Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Tuesday Tasting: The Twelve Beers of Christmas
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 12 seasonal brews that roll out just in time for the holidays.
Normally, I would have been quite satisfied heading into the holiday season enjoying the collection of unique beers gathered for our family Thanksgiving celebration. The list was long and ranged from continental lagers to American pumpkin ales. The sampling included Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock (finished on cocoa nibs harvested in northern Bolivia), Dogfish Head Theobroma (honey, ancho chiles, ground annatto, Soconusco cocoa nibs and cocoa powder) and New Holland Pilgram's Dole Wheat Wine (offering up plenty of flavor and spunk). But the week also served as one of the best launching pads I can remember to one of my favorite beer season: the annual release of Christmas ales and winter beers.
Things got started on Thanksgiving eve with a meeting of the Charlotte Beer Club at the Common Market, a neighborhood spot in Charlotte, N.C., that has one of the best selections of beer in a compact space anywhere in the U.S. The best way to think of this place is as a general store for beer. If they don't have it, you likely don't need to drink it.
The Common Market usually has a couple of very nice beers available on draught and then the Beer Club members will also buy larger format bottles and pass them around to try. I started with a Cold Mountain, went to a N'Ice Chouffe and then had verticals of Anchor and Scaldis holiday offerings
Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale: This was a very nice reddish brown ale on tap. It has a good malty base and some background spices coming through in the flavor. It actually got better as it warmed in the glass. I had a hard time determining the exact spices coming through in this beer and it was obviously a blend of several. My best guess is that it may have some cinnamon and all spice in the mix. A solid effort from this North Carolina brewery.
N'Ice Chouffe: I traded some Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg with a Charlotte Beer Club regular for a healthy pour of this dark Belgian ale. This is a wonderful malty, fruity brew that is spiced for the season. I quickly identified the vanilla used in flavoring the beer, but several of us just could not put our finger on the second primary spice in the flavor profile. According to Don Russell's new book "Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest and Most Unusual Holiday Brews" its thyme. Thanks Don, mystery solved.
Next, the Common Market sampled 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages of Scaldis Noel and Anchor's Our Special Ale.
Scaldis Noel 2006: This brew has mellowed with age. Gone is some of the sweetness and fruit, but in its place is a warming flavor that has a slightly tangy note at the start. The bottle we tried poured fairly cloudy.
Scaldis Noel 2007: A very nice beer, even though it appeared that yeast was suspended in the glass. Mild fruity notes. Good level of warmth. After tasting the three years I felt like this beer was meant to be laid down for at least one year.
Scaldis Noel 2008: Sweet, fruity and young. Nice red copper color and a decent head. It is unfiltered in the large format bottles, which explains the cloudy nature of the older vintages. This is an 11 percent alcohol by volume beer, but it drinks nice and smooth.
Anchor Our Special Ale 2006: This beer is just starting to mellow slightly, but few would guess it had already been in the bottle for two years. Dark brown color, thin head. Touches of citrus and spice in the flavor profile. If you have a magnum of this beer, you can certainly hold it for a year or two more if you store it properly, but it drinks nicely now.
Anchor Our Special Ale 2007: Still very lively in the magnum size bottles being used at this tasting. Brown-red in color and good head. I was at the brewery last fall while this vintage was being bottled. Interesting spice nose, with perhaps a hint of juniper coming through. Good balance of malt and hops.
Anchor Our Special Ale 2008: This is the 34th year that Anchor has been making its Christmas ale and I think this is one of the best I've had from the San Francisco brewery. Nice mahogany color. Great malty nose. Hits of hops and spices blended to make this a great beer to serve with a holiday meal. It could easily replace any red wine you might be thinking of serving to guests.
The following brews were tasted over the weekend and were all from bottles:
Bell's Christmas Ale: This ale is made with 100 percent Michigan barley and is bottle fermented. It pours slightly cloudy amber in color with a nice tan head. There is a nice fruity base to the beer, with hints of toffee. I'd suggest this beer as a before dinner aperitif.
Rogue Santa's Private Reserve: Nice red color. Head starts very strong and thins a bit. It has a heathery nose. There is a good level of hops throughout -- this is obviously a Rogue ale.
Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale: From Anheuser-Busch, this was an amber colored beer with a light fluffy head. There was a slight hint of vanilla in the flavor, but if you are a big fan of oak aged beers, you will not find the hint of whiskey you might expect from the name of this beer. This is not a bad tasting beer, but it is on the lighter side for a winter brew.
Corsendonk Christmas Ale: A dark Belgian ale that provided a moderate head, which stayed throughout. This beer opened nicely as it warmed a bit. The nose offers some spice notes and a hint of toffee sweetness. I detected figs, biscuit cookies and brown sugar in the malty flavor with some slight balancing bitter notes.