Well, I made it all the way through. There were a few days of struggle, a few pushes. In the end, I had the gumption to get it done. 30 days and many beers – but each night a Christmas ale – are complete.
There were highs thanks to De Dolle and Hair of the Dog – and there were lows due in part to Ninkasi and Bridgeport. But all in all, I loved each evening. The beer did as I had hoped: restored Christmas to its rightful jolly state.
Throughout the process, I posted a blurb about each beer on our Facebook page. After 30 days, I made my choices. Here are the results:
Top 5 Beers – Overall Quality:
1. De Dolle Stille Nacht 2009
2. Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws 2009
3. Troegs Mad Elf
4. Nogne O/Jolly Pumpkin/Stone Special Holiday Ale 2009
5. Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Honorable Mentions: Brasserie Thiriez, Goose Island 2009 Xmas Ale, Fremont B-Bomb, and Silver City Old Scrooge
Top 5 Beers – Christmas Style:
1a. Nogne O/Jolly Pumpkin/Stone Special Holiday Ale 2009
1b. Great Lakes Christmas Ale
3. Anchor Christmas Ale 2010
4. Maritime Jolly Roger
5. Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas
Honorable Mentions: Eggenberg Samichlaus, Silver City Old Scrooge, De Dole Stille Nacht, and Breckenridge Christmas Ale
Top Beer Description:
Most of the time when I wrote these reviews, I was half intoxicated at a bar typing on my phone. The quality of the review depended on my motivation level and surrounding conversations. Some beers were cheated, others were given too much (See De Dolle Stille Nacht for “too little” and Fremont Abominable for “too much”)
My favorite description came from drinking an Anchor Christmas Ale at Collins Pub in Seattle:
The Xmas ale is their staple, a seasonal release of many years. This year it tastes like some took a glass of milk, nuked it, dropped in 5 gingerbread houses and a black tea bag and put it in a laundry machine for 6 hours. After that, I drank it. It’s delicious, a fine example of Christmas flavors.
Top Memory of 30 Days of Christmas Ale
One night, Timperial came and surprised me with a party pig (finally, my own tap) and a bottle of Brasserie Thiriez Noel. We got sentimental:
I have a pretty good story about this brewer. Timperial and I drove out to West Flanders one morning to visit Saint Sixtus Abbey and drink the Westvleteren 12. After we got biblical, we decided to peruse the towns. We visited St Bernardus, shot the shit with local Woesteners, and proceeded to make the journey across enemy lines (kind of a joke) to France.
Escalbecq is literally 10 kilos across le border. The border is an unrecognizable line where my Tom Tom starts speaking french. We pulled up to a shanty of a farmhouse and went searching for Daniel (owner of Brasserie Thiriez). We bumped into a brute of a man (seinfeld Kramer reference) who had on denim suspenders and a weird rat tail haircut. I engaged him in conversation. He stared blankly and retorted: “oui?….” imagine the most confused vocal tone on earth, in French. That was this guy.
After nearly 10 minutes of charades, awkward hand signals and phony sign language – he finally understood “Daniel” and illistrated that he was sleeping. This guy? Le brassuer.
He also finally grasped my guzzling booze depiction. He led us to the farmhouse and we – extremely awkward – downed a few samples an bought a few bottles. On the way back to Belgium (10 kilos), we road soda’d a blonde and laughed hysterically at the hijinks. Tonight, we formed a consensus that a return was a necessity.
Thiriez makes amazing beer. They have one of the best yeast strains I have ever tasted. Grassy, earthly, active – but clean – it’s always a different experience under each cap. The Noel is phenomenal. It has a clean, yet significant scent. It packs a mouthful of cherries, strawberries, vanilla, and hay. There is no denying the French farmhouse styling – and we love it. A lively beer with a fresh scent yum.
All in all, it’s the best Thiriez brew we’ve had. Kudos to Bottleworks for pulling this guy in. If it’s on the shelf – it’s a must buy.
