Beer Snob: It's the most wonderful time of the Beer
Christmas is by far my favorite time of the year. The air is cold, the house is filled with Christmas music, stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and your family is driving your so damn crazy that you need a drink. The normal beer selection will not do at this time of the year. You need something a little heavier to deal with the cold temperatures and the screaming in-laws.
Yes, Christmas time brings out the best in beers. Ales brewed with honey and cinammon line my fridge and my liver. Winter warmers help to fight off the chill in your bones and in your kidneys. Brewers do their best to get that smile back on your face after you just stole the last Tickle Me Elmo from the hands of a 97-year old great grandmother of 37 because your three-year-old daughter told you that if she didn't get Elmo this year she would slide some strychnine into your morning coffee (kids grow up so fast these days).
We at Green Bean Conspiracy want to make sure that your beer can stand up to the rigors of a stressful holiday season so we present these recommendations of Christmas/Winter beers to enjoy on those extra cold nights.
21st Amendment Fireside Chat
21st Amendment Brewery out of San Francisco is one of the finer breweries in the United States. They excel at their beers and the artwork on each can. That's right, 21st Amendment doesn't bottle the beer but has a canning line. I know, I know, cans have traditionally been thought of as "low class". Well good reader, this isn't 1957. Cans no longer lined with iron, tin, plutonium and other metals that change the flavor of the beer and give you super powers. Our scientists have been working hard to solve our worlds problems such as cans that caused odd flavors in beer and erectile dysfunction so don't fear this beer.
This beer is the perfect example of a Christmas Beer. Fireside Chat is described as a winter spiced ale that is 7.9% ABV and a modest 45 IBUs. The base is an English-style ale to which the brewers add various spices and cocoa nibs to bring the perfect flavor. Each year's brew is different as the brewer improvises the level of spices added to the wort but each year's batch is as good as the last.
The artwork is wonderful and based on President Franklin Roosevelt's famous depression-era radio addresses. For those of you unaware, FDR hosted a weekly radio address during the Great Depression as a way to boost the morale to the nation. In the same way, this beer will boost your morale around the holiday season. The artwork on the can features FDR smoking a cigarette and chatting with an elf in front of a roaring fire. I love how the elf is subtly added to the can by simply showing the elf's legs poking out from behind the back of a chair.
Fireside Chat can be found at your local beer shop or at just about any local grocery store that carries even a modest number of craft beers. Pick up a six pack and enjoy this beer in front of a roaring fire. 5 out of 5.
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Great Lakes is my absolute favorite brewery. Rizzo and I first discovered Great Lakes on a trip to Cleveland for our annual viewing of A Christmas Carol in 2009. Great Lakes had not yet started distributing on the east coast so we were happy to try a local beer that we couldn't get at home. We had some time for lunch and drinks between our afternoon at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame and our theater time so we found ourselves at a Cleveland bar called the Winkin' Lizard. There will be more about our adventure in an upcoming blog about our A Christmas Carol trips but needless to say we fell in love with this beer and this brewery.
This Christmas Ale is an ale (what a shocker) that is brewed with fresh ginger, cinnamon, and honey to give the beer a wonderful spice. The beer still rides high with an ABV of 7.5% but has a lower IBU of 30 compared to other Christmas beers. The lower IBU takes away the bitterness that some other ales would offer and makes this drink the perfect beer for the season. Great Lakes Brewing recommends drinking this beer with roasted duck, spiced desserts, and ugly Christmas sweaters. I recommend drinking this beer with cheeseburgers, General Tso's chicken, friends, family, alone in a dark room, even first thing in the morning to replace your first cup of coffee. What I'm saying is that I love this beer. Perhaps it is sentimentality because of the history associated with drinking this beverage but I don't care. It is delicious and (in my mind) nutritious. If it was possible I would give this beer a 6 out of 5 but alas, only 5 stars are available.
Port City Tidings
Seeing as I am a big fan of Christmas beers in general so I never pass up a holiday brew. Port City tags this beer as "Not your typical holiday beer" and they are right. Tidings is a Belgian style blond ale brewed with honey (Maryland Wildflower Honey to be precise) and wheat (Virginia wheat to be precise). This combination makes this beer taste more like a higher alcohol wheat beer rather than a Christmas beer. In an attempt to try and "season" up the beer it is brewed with coriander, cardamom, and fresh ginger but I don't think it gave it enough of the "Christmas" spice that I truly love in a Christmas beer.
