Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Christmas Special - Our 12 Beers of Christmas

We've sampled many Christmas beers this season and we have our select few that have made the cut. There are many other excellent Holiday Beers/Winter Warmers/Christmas Beers available, but these are simply the ones we've tried this year.

Check out this year's 12 Beers of Christmas list from EXPECT ODD THINGS:

# 12. Rogue - Santa's Private Reserve Ale
Portland's Rogue Ales produces what we believe to be the best bottle design for any of the Christmas ales. However this countdown isn't about bottle styles, its a Christmas Beer Countdown. Although the first two mentioned due tend to catch your eye in the store if nothing else. Rogue Ales' Santa's Private Reserve is their annual offering to all of us Santas out there buying gifts for the whole family at this time of year. Their website states, "Rogue’s annual holiday offering, Santa’s Private Reserve, is a variation of the classic Saint Rogue Red, but with double the hops - including Chinook, and Centennial, and a mystery hop called Rudolph by head brewer John “more hops” Maier."

# 11. Goose Island - 2009 Christmas Ale 
Chicago-based Goose Island Beer Company produces their annual specialty with a different recipe from last year and thus provides excitement to each year's batch. This beer provided a sour first taste, but followed to be a less than stellar brown ale with spices. But just because we're not fans of this year's batch doesn't mean that next year's will be just as bad. Goose Island Beer Company is apart of the Craft Brewers Alliance with Widmer Brothers, Redhook, and Kona Brewing Company. This bottle has one of the better themed labels on this year's list. But that was only enough to move it up one spot, where it sits at number eleven.

# 10. Samuel Adams -Winter Lager
Boston Beer Company's Samuel Adams brand's standard winter beer is Winter Lager, it is also their most widely available winter offering. It is their seasonal offering for the winter months, November through January. Their Winter Lager is described by their website as "The warm aroma of cinnamon and ginger which blends with the roasty sweetness of the malted barley and hint of citrus from the orange peel ... Samuel Adams® Winter Lager is rich and full bodied, robust and warming, a wonderful way to enjoy the cold evenings that come with this season."

# 9. Anchor - 2009 Christmas Ale
Anchor Brewing is in their 35th year brewing their "Christmas Ale." Ever since 1975 they have been brewing this 'secret' recipe altering ever so slightly year to year. On any given year they'd be happily gracing the Top Five on this list, however, this year they were a little too malt happy for my liking, leaving a dry aftertaste. This year we picked up the magnum, and shared it with friends. Upon presenting it they were SHOCKED to find out that the contents were not champagne or some hard liquor, but BEER?! So pick up a Magnum of Anchor Christmas Ale, let it age for a year and see if this year's ale is better with some aging.

# 8. Full Sail - Wassail Winter Ale
This beer takes its name from the old tradition of visiting homes, singing songs and requesting their best holiday beer, wassailing, remember that song? Try a beer of the same name. Full Sail Brewing Company from Hood River, Oregon brews a rich but not overpowerring Wassail Winter Ale and has been since 1988. Their website describes the beer as, "A deep mahogany color, Wassail is brewed with four different malts and a blend of Pacific Northwest hops, giving it a malty full body and a pleasantly hoppy finish that appeals to both hop and malt lovers alike. In other words, a Christmas miracle."

7. Samuel Smiths - Winter Welcome Ale
The British brewery Samuel Smith's is not to be confused with the Boston Beer Company's Samuel Adams line. This brewery located in  Tadcaster, Yorkshire, England makes an excellent family of beers including an Organic Ale and Lager. After cellaring for a year, their 2008-2009 Winter Welcome had sweet notes that had significantly lessened the spicy notes of the beers. While officially holiday beers have no classification, they are supposed to have some spicy aromas according to the Beer Judge's Certification Program (BJCP) Guidelines. Either way, I prefer my brews with more malt and hop flavors than provided. Their website describes their Winter Welcome Ale as, "honey-amber-colored, creamy head of small bubbles, floral aroma and delicious malt flavor with great finesse."

# 6. Samuel Adams - Holiday Porter
Samuel Adams produces a flavorful porter. Many consider Alaskan Smoked Porter to be a holiday beer, but it is brewed and available year-round, thus removing it from the Holiday beer category. Only beers specially brewed for this time of year can be considered. That said, Sam Adams' Holiday Porter is a rich and fairly accurate representation of the porter style. I was a little shocked of the complexity produced by the Boston Beer Company in this ale. Pick up a Sam Adams Winter Classics 12-Pack and create your own Sam Adams Black & Tan with this and a Boston Lager.