It was a good ride. Look for a repeat, with all new beer, next year.
***This is a reposting of an article I wrote last year, shortly before my yearly bounty of Great Lakes Christmas Ale appeared in my mailbox. This year, I have been slighted by my Ohio beer shop, who promised to have my package here last week – WHERE IS IT!? Each afternoon, I scurry to the mailbox like it was Xmas morning, hoping to see my Xmas passion. Nothing. This morning, I had to read back at what once was – and what hopes to show up today. Enjoy!***
I will go ahead and clear this up – I have an Ohio bias. I hail from the great Canton, OH region, home of football, wings and crappy beer.
But over time we have seen some good ones pop up. Hoppin Frog, out of Akron, OH, is probably the best critiqued in the beer world. Check out their RateBeer ratings here. We will rate them later, but as a teaser – get the BORIS (oatmeal imperial stout – theres a barrel-aged version too!).
And now to return to my favorite – Great Lakes. When I fall in love with a brewery, its for several reasons:
(1) beer quality
(2) list quality
(3) pub aura
(4) historical connection
(5) the crew of the brewery
Great Lakes Brewing excels here in all respects. Though they do not have the most amazing of beer reviews historically, they are typically respectable around the board. For instance, their stouts are damn good (Blackout is a 100), their porter is above average, their specialties (saison and 2x IPA especially) are appealing, and their normal rotation is very drinkable (my father is a Burning River Pale man).
But……its their Christmas Beer that remains fixated in your mid year round. Shockingly, this beer is not immortal in the beer nerd spectrum. It holds an 87 at RateBeer. But after a cursory review I am chalking that up to the 30-40% of reviewers who just said – “I dont like xmas beer.”
Curse you, and curse your palettes. Actually, I can understand that reaction to this beer. The beer holds an incredible smack you in the face aroma of X-mas packed into the bottle. Nutmeg, cinnamon, spice and ginger make you feel as if you are ten years old again, sipping hot cider with mittens on singing deck the halls in 12 feet of snow, below a 30 foot christmas tree, with 1000 wrapped goodies beneath. I love it.
But what is best about this release, is that Great Lakes Brewing has recognized the cult following and really made a bi-annual ritual out of it. In July, they do a “Christmas in July” promo at the brewery, where they tap a few kegs for a few days and Clevelanders black out in unconscious glee. Again in October, the begin the real seasonal release at the brewery with a one week tap-only period and then they begin distributing.
The brewpub at Great Lakes is amazing. They are located on West side of Cleveland, very close to downtown in the “Westside Market” area. As I remember, the Brewpub was the first non-smoking establishment in Cleveland and has always offered a full locally-produced food regimen. (Note: the sausages are amazing)
On top of the food and grog – the Brewery also offers tours and a hefty gift shop where you can pick up pub exclusives (im looking at you Lake Erie Monster, the 2x IPA) and other garb.
If you are stuck in the NW – or elsewhere outside the nether-regions of the Midwest (i dont blame you), you likely cannot get Great Lakes beer. Thats ok because there is a heck of a shop in Cleveland, that can help you out. Rozi’s Wine House carries an amazing selection of beers. They will ship to wherever. Call them up and make an order.
The luscious x-mas grog can be purchased at your local (Midwest only – damn) beer shop, up until about January 10. Do not wait, because at the rate I am moving now, I will have bought out all beer stores and it will be stored in my Seattle basement.
There is a writer out there who does a beer challenge every once in a while called 100 beers, 30 days. I am not her. But, I am sorry that the challenge mentioned herein somewhat resembles it. I’m doing it all for Christmas.
When I decided to move 1000s of miles away from my family and live the professional life, I recognized a deep dark hole in my holiday season. The holidays are meant to spent with the family, gathering about in funky clothing, before the yule log, sipping egg nog and smelling piney air. I miss all of that specter.
