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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday Tasting: Twelve Beers for This 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 sample a dozen beers worthy of holiday celebrations.

A Facebook friend recently asked me if I had a list of my favorite beers for the holiday season. A Twelve Beers of Christmas collection of can’t miss favorites for holiday entertaining and special meals with family and friends. That prompted me to do a little thinking and a bit of tasting.

This is my 2011 list of the Twelve Beers of Christmas. I have to admit that I’ve not encountered some of my old favorites (such as Young’s Winter Warmer, Pyramid Snow Cap Ale, Avery Old Jubilation Ale, Saranac Season’s Best Nut Brown Ale, Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter and Affligem Noel) that might have earned a spot on this list. There is still plenty of time to catch up with these old friends over the holidays, but these 12 beers are worth looking for and sharing with guests.

Sierra Nevada Celebration: The 2011 version of this beer is even more flavorful than I recall. It pours a reddish brass color and has a pronounced hoppy nose. From the thick lacing head to the bountiful hop character that carries this beer, it is an American classic. Missing this beer during the holidays would be like not putting up a Christmas tree.

Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale: As a veteran of more than 40 Upstate New York winters I can testify to the need for a warm winter coat and a refrigerator stocked with beers like Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale. The beer pours an amber brown color with a decent head. The aroma is slightly sweet and the flavor has good balancing hops, malt, maple and fruit notes. You can sense the 7.7 percent alcohol by volume.

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale: This copper colored ale packs plenty of hops, but is nicely balanced with a slightly roasted malt character. Rogue has long been one of my favorite northwestern breweries and, even with the amazing growth of craft breweries in the region, Santa’s Private Reserve is a reminder why you want to stay off the naughty list.

Trader Joe’s 2011 Vintage Ale: Pound for pound the best value among seasonal beers on the market. At $4.99 a 750-milliliter corked and caged bottle, this beer is made for the grocery chain by Unibroue in Quebec and could easily sell for twice the price. A Belgian-style dark ale on lees, there is a fruit quality to the aroma and plenty of spice character in the flavor. There is a good firm malt body to this beer. I now have four years of Trader Joe's bottles laid down and the 2008 is still very drinkable, so I look for this beer to improve in the next 12-18 months.

Corsendonk Christmas Ale: This Belgian ale pours a dark brown color with a moderate tan head. The nose offers some spice notes and a hint of toffee sweetness. Figs, biscuit cookies and brown sugar in the malty flavor profile is balanced slightly by some bitter notes. Plenty of holiday character in this beer.

Thirsty Dog Bourbon Barrel Aged Siberian Night: Siberian Night Russian Imperial Stout is a year-round beer from this Ohio brewery, but add some time in an ex-Bourbon barrel and I’ll stack this one up against any Christmas ale or winter warmer. Dark, thick character with plenty of roasted notes balanced by vanilla and Bourbon sweetness. Throw a couple of logs on the fire.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale: Want to find a great Christmas beer? Try starting with a brewery that makes nothing but great beer. The ale pours a dark and slightly cloudy color, with a decent amount of carbonation. Lots of dark fruit notes, biscuity and spicy. You will want to split the 750 milliliter bottle with at least two friends.

Deschutes Jubale: This annual winter release is a dark reddish brown color and offers a malty aroma. This is a true winter warmer. The flavor has a great toffee base, spicy hops and long finish. The beer opens nicely as it warms in your glass.

Geary’s Winter Ale: The Maine brewery is one of the original east coast craft beer pioneers, brewing for the first time in 1986. Described on the company’s website as a hearty India Pale Ale, the brewery uses Mt. Hood, Golding & Fuggle hops in this ruby colored ale. But Geary's Winter Ale goes a bit beyond what you would expect from an IPA. There is more malt than you usually find, along with hints of vanilla and a trailing hint of baking spices.

Scaldis Noel: This unfiltered Belgian ale undergoes a secondary bottle finishing. The beer pours a reddish brown and has enough malt for two average beers. This is a rich and flavorful beer. Figs, apricot and raisin flavors roll from the glass.

21st Amendment Fireside Chat: This 7.9 percent alcohol by volume brew pours a nut brown color. The solid malt base has hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. Cocoa nibs are used in the brew, giving the beer some extra depth.

Anchor Christmas Ale 2011: They have been making this holiday treat in San Francisco for an amazing 37 years. The 2011 beer pours a dark brown color with a thick tan head. The recipe on this beer changes each year and they keep it a secret. The 2011 is not my all-time favorite vintage, but it is tasty with some nutmeg, cloves and allspice in the profile that includes pine hop notes.

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