This isn't a bad brew but it also isn't what I'm looking for in a Christmas beer. This beer would probably make a delicious wheat beer if it was brewed without the extra spices. Instead, according to my taste buds, I find this beer to be an attempt to mix a wheat beer with a Christmas ale but it doesn't quite get either one right. Not bad but not great. I give this 7.8% ABV and 25 IBU beer 3 out of 5. I wouldn't turn it away but it isn't my favorite beer.
Evil Genius Santa!! I Know Him!
Evil Genius really grabbed the naming championship with this brew. For those of you unaware, this beer is named after one of the most famous lines from Elf when Will Ferrel proudly announces that he knows Santa. Great stuff.
The beer is just as exciting. Different from the other heavy, winter warmers that are common among Christmas beers, this Belgian-style ale is very light yet still spicy. According to the brewers website, this beer is brewed with rose hips, chamomile, black currants and dark Belgian candi syrup. I have no idea what a rose hip is; I thought chamomile was just a tea; black currants sound like something that Dr. Evil puts in the ocean to suck poor souls out to sea; and I'm pretty sure if it is spelled "candi" then it must be stripper.
Even with all these unusual ingredients the beer works. I found it to be very drinkable and a nice beer for these warm winter days (its almost 70 degrees as I write this). Rizzo thought that it tasted very "alcohol-y" but I didn't really get that taste. At 7.2% ABV it isn't the lightest beer on tap but it isn't so heavy as to match the alcohol flavor of a barley-wine. This is a perfectly good beer and one I'm sure to drink again. 3.75 out of 5.
Bell's Christmas Ale
Bell's is a well known commodity in the craft brewing marketplace. The Kalamazoo, MI brewery offers a wide array of beers for any taste. The brewers Two Hearted Ale is a mainstay in many bars and is very popular among those drinkers who enjoy an American-style IPA (I don't but I can say that it is a good representation of the style). Bell's Best Brown Ale (a style that I truly love) is a nice malty beer that is sure to be one that I select when it is available to me. That is why I was hoping that Bell's Christmas Ale would be a nice addition to the most wonderful time of the beer. Unfortunately, it wasn't.
Bell's Christmas Ale is unique for the season in that it isn't brewed with various spices to give it that known holiday flavor. This beer is brewed simply with traditional beer ingredients; malt, barley and hops. While I know that Bell's uses the freshest ingredients available, this beer seemed to be lacking for a Christmas offering. I can't say the beer was overly hoppy but it was bitter on the taste buds, especially near the end. It wasn't the bitterness that I dislike that is the trademark of a pale ale (something I feel I'm learning to identify even if I don't like it) but a bitterness from off flavors getting into the beer. I felt like the beer was almost flat; leading me to hope that perhaps this was simply a bottle that had been mishandled by the big box wine store where it was purchased. At 5.5% ABV the beer allows the drinker to have more than one and not be overwhelmed with the desire to take off their shirt, hop on the dining room table, and sing Felix Navidad to Grandma. Still, I would go with a different offering than Bell's Christmas Ale this holiday season. 2.5 out of 5.
Corsendonk Christmas Ale
The first time I had this beer was Christmas Eve 2012, at Oakton Wine Shop in Oakton, VA. I may not remember the tradition exactly, but I seem to recall that it was the tradition of the store to open up a giant magnum of this beer every Christmas Ever for the staff and customers that came in to visit on that day. It was as good then as it is now.
Located in Belgium, the brewery known as the Priory of Corsendonk follows the long tradition of Belgian Monks brewing beer heavy in malt flavor. The Christmas Ale is no exception. Heavy on malt flavors (it is brewed with three different types of malt) this beer is perfect for those beer lovers that want to avoid the hoppiness of pale ales. There are definite chocolate flavors and other spices that, as another review put it, "is reminiscent of the wonderful smells of holiday baking in Mom's kitchen".
As good as this beer is make sure to pay attention when making the purchase. The bottles come in the 8.5 oz variety which you may expect from a 10% plus barley-wine. However, since this beer runs at only 8.5% the bottle size only goes to deprive the drinker of the additional 3.5 oz you would get from your standard size beer. This beer is tasty enough to want that additional beer as well because it makes a nice dessert beer. 4.5 out of 5.
Now go out and grab yourself a nice delicious beverage to share with friends and family. Or just for drinking alone. Either way, you won't regret it.
P.S. You will notice that I call of these beverages a "Christmas Beer". This is not to fight the "war" on Christmas people. I don't care if Starbucks has stars and trees on the red coffee cups. I don't care if you wish me a Happy Holidays or a Merry Christmas or a Happy Kwanzaa or a Happy Chanukah. I love Christmas time, Christmas cheer, Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, and Christmas carols. That is why I call them Christmas beers. I mean no offense.