From my 512 square foot condo, I am a man restrained. I cannot lug a tree from the lot; I cannot set lights in my window. I have become deprived of the most festive season of all.
Well, it’s not happening again. I have decided to fight back with a furious celebration of Christmas in a glass. That’s right – 30 days of Christmas beer.
Starting on Thanksgiving, I began a 30 day journey through holiday-inspired brew. We have many fine choices up here in the Northwest, and I intend to get to them all. Of course, many nights will be filled with my old faithful – Great Lakes Christmas Ale – but I am making a concerted effort to diversify the intake.
At the conclusion, I promise to post a ranking list of my favorites. I will be ranking these beers based both on their ability to harness Christmas in a glass (style) and their ability to put me in the holiday spirit (quality).
If you are drinking Christmas beer – let us know! Happy Holidays from your friends at BeerBlotter.com.
With 5 days left until Christmas, Beer Blotter wants to dedicate the majority of the posts this week to Christmas and Winter beers. Since these styles are limited to production and distribution only during the winter season, take notes this week and stock up on your “Winter Warmers” and Christmas Ales!
Generally winter beers consist of old ales, strong ales, barleywines, stouts and strong lagers. Roubust in flavor and thick in body, these beers are guaranteed to ease the sting of the winter nights.
Review from 4/12/08 of the ’06 release:
An ale brewed with spices (coriander, orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon) and vanilla beans. Brownish, orange color with lots of sediment. Bright around the edges. A thin wisp of foam on top and pleasant, above average carbonation. A sour orange scent lies in the forefront, but the spices are evident. The nose is just sublime. A dryness is found on the palate after the swallow, but the fluid itself has a silky mouthfeel. A citrus smack will squeeze the corners of your mouth. Drying and sour seems like a strange combination, but it works here. Moments after the swallow a taste of unleavened bread comes to mind…yeasty. Extremely unique and delicious brew from a far off land.
Alaskan Brewing Co.
Review from 1/19/08 of the ’07 release:
An English style old ale brewed with Sitka spruce tips. Pours a bright amber hue with minimal head but serious stickage. If any scent of malts or spruce exists, it’s very faint, or masked by the cool temperature, but once the liquid interacts with the tongue it’s a completely different tale. Candy sugar infused with evergreen trees. The uniqueness of this beer makes it one that I couldn’t drink in quantity…maybe that’s why it’s a seasonal. Alaskan Brewing is one of those breweries that isn’t very glamorous. They have fairly bland label designs and rarely have special releases, but any time you grab one of their brews you know it will be solid, if not outstanding. Without a doubt, a stalwart member of the Northwest brewing community.
Goose Island Beer Co.
Review from 11/24/09:
Light brown in the glass with great clarity and a frothy white head that lingers. Though the brewery calls this a brown ale I immediately smell what I would determine to be Belgian yeast. A nice dose of malts; bready with a little dab of fruitiness. No hop profile to be found. A bit boozy when it warms despite the low ABV. The brewery recommends aging this one, again, despite the low abv. A curious holiday brew indeed…I’ll have another.
Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Review from 12/04/09:
A holiday ale brewed with honey and spiced with fresh ginger and cinnamon, this beer’s flavors surface at first taste. There is no disguising the festive spices associated with the holiday season. The cinnamon is prevalent in the scent of this Christmas Ale. It is light in body and crisp in flavor. Surprisingly refreshing and balanced with no “alcohol” residue from taste to swallow. For some, this is the quintessential Christmas beer due to the spices used and the “drinability” aspect. We recommend drinking this beer at room tempurature. In other words, take it out of the fridge, let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes in a glass and drink away. Perfection!
Stay tuned this week as Beer Blotter reviews and recommends beers for the holiday season. What a wonderful time of the year! For all those who are traveling to see loved ones this week, have a safe trip. Flying Virgin Airlines? 21st Amendment’s Brew Free or Die IPA is available in cabin!