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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tuesday Tasting: Christmas Comes a Little Early for Beer Drinkers

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we taste four holiday beers.

A time honored tradition of the brewer's art is to create special beers to mark the seasons and holiday celebrations. The first of these beers were likely brewed in connection with pagan celebrations marking the winter solstice. Later the Catholic Church would permit churches and monasteries to brew special beers for special occasions to reward the faithful and provide an income flow to local orders.

I find holiday and winter beers to be among the most intriguing brews on the market. My love affair with the category -- it's not really a style since these brews can be all over the board from golden ales to dark lagers -- started back in the early 1980s with F.X. Matt's Season's Best. I not only enjoyed finding the first 12-packs of this brew at retail each year, but I also used bottles of this beer to trade with contacts at breweries across the U.S. for seasonal brews I could not easily find in Upstate New York. It was the days before Anchor Our Christmas Ale, Sierra Nevada Celebration or Pyramid Snow Cap Ale made it to the east coast. Thanks to a few phone calls and the fact Season's Best was not shipped beyond Ohio I was able to horse trade to build a stock of 10-12 different holiday beers to share with close friends.

Thanks to the popularity of craft brews, I don't need to wait for the UPS truck to enjoy some interesting seasonal beers.

Anchor Our Christmas Ale: On a recent trip to Syracuse, N.Y., a good friend, Barron Boyd, reminded me that we had stored away for safe keeping in his basement fridge a magnum of Anchor Our Christmas Ale, vintage 2004. Brewed every year since 1975, this ale's recipe changes annually, as does the tree featured on the label. I found the 2004 version to be a mellow and slightly sweet ale. It had a creamy head and was a rich dark color. Age hard not hurt this brew.

Sierra Nevada Celebration: I had the chance to sample the 2006 edition of this beer on draught recently at the Flying Saucer in Charlotte with Darrin Pikarsky. It is a dry-hopped 6.8 percent alcohol by volume beer that is a tarnished brass color. It has a rich creamy head, extremely fresh hop nose and lovely bitterness throughout. If you are a hophead, missing this beer would be a major mistake.

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale: This copper colored ale proclaims it is made using 10 ingredients -- including a variety of hops, "free range coastal water" and Pacman yeast. The result is a brew that packs plenty of hops, but is nicely balanced with a slightly roasted malt character. When you see Rogue on the label you expect a quality brew and this one delivers the goods.

Corsendonk Christmas Ale: Direct from Brouwerij Corsendonk in Belgium, this dark ale is 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. It is remarkably smooth given the alcohol content, with hints of fig and spices and a sweet malty finish. We tried this in a 750 ml bottle, perfect for sharing with guests at a holiday celebration. I'd match this ale up with a roasted turkey or goose on the holiday table and be quite happy.

There are plenty more holiday beers on the market. Since I'm not able to get to Portland, Ore., for the 11th annual Holiday Ale Festival taking place Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 at Pioneer Courthouse Square, which features an amazing array of three dozen winter craft brews on draft in a heated tent in view of the city's Christmas tree, I'll need to keep an eye out at beer stores and ale houses during my travels. I'll update you on what I've encountered later in the season.


KingRob said...

I recommend the Rogue Hazlenut Ale (I think that's what it is called) which I have been recently able to find alongside their holiday ale at Whole Foods. It's a perfect sipping beer for those Winter BBQ's.

Rick Lyke said...

While not technically a holiday beer, I do agree that Rogue HazelNut Brown Nectar would be perfect for many holiday dishes. I've been lucky enough to get it on draught and really enjoyed this brew.

One interesting thing about the HazelNut is that Rogue used a recipe from Chris Studach, who brewed this beer as the host homebrew at the 1993 American Homebrewers Association convention.