Friday, December 29, 2017

War of the Christmas Novelty Ales 2017

Here we go again! I'm having a harder time finding beers I haven't had before, as in these lists from previous years:

Winter White Ale by Bell's Brewery (5% Alcohol/Volume)--The bottle's label says, "Bell's(r) Winter White (tm) Ale is a bright alternative to dark and heavy winter seasonal beers. This stylish and refreshing wheat ale is fermented with Belgian yeast, yielding a mix of clove and fruity aromas without the use of any spices. An ideal beer from embracing winter." I suppose winter does have that interesting contrast between the darkness of the shortened days and the lightness of the snowy ground. Most brewers do go for the warming dark and roasty flavors. So this beer gets points for going in a different direction. But I have to be honest--this is just a wheat beer with a seasonal label on it. I like wheat beers a lot, so I liked the beer. But there's nothing seasonal about it other than the label.

Sleigh'r Winter Ale by Ninkasi Brewing Company (7.2% Alcohol/Volume)--The label says, "Seize the season with Seigh'r. Layers of deeply toasted malt are balanced by just enough hop bitterness to make it deceivingly drinkable. Paired with a dry finish, Sleigh'r is anything but your typical winter brew." The ale is dark with a start of spiceness that quickly turns to bitterness. I like the initial flavor, but the "dry finish" has too much bitterness that lives on too long after I've swallowed. The beer is an interesting experience but not one that I would call enjoyable.

2XMAS Spiced Double Ale by Southern Tier Brewing Company (8.0% Alcohol/Volume)--The label only says, "BREWED with ORANGE PEELS, GINGER ROOT, CARDAMOM, CINNAMON, FIG PASTE, and CLOVES." The website is more verbose: "Swedish flags are a fairly common sight in our part of the country [Lakewood, New York]. Holiday parties often have warm concoctions of spices and booze at the ready to knock the ice off of toes while raising spirits. We were inspired by a 'Glögg' party, deciding on the spot to brew a beer that pays tribute to this Nordic tradition." The smell is nice if a bit on the potpourri side. The taste of all those spices is overpowering. I found this beer really hard to enjoy.

Jolly Traveler Winter Shandy by The Traveler Beer Company (4.4% Alcohol/Volume)--The label describes this beer: "Jolly Traveler is a cheerful winter beer inspired by the senses of the season. A wheat beer made with real orange, pomegranate and holiday spices, this Traveler is a refreshing libation for the season of festivity." The beer has a Tangy aroma (yeah, like that powdered drink astronauts drink). The taste is citrusy without being too fruity. The little kick of spice offsets the sweetness giving it a nice, if unusual, flavor. On the other hand, when I think of winter, orange and pomegranate are not the first things that come to mind...or even the twenty-first things. Sure, this is a refreshing and flavorful beer, but the winter memory it evokes is of heading to the tropics to get away from snowy weather. I like the beer but this is the wrong season for it. It's definitely a step up from White Winter Ale.

Winter Storm Imperial ESB by Heavy Seas Brewery (7.5% Alcohol/Volume)--The label says, "With a full ruby hue, rich malty character, and earthy hop aroma, Winter Storm is an original--an Imperial ESB for the winter months." I didn't know what an ESB is. The brewery website calls it "Extra Special Bitter," which is very close to an IPA. The flavor is certainly very similar, though not as bitter to me. So I like it better than an IPA but it would be far from my first choice of drinks. I think the only thing seasonal about this beer is that it comes out in the winter time, there's no holiday connection. I suppose it was poorly chosen on my part.

Noel by Goose Island Beer Company (9.5% Alcohol/Volume)--The label says, "A Belgian Style Dark Ale." Minimalism is not so bad...The web site says, "In Belgium, Noël beers were released at the end of the year as a special, limited release to thank loyal brewery customers for their support throughout the year. Goose Island Noël is an un-spiced Belgian-style, Dark Ale with balanced notes of caramelized sugar, toasted bread, black cherry, and dried apricot all in a warm, deep-mahogany body. This beer was brewed to celebrate the past year and toast the new year to come. From our brewers to you and yours, cheers and happy holidays." More verbose but nicely descriptive. The balance of sweetness to tartness is excellent and the flavor is rich. Readers know I love Belgian beers and this is another fantastic example of the best of Belgian brewing, even if it's made in Chicago. High marks.

Winter Ale by Blue Point Brewing Company (7.7% Alcohol/Volume)--Another very modest label: "Hearty, Robust Amber Ale." Again, the web site has more to say: "Our Winter Ale is a hearty, robust amber ale. We use pale, Vienna, crystal and chocolate malts to create a balanced character of malt and hops with just the right amount of spice to warm you up during the colder months." The spice is there but not overdone. The beer is a little too dry and bitter for my taste, but not so far off the mark as others. It does get points for the other part of the label that says, "Please remove bottle cap before drinking."--The Brewers

Didn't make it up

Christmas Ale by Bell's Brewery (7.5% Alcohol/Volume)--Finally, a label with some info on it! "This traditional Scotch Ale is rich and malty with notes of caramel and a warm finish. Certain to make any occasion festive, or at least a bit more bearable. Enjoy with the company of friends and family." Maybe the Scottish part is the "festive, or at least a bit more bearable"? The taste is malty with almost a hint of pine in the flavor, which sounds bad but tastes okay. Not great but not bad either.

Rude Elf's Reserve by Fegley's Brew Works (10.5% Alcohol/Volume)--The label tells us, "After being pestered by crazy workshop elves and celebrity reindeer, the Rude Elf found his true calling in Santa's brew house. He kept his edge and brewed a new Christmas legend for us all. Cheers! The Fegley Family". The holiday spices pop up big and bold but not rudely. The beer is still smooth to drink, like there's a caramel finish to sweeten the spice. This is a surprisingly good beer. Maybe the alcohol content has something to do with it?

Criminally Bad Elf by Ridgeway Brewing (10.5% Alcohol/Volume)The bottle says, "It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, of course-wrong place at the wrong time...but Claus was soon back on the street with the polite apologies of the authorities-no questions asked. All's well that ends well, surely, but still, the reporters wanted to takes its toll, doesn't it? 'Indeed,' sighed Claus, 'my elf is going crazy, and I fear I shall soon go crazy as well.' And with that he hoisted a great flagon of his favorite barleywine-style ale, silently contemplating the future and straining to remember why he got into this particular line of work in the first place." As a barley wine ale, this is original and flavorful.

I have to say this year's winner is Noel, though there were plenty of good beers in the group. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

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