Thursday, December 22, 2011

[Real Detroit Weekly] Christmas Ales

All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

Christmas ales: a time-honored tradition for brewers for centuries. The following is the result of two solid weeks of Christmas ale binging. Do not try this at home.

Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza
This. THIS beer. This is the beer. There is no other beer. Just this one. Figgy and delicious, this Belgian strong dark ale is one of JP’s signature sours with lots of raisin and rum-soaked plum, maybe even a bit of molasses. If you drink one Christmas ale this year, make it this.

Delirium Noel
Basically it’s Delirium Nocturnum with a barely-noticeable Christmas twinge. It’s a great beer, because Nocturnum is a great beer, but not overtly Christmasy.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
Second only to Noel de Calabaza is Christmas ale awesomeness, this is a whopper at 10% ABV and it is malty and spicy and figgy and plumy and chocolatey and boozey and tremendous. WAY too easy to drink at that high of an ABV. Was St. Bernardus the patron saint of drunks?

Petrus Winter #9 Ale

Holy heavy. As a Belgian strong dark ale, this one is comparatively weak at 6.5% ABV (compared to 9% from all the others listed here). But its flavor is fully funky Belgian yeast with everything else in the background, making it hard to drink even for the biggest fans of Belgian strongs.

Affligem Noel
Another Belgian strong dark ale, this one is a little easier-drinking with more noticeable fruit and spice. But still more a Belgian strong dark ale than anything else.

Wittekerke Winter White Ale
Unlike the majority of others on this list, this is a white ale but that doesn’t mean it’s weak (7.5% ABV notwithstanding). The spices are similar to a hefeweizen—clove, banana, lots of bready yeast, slightly floral. Easier to drink than the Petrus or Affligem, but very bold for a white.

Sierra Nevada Celebration
If you like the taste of cat piss, you’ll like this beer. Otherwise stick to something a little less hop-heavy.

Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale
There is just the faintest whiff of anise here, giving this very smooth dark ale a distinctive uniqueness … whether you like that uniqueness or not is entirely subjective, as the black licorice flavor of anise tends to be very divisive for different palates.

Bell’s Christmas Ale

A surprisingly boring beer from Bell’s. Sorry, but it’s true. Malty malty malty and not much else … it’s not that it’s a bad beer, it’s just not a particularly good beer either, and with all of the other stellar seasonal offerings available right now this one is just a waste of drinking space.

Great Lakes Christmas Ale
It’s a bit hard to come by this year but there’s a few places around who have it on tap so if you come across it, take advantage (Slows did at one point). This is just a happy holiday ale, Christmasy and delightful. Basically a well-balanced red ale with holiday spice like cinnamon sticks and ginger, this is a great go-to holiday beer that is just plain cheery.

Alba Scots Pine Ale
Okay, while technically not a Christmas ale but a tripel-style ale brewed with pine, this deserves to be highlighted just for superiority alone. Plus, you know, pine—that’s pretty Christmasy (though it is available year-round). This is a beautiful beer: sweet, caramely, roasted malt with hints of dark fruit and spice rounded out smoothly with subtle pine. Totally unexpected, and worth the $3.49 price tag for one 12-oz. bottle.

Harpoon Winter Warmer
Inevitably when one does a crash-tasting of any one particular variety of anything, one of those things is just going to sort of get lost in the memory of the melee. This was that beer. Pleasant enough but largely forgettable.

Ridgeway Brewing Reindeer Droppings
The smell is a bit off-putting; kind of reminiscent of a macro lager. It’s a light-drinking beer, a little more malt-forward with only the slightest linger of clean hops at the end. Pretty boring compared to the Belgians, but comparatively easier-drinking.

Originally published here.