December 15th, 2010

The First Sip: Christmas Ale Stocking Sippers

Good tidings to you, fellow beer geeks! Allow me to give my obligatory proclamation of season’s greetings with a heartfelt Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! No matter what your choice of religious leanings allows you to celebrate this season, one thing we can all agree on is Holiday Christmas Ales!

The winter brings many great seasonal beers, and I’d love to write an article based solely on the cold weather offerings from different breweries, but I decided to focus on a few of the selections brewed specifically to celebrate the holidays!

Christmas ales are a great addition to your Christmas Eve or morning. There’s no judging here. It’s the holidays, after all. These beers will commonly offer some bold spiced flavors rounded out with an able backbone of caramel and malt. And, almost always, Christmas ales tend to tip the higher end of the ABV scale. After all, nothing says “Christmas cheer” like getting schnockered with the family. Let’s be honest, for some of you, that’s the only way to survive the Holidays…

So, without further ado, here’s a quick look at a few of the Christmas ales you can find here in Houston:

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Saint Arnold Christmas Ale
Unless you are living under a rock, if you live in Houston and like beer, you have probably given this beer a try. If not, I strongly suggest you go out right now and grab a six pack as it’s a fantastic Christmas ale!

Stylistically speaking, it is an “Old Ale”, also known as a “winter warmer”. This is a beer that is full bodied, heavy and full of flavor with, as the moniker suggest, a good charge of alcohol to help warm you up in the winter cold. Saint Arnold Christmas ale checks in at 7% ABV and is full of those wonderful flavors. The mix of bold caramel sweetness and the spiciness from the hops gives the beer a distinct holiday flavor that is hard to put down. Let the beer warm up a bit and all these flavors and aromas magnify to make a great drinking experience!

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Breckenridge Brewery Christmas Ale
This beer is also a winter warmer style ale, although the brewery refers to it as a “American Strong Ale”. Upon tasting it myself, I think it fits as an Old Ale just fine because it has those great caramel, nutty, malty flavors. I found this one interesting as it almost tasted as if it had been spiced with cinnamon and clove. Upon researching further, though, I found that those spice flavors were derived from the hops (American Chinook hops were used and could explain why Breckenridge Brewery decided to call this one an American Strong Ale).

Hops or spices… either way it was delicious! And with an ABV of over 7%, after just a few I was starting to warm up with some Christmas spirit! This one is has a little less body and fullness than the Saint Arnold Christmas, but that just makes it all the better for the beer novices out there.

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Abita Christmas Ale
Abita shakes things up with their Christmas Ale by coming up with a different recipe every year. According to their website, this year’s offering is an American Brown Ale. I’ll admit I haven’t had the 2010 version, but most reviews call the beer two dimensional and lacking in the full flavored spice characteristics typically found in a Christmas beer. The ABV sits at a manageable 5.5%, so if you’d like to keep your wits about you, it may be a good way to go. Though the reviews aren’t stellar, I can say with confidence that I’ve never had an Abita beer I didn’t like. It may not blow you away, but I don’t doubt the beer is a great session drinker.

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Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale
Like their Cajun brethren, Anchor also takes the liberty to annually change their Christmas Ale recipe (and label). Unlike the previous player, Anchor takes no shame in pumping their holiday offering full of flavor! The dark beer abounds with spices like spruce, evergreen and licorice complimented by floral and spicy hops.

The beer is another that is low on the ABV scale, only cracking 5.5%, but everything about this beer practically screams “winter wonderland”. Drink this one in a snifter glass and let it warm up a bit so you can make sure you get all those great aromas and flavors. Crack this one open and have a seat next to the fire for a yuletide sensation that’s tough to beat!

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Boulevard Brewing Nutcracker Ale
Once again, we have another winter warmer in Nutcracker. This deep amber beer clocks in at about 6% ABV and packs a load of flavor. Sugar additions lend a molasses undertone to the malt profile and some great, spicy hops make the bitterness really stand out. The website boasts “wet leaf Chinook” additions. Hops are considered “wet” when they are added to a beer directly from harvest without being dried and prepared at all. In addition to bitterness, this gives an earthy, vegetal flavor that really compliments the darker malts.

I definitely recommend this beer for you hop lovers out there who want to imbue your holidays with the bitter punch of raw hops!

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Saint Bernardus Christmas Ale
Rounding out the list is a beer brewed across the pond at Brouwerij St. Benardus in Watou, Belgium. This Belgian strong ale is just another example of everything that is wonderful about Belgian beers. First of all, if the 10% ABV doesn’t get you in the festive mood, then nothing will. But alcohol isn’t all this beer has going for it. This beer has a smooth and round mouthfeel that is loaded with flavors of fruit, vanilla and spice all rolled into one. A true Belgian treat for the season!

Serve this one in a traditional Trappist glass or a snifter and let it warm up and you will get a full gamut of Belgian beer perfection! Even better yet, buy a bottle, stash it in the back of your fridge and open it next year. The aging will allow all those flavors to meld and mature and by next year, you’re sure to have a Christmas miracle in your fridge!

So there you have it. However you celebrate and whatever you drink, make it memorable and enjoy it. You can drink your Bud Light some other day. It’s the holidays, so treat yourself!

HOPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!

— Jeff

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