happy and healthy holiday and new year. ~Zak

    • December 24, 2009 3:20 pm

      Thanks Zak. Now I have to go out and find Jewbelation. Glad you stopped in to our little blog, and I hope the New Year brings great things for Schmaltz Brewing.


  6. December 28, 2009 3:49 pm

    A great idea for future recipes this. Thank you for sharing it. Have you noticed how so many people appear to be cooking again? I wonder if the lack of funds due to the current climate has something to do with it and we all appear to be cooking again! its great!

    • December 28, 2009 4:44 pm

      Hi Arturo! Thanks for the note…and I agree with you, it does seem that more people are cooking at home with the family nowadays. The current economic climate certainly has a lot to do with that. But also, I believe people have become more health conscious and care more about what they eat and how it was prepared. I grew up surrounded by home cooking, and to this day my family goes out for dinner maybe once a week. Quiet dinners at home shared with the family remain one of the strongest bonds created within the household, and will continue to be a powerful influence on our children. And cooking is FUN!!! Thanks again, and have a great New Year’s! Chef Gusteau

  7. December 31, 2009 12:01 pm

    You left off my personal favorite, the Southern Tier Krampus! I admit I am a hophead and this one definitely doesn’t disappoint. I understand that for many people GLBC’s Christmas Ale doesn’t live up to the hype, but for me, Anchor’s is the big let down. People have raved about it to me for the past 2 years but I really don’t think it’s anything special. It is an ok ale, but I don’t think it is Christmasy at all. Next year there will be one extra 6 pack of Anchor for you to buy.

    Happy New Year!

    • January 2, 2010 2:28 pm

      Great! Even more beer I have to drink now! Thanks for the tip. I’ll be sure to look for it.

      Monsieur Anton

  8. January 3, 2010 2:24 am

    Excellent work! Those people at your competition (you know who) don’t even have a clue! Let me know if you would like help! Much Thanks!

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