Seasonal Beer Guides: Christmas [Beta]

Every late November an interesting thing happens in the realm of craft beer: breweries around the world trot out their end of year holiday releases. These beers tend to follow a similar pattern: big, heavy, warming and spicy beers to help us survive the holiday season and protect us from cooler weather. These beers allow brewers to break from their traditional styles and aggressively explore over-the-top flavors that they would be reluctant to present in their regular releases.

This Holliday Beer Guide is an ongoing work; as we try more beers we’ll add more to the guide. Our goal is to inform you, the consumer, on what we at The Beer Diaries think are the best holiday releases. We try and focus on beers that are broadly available; it’s impossible for us to try and sample every regional beer, and we know that you’re going to find local favorites that are even better than the ones we present here. You’ll see a heavy weighting to Belgian releases and this is largely because of the breadth of their availability, but we’ll also include beers that have national distribution (Canadian and American).

We’re also piloting a review system and are interested in your feedback.  The review levels, in descending order are: WORLD CLASS!!!, GREAT!!, GOOD!, OKAY, and POOR.  Another way of explaining the review system is that anything GOOD! and up is a beer you really should try in increasing urgency.  OKAY and POOR beers you may either want to be careful with, or simply avoid.

Finally, we’re going to continually append this guide and add new beers.  We’re going to wrap it up into a giant feature that we’ll present next year with new updates on our favorites.  This is our very first seasonal beer guide, so please, be gentle with us!

Anchor Brewing’s 2012 Holiday Release

Beer: Anchor Brewing Merry Christmas Happy New Year 2012

Brewery: Anchor Brewing

Origin: San Francisco, USA

Best Before: 10/2014

ABV: 5.5%

Ideal temperature: between cold and room temperature

Style: Winter Warmer

Rating: GOOD!

Every year Anchor comes up with a new Holiday beer with a different combination of spices and flavors.  Additionally, for you arborists out there, the bottle features a unique image of a coniferous tree.  Enough academics, let’s discuss the beer.

This beer is a spiced ale (another technical name is Winter Warmer); typically these are very malty beers with a robust combination of sweetness and added spices.  Think of a nice, rich and hearty ale that can keep you warm at night.

This pours a deep mahogany color with a big fluffy tan head. The nose shows some powerful spices: nutmeg and allspice, as well as some some bready/biscuity malt in the background.

The flavor demonstrates some light bitterness moving to intertwined pepper and raisin before it finishes with a return of the allspice and nutmeg.  The alcohol is well hidden (less of a “Warmer”) and its got a nice creamy/fluffy body counterbalanced by light carbonation.

As a widely available, yearly release this is something that everyone should try.  It’s definitely a tasty beer, not unlike Christmas Cake in a glass; share some with your friend and surprise them just how different this beer is than their usual fare.

Rated: GOOD!

Gouden Carols Christmas 2012

Beer: Gouden Carolus Christmas

Brewery: Het Anker Brewing

Origin: Belgium

Best Before: 29/08/15

ABV: 10.5%

Ideal temperature: between cold and room temperature

Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Rating: OKAY (Today)

Het Anker has reportedly been operating since the mid-15th century.  It has gone through multiple owners over the year and continues to produce delicious beers.  Their Gouden Carolus Classic, another Belgian Strong Dark Ale, is a veritable classic in the beer world.

Their holiday release, the Gouden Carolus Christmas is classified as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale.  It’s worth noting that this year’s release is likely different than prior releases based on historical reviews.  Tasting of this year’s offering likens it more to a maltier, sweeter Belgian Quadrupel.  Regardless of the classification, let’s talk specifics.

The Gouden Carolus Christmas pours a caramel color with ruby highlights with a thin tan head. On the nose this beer has a big banana character underpinned by anise (licorice).

On a first sip, this beer is exceptionally sweet; it explodes with overripe fruit, anise and sweet malts.  It’s very intense and concentrated and the finish is sweet, fruity and exceptionally juicy.  Even though it’s exceptionally sweet, it’s not syrupy, but it definitely does show some alcohol warming.

Honestly trying this beer today is a bit of a disappointment; it will be much too sweet and cloying for most drinkers and few people would be able to handle more than a wee dram.  Ideally a beer like this could be laid down for a couple years, and the yeast contained in the bottle would continue to consume the sugar to end up with a more balanced beer.  The 2011 vintages of this beer is drinking very well, but it’s hard to recommend this beer at this time.  If you have this, lay it down for a year or two.

Rated: OKAY (Today)

La Rulles Christmas Release 2012

Beer: La Rulles Cuvee Meilleurs Voeux

Brewery: Brasserie Artisianale De Rulles SPRL

Origin: Belgium

Best Before: 02/2014

ABV: 7.3%

Ideal temperature: between cold and room temperature

Style: Belgian Dark Ale

Rating: GOOD!

As far as I can tell this is a holiday beer since the character on the bottle is wearing the uniform of one of Santa’s Elves; he’s also giving my logo a bit of an eye, so I’m not sure what to think.  In spite of this I still drank the beer.