# 5. Deschutes - Jubelale 2009
Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon is my second favorite overall brewery to Stone (who doesn't make seasonal brews) and they produce a hoppy winter ale known as Jubelale. Deschutes don't disappoint with this 1990 GABF Gold Medal Winner for Strong Ales. Their website describes this beer as, "Brewed with dark crystal malt creating a luscious holiday note with bountiful hops to excite your taste buds— it’s easy to see why Jubelale is the perfect complement to the season."

# 4. Schloss Eggenberg - Samichlaus
Samichlaus, produced in Austria by the Schloss Eggenberg Brewery is brewed on only one day a year. Every on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day, the brewery produces this beer and lets it ferment for 10 months before bottling it and releasing it around Halloween. The name Samichlaus itself is Swiss-German for Santa Claus. This beer isn't cheap and can run as high as $20 for a four-pack of 12 ounce bottles. However, don't let the price deter you from the greatness that is Samichlaus, a beer that has one of the highest alcohol contents of any beer, 14% surpassing that of many wines.

# 3. Samuel Adams - Old Fezziwig Ale
Samuel Adams produces a Winter Classics pack featuring several winter beers to enjoy as the snow falls. It includes their Boston Lager, Winter Lager, Black Lager, Cranberry Lambic (poor attempt at a lambic), Holiday Porter, and this Old Fezziwig Ale. Old Fezziwig Ale is a very well spiced, and brewed beer perfect for warming you on a winter's day. The beer is named after Ebenezer Scrooge's old boss from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." It goes great with spiced ham, turkey & stuffing or equally as well with a slice of pumpkin pie.

# 2. New Belgium - 2° Below
Fort Collins, Colorado is home to America's #3 craft brewer, New Belgium Brewing Company. Each winter New Belgium begins offering this seasonal brew for all of us to enjoy. They are run by President and CEO Kim Jordon, and yes that's a woman. She is married to the brewer's founder Jeff Lebesch and was the brewery's first sales rep, bottler, marketer, distributor and she ran the books as well. Try this excellent beer that their website describes as, "Dry hopping during fermentation creates a floral nose with a hint of pepper and spicy, subtle undertones. 2° Below provides a bright, hoppy palate and a cheery warm afterglow."

# 1. Sierra Nevada - Celebration Ale
I believe we're on case number seven or eight of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale here at EXPECT ODD THINGS Headquarters, and we plan to have at least two more for our New Year's celebrations. This hop-happy beer from Sierra Nevada has complex flavors that increase with each sip. The intense malt flavors wash over your mouth as you savor some of the hop bitterness in the back of your palate. For my money there is not another Holiday beer that I would enjoy more either on Christmas morning, after a long day shoveling the driveway, or simply anytime of the year for that matter. Crack open a Celebration Ale and on the count of three say cheers.

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So skip the milk and cookies this year and make it a Beer and Brownies! Also, remember that many of these beers can be cellar-aged to be enjoyed next year, year to come or to be pulled out for fun with friends in the middle of June.



  1. No Belgians? Blasphemy! Scaldis Noel, Gouden Corolus Noel, Delerium Noel, St Bernardus Xmas.......

    Even Great Lakes Christmas? German Eisbocks (Kulmbacher, Avintinus, Ayinger? hahaha.. not that the ones you posted aren't drinkable or anything :)

    Happy holidays and many Cheers!

  2. I would have loved to have featured those if I could find them. I tried to find Delerium Noel but no luck. And the others we don't get here, kind of like you don't get Deschutes Jubelale. Simply a matter of distribution. Write up Mike D's 12 Beers of Christmas, I'd love to see your list.

  3. I had read Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews by Don Russell before writing this and had read many reviews on several holiday beers worldwide. I tried to find many of them, but couldn't. I have a more specialty store that I have yet to search, I'm sure there are a bunch there. Here is the Amazon link to the book (we just got it from the library) -

  4. If you make your way to Buffalo this week, check out The Village Beer Merchant on Elmwood Ave, Premiere Gourmet on Deleware Ave, and Consumers Beverages (multiple locations) and Wegmans isn't bad either.