Monday, December 26, 2016

War of the Christmas Novelty Ales 2016

Another year, another sampling of seasonal servings! For previous wars, see below:
Here are this year's contenders:

Naughty Egg Nog Ale by Flying Dog (8.4% Alcohol/Volume)--Flying Dog Brewery usually puts out a Naughty and a Nice ale for the Christmas holiday season. The Nice ale is called "Holiday Milk Stout," which sounds a lot less interesting than Egg Nog Ale, so Naughty wins out this year as far as sampling. The label's description is not very impressive: "Ale brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla with natural flavors." The spices come out quite nicely but not a noggish taste (except for some strong bourbon flavor). The bold flavor makes it more of a "drink by itself" rather than a beer to pair with food. Makes a nice, spicy dessert drink.

Scaldis Noel by Brasserie Dubuisson (12% Alcohol/Volume)--This Belgium seasonal ale has a short description on the label: "Brewed especially for the Christmas period, Scaldis Noel, is a brilliant red amber ale that will delight the most demanding connoisseurs." Well, I'm not a demanding connoisseur. Nevertheless, I am delighted with this ale. It has warmth and spiciness with a smooth aftertaste. Belgium does it again!

Christmas Ale by Abita Brewery--This Louisiana brew is too modest to admit its alcohol content on the website or the label. As for a description, according to the label, "Each year at the Abita Brewery we craft a special dark ale for the holiday season. Then, Papa Noel harnesses up his team of gators and makes this special delivery. The recipe changes each year so that Abita Christmas Ale is always the perfect gift." The dark ale has the mild bitterness of many dark beers. I find it crisp but not very satisfying--the beer is just a shade too bitter with nothing (special flavor or spiciness) to make up for it.

Chanukah, Hanukkah Pass the Beer by Shmaltz Brewing Company (8% Alcohol/Volume)--The label says it all--"COME ON BUBBE, LIGHT MY FIRE! No matter how you spell it, you now hold the official Chosen Beer of this holiday season. Enjoy Chanukah, Hanukkah Pass the Beer while celebrating all the miracles of the 8 crazy nights. We hope our fermented creation will bring some light to the winter darkness and pair perfectly with the latkes, chocolate gelt, and the battle royale of dreidels. Pass some Hanukkah Beer over to your favorite friends and family and delight in the warming of the seasons. L'Chaim! Jeremy Cowan, proprietor." The golden ale is brewed with cocoa nibs, making it a nice with gelt or St. Nicholas chocolate coins. The chocolate flavor is just a hint, but enough to make this beer something different. I like it but it is not outstanding (other than the name).

Brrr Hoppy Red by Widmer Brothers Brewing (7.2% Alcohol/Volume)--According to the label, "Brrr is a one-of-a-kind winter warmer. Generously hopped, Brrr's citrusy hop aroma and smooth bitterness exemplify the northwest-style red ale. 'Tis the season to warm up with a cold one." Judging by this brew, there's not much difference from a northwest-style red ale and and an India pale ale, which for me means too much bitterness to be properly enjoyable. The drink doesn't have any wintery flavors about it, so it has nothing to compensate. As it is neither seasonally festive nor to my taste, this ranks very low.

Schlafly Christmas Ale by The Saint Louis Brewery (8.0% Alcohol/Volume)--The label is delightful straight-forward: "Schlafly Christmas Ale is a warming winter ale that blends the spices of the season with sweet caramel malt." It does indeed have have a festive spiciness that doesn't overwhelm the sweetness of the malt. The blend of bitter and sweet is masterful and makes this an excellent choice for a holiday beer.

Gouden Carolus Noel by Brewery Het Anker (10.5% Alcohol//Volume)--This bottle has the most long-winded of any: "Gouden Carolus Noel brewed exceptionally for Christmas by the Anker Brewery, established in Mechelen since 1471, and one of the classic Belgian breweries. This very special Belgian ale is brewed using traditional methods and a recipe with top fermentation. Its high gravity gives this ale its warmth and body. It improves with age and will charm you with its warm, coppery colour and its rich bouquet." In truth, the color is darker than copper; its bouquet is potent and spicy. The flavor is striking, with a good blend of bitterness and creaminess. It definitely stands on its own, meaning it is better as a lone drink rather than paired with food.

10 Degrees Below Ale by Scuttlebutt Brewing Company (7.4% Alcohol/Volume)--The label doesn't do any bragging about this beer. It's a fine dark ale with a hint of bitterness. I liked it but the brew doesn't have any holiday flavors or feeling. The scarf-wearing polar bear on the label is fairly charming.

White Christmas by Samuel Adams (5.8% Alcohol/Volume)--This label is much more expressive than the last one: "Ale brewed with spices." It does taste like a Sam Adams beer with a little spice thrown in, so you can't argue. As a beer, it hovers in between the Naughty and Nice list--it has no particularly great or particularly terrible qualities about it. A bit of a ho-hum ending to this year's war of the Christmas novelty ales.

It's a tough call this year, but I think Schlafly wins out over the two Noels.

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