It’s classified as a Belgian Dark Ale; beers of this variety are usually more balanced than their brethren with a variety of possibilities of characteristics including floral, malty or hoppy flavors with finishes from dry to sweet and malty.  How does this compare?

This beer is deep brown in color, cloudy and sports a thick tan head that lingers for a while.  On the nose it’s primarily malty in its profile, with sweet malts backed by toasty and caramel notes.  The nose is actually quite subtle and leaves the taster curious about the actual flavors of the beer.

On tasting this beer one discovers that it’s surprisingly balanced with some mild initial bitterness quickly offset by some dark, roast malts.  There are some small hints of raisin in the background, and finishes very subtle with some slight herbal notes.  On observation, it would seem this should be a powerful beer, but it’s subtle and balanced.  The finish and mouthfeel is a bit rich and creamy, but there’s just enough carbonation to hold it together.

This is one of those unusual beers that doesn’t show any excessively powerful characteristics to define it, but its overall balance makes it quite tasty.  Historically this beer may have a bigger profile of dark fruits such as raisin, fig and plum, but this vintage is exceptionally balanced, and tasty as a result.

Rated: GOOD!

The 2012 Pere Noel; wrapped and unwrapped versions.

Beer: Pere Noel

Brewery: Brewery De Ranke

Origin: Belgium

Best Before: 09/2017

ABV: 7.0%

Ideal temperature: Cool

Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale

Rating: GOOD!

This is an interesting entry as a holiday or Christmas ale as it doesn’t follow the usual characteristics of being big, malty and sweet and instead fairly closely follows the Belgian Strong Pale Ale style.  These are sometimes also called Golden Ales, due to their appearance, but don’t be fooled; they can be powerful and alcoholic, and can often have floral and mild malty  profiles or even well-hopped and muscular characteristics.

The Pere Noel is clearly a very effervescent beer that pours a robust, cloudy golden beer with a fluffy two-finger head.  On the nose it’s fairly subtle with slight grassy hops, floral notes and toasted malts.  One can’t help but expect a mild beer based on the nose.

The flavors are lovely and direct; it’s got a clean simple taste without excessive bitterness, some ripe fruit in the mid-palate and a finish with pepper and biscuity malt.  It’s nicely balanced and very easy drinking.  Its body is light with moderate carbonation that imparts a slightly creamy character.  In spite of the 7% ABV there’s practically no alcohol warming.

As noted at the outset this beer is slightly unusual for a holiday release as it doesn’t follow the usual rich flavor characteristics but instead is a subtle Golden Ale in every sense; it’s balanced and tasty.  This would be great to drink practically any time of the year.

Rating: GOOD!

Muskoka’s 2012 Winter Beard Double Stout

Beer: Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout 2012

Brewery: Muskoka Brewery

Origin: Ontario, Canada

Best Before: Late 2014

ABV: 8.0%

Ideal temperature: between cold and room temperature

Style: American Double Stout

Rating: GREAT!!

While this beer technically isn’t a holiday release, it’s definitely a Winter beer that’s been released for the holiday season.  And with the inclusion of Cranberry, it’s hard to keep it out of this article.  It appears to be defined best as an American Double Stout; these beers tend to be big and robust, chocolatey with some residual sweetness.  That really defines this beer to a “T”; let’s discuss.

This Double Stout pours an absolutely solid black with just a hint of head just at the edge of the glass.  On the nose it’s all chocolate, smoke and coffee; it’s a showcase for powerful dark roasted malts.

With a powerful stout one often expects a powerful bitterness, but this beer is ultra smooth and silky with a delightfully sweet finish.  It’s not overly sweet, and has a light fruitiness counterbalanced by an earthy bitterness.  There’s lots of chocolate in the finish, but strangely almost no obvious cranberry.  It’s powerful and it abides… on your palate.

This was really the surprise of the set for me; it’s strong, silky smooth and exceptionally easy drinking.  It will keep you warm on a chilly night, but it’s not boozy or overpowering.  If you live in Canada, this is a beer you must try… immediately!

Rating: GREAT!!

Watch for more entries here shortly.  We’ll be doing our best to keep you up to date on the holiday releases!

4 comments on “Seasonal Beer Guides: Christmas [Beta]

  1. drew says:

    Great awesome deliciousness for my holidays!

  2. DoktorZee says:

    Indeed – that is the idea. Going to be putting a bunch more up shortly.

  3. virtualxi says:

    Definitely agree with the winter beard! Had one last year and couldn’t believe how smooth it was. What do you think of the Muskoka Harvest Ale? Another suggestion would be to check out Big Rock’s ‘Barghest Barleywyne’. LTD run 9.5% ABV, another one I would suggest cellaring for a little while.

    • DoktorZee says:

      Winter Beard is very good this year as well; I highly recommend it. I haven’t had the Harvest Ale; I’m relatively new to Muskoka (just had their Mad Tom IPA, which was excellent). I’ll definitely try and find it as I’ve found their beers to be very good.

      I have a bottle of the Barghest, but I tend to like laying down my barleywines for a while before I drink them. I’ll try that in a year or two…:)

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