Yule Smith Winter

| No Comments

Somehow, Alesmith makes two different beers that are both named Yule Smith. And one of them comes out in the summer. Now, the word "Yule" is derived from a Germanic winter festival that was absorbed by Christmas (one of many such occurrences), so the summer one doesn't really make much sense unless you consider the dubious holiday of Christmas in July an event worth celebrating. Then again, if it's an excuse to make good beer, who am I to complain?

What we have here, though, is the actual Christmas version of the beer. Apparently both varieties are hoppy, imperial ales, with the summer incarnation being a DIPA and this winter one being an imperial red ale. In my recently formulated hierarchy of holiday beers, this one represents category three - the do whatever the hell you want and call it holiday beer approach. I guess red is a color associated with Christmas, so there's that.

Alesmith Yule Smith Winter

Alesmith Yule Smith (Winter) - Pours a dark reddish brown color with a finger of whitish head. Smells strongly of sweet, fruity hops. Maybe even a little pine. Taste starts very sweet, with some of that hoppy fruit and sticky pine. Then you get a small dose of bitterness. Nothing overpowering, but it's prominent. A nicely balanced beer. Body is full, and you get that sticky resin feeling too. Overall, I find this quite enjoyable and the strong hoppy character was a welcome change of pace. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip on 12/16/11.

As it turns out, this was my first Alesmith beer. And it's made a good impression too, so much so that I think my next homebrew might end up being an imperial red. Anyways, I'll definitely want to pick up some of the summer Yule Smith, and I know folks seems to love the Speedway Stout as well.

Ølfabrikken Jule Ale

| 2 Comments

I've been drinking and reviewing lots of holiday beer recently, so I thought I'd take a step back and think about what makes a holiday beer a holiday beer. There are, of course, no easy rules for holiday beers, but there are a few approaches that seem to work really well.

Approach the first: spice the hell out of it. This is usually done to a style that focuses on malts. The spices and malts lend a warming sensation (hence the "Winter Warmer" style). Approach the second: make it stronger. This seems to be a Belgian thing. Oh, it's Christmas? Let's make our dubbel, but give it 3% more alcohol. That'll be fun. Of course, Belgian beers are often spiced and those distinctive Belgian yeasts also contribute some spicy character to beer, so there is that too. What you end up with is a spicy, malty, boozy treat, and with all the alcohol, you can really get that warming sensation going.

Then there's approach the third: do whatever the hell you want! This is typified by Sierra Nevada's Celebration, in which they just decided to do a strong, hoppy, reddish IPA thing and slapped a holiday label on the bottle. Nothing particularly festive about it, but it somehow manages to work anyway (we're going to see at least one more of these before the year ends).

I tend to prefer approach 2 (see: Ommegang Adoration, Affligem Noel, St. Bernardus Christmas, etc...), but approach 1 has its charms as well (see: Anchor's Christmas Ales and my own take on the style). The third category has some wonderful beers, but I also don't find much holiday charm in there either.

Anywho, browsing the international section of State Line Liquors, I spotted this bottle from Ølfabrikken and bought it on a whim (insert nerdy joke about the null set here). As it turns out, this is a beer of the first approach, and one of the finer examples of that style:

Olfabrikken Jule Ale

Ølfabrikken Jule Ale - Pours a dark reddish brown color with a finger or so of quickly disappearing off-white head. The aroma is great. Rich malts, bready yeast, some spiciness, and even some piney hops. The taste isn't quite as complex as the nose, but there's still a lot to enjoy here. Sweet malt backbone, some of that spiciness, and a fair amount of hop character. Not a ton of bitterness, but the fruity, piney hop character flavors are certainly there. Mouthfeel is a little strong to start, but it mellows out as it warms. Overall, a very well executed beer, and a nice change of pace from the throngs of normal winter warmers. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled ( bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/16/11.

So I had never heard of Ølfabrikken before, but now that I've had this, I'm interested in sampling more of the Denmark brewer's offerings. Indeed, Dave seemed to really enjoy their porter, which only makes me want to take another trek down to Maryland to get me some...

Maudite

| 2 Comments

I know what you're thinking. This isn't a holiday beer! Well, it is one of Unibroue's year-round brews, but the story behind it is rather interesting. The word "Maudite" means "damned", and the story follows a group of French-Canadian woodsmen who made a deal with the devil to make it home by Christmas by flying their canoe (this is apparently a variation on a class of flying canoe legends). One of the woodsmen broke the pledge, and thus the canoe plunged to the ground. Pleasant story, eh? For a more detailed telling of the legend in a funny French-Canadian accent, check out the video on Unibroue's website. Anyway, let's drink this thing:

Unibroue Maudite

Unibroue Maudite - Pours a deep orange brown color with a lot of white head. Aroma is full of peppery Belgian yeast and dark fruits. Taste is very sweet, lots of that fruitiness coming through strong. Plenty of spiciness here too, and no real bitterness at all. Extremely well balanced taste here. Mouthfeel is a little on the harsh side (in a good way). In the past, I've always found this beer to be undercarbonated, but this time it seems just right. Overall, it's quite a nice beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/10/11.

Unibroue has one of the best year-round lineups out there, and this one is widely available and usually pretty cheap too. Well worth a try this holiday season!

Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper 2010

| No Comments

Yet another annual Christmas ale that is vintage dated with a different recipe every year. In this case, brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø is a bit of a perfectionist. It's not a completely new recipe every year, but he does make small tweaks with each iteration. Details on the changes are sparse, but they generally seem to involve the spicing. Previous incarnations featured spices like cocoa, cinnamon, and coriander, but the 2010 version I had recently was apparently made with bitter and sweet orange peels and nutmeg. This sounds like it would be a big difference, but this is a huge, 10.9% ABV Belgian Strong Dark, so there's a big backbone to overcome. Like a lot of great Belgian beers, you can taste the complexity of the spicing, but you can't quite pick out what specific spices were used...

I bought this beer a while ago (early summer, perhaps?) and have been saving it for the holidays. So its time has come:

Mikkeller Santas Little Helper 2010

Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper 2010 - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger or so of light brown head. The aroma is very complex and quite nice. I'm picking up lots of vanilla, a little belgian yeast character and spiciness, maybe even some chocolate or roastiness. It smells like it will be full of rich flavors, and that is certainly born out in the taste. Sweet and spicy, with just a hint of that distinctive Belgian strong dark feel and spiciness. The twist here is the chocolate and roast flavors, which I typically don't love in my Belgian darks, but it's very well matched here. Just a hint of clean bitterness in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is full bodied but silky smooth. For such a strong beer, the booze is pretty well hidden. As it warms, it seems less Belgian and more Imperial Stout. Overall, a fantastic, well balanced but complex beer and a candidate for best Holiday beer of the year (though there are still some heavyweights to come)... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 12/10/11.

Well, I liked it enough that I picked up the 2011 version that same weekend, though I haven't drank that one yet. I doubt it will make it to next year though!

Sly Fox 2011 Christmas Ale

| No Comments

Well, what have we here? Another annual Christmas Ale with a recipe and label unique to that year? Well, don't mind if I do:

Sly Fox 2011 Christmas Ale

Sly Fox 2011 Christmas Ale - Pours a dark brownish red color with tons of billowy head. The smell is filled with spices (clove and ginger with a hint of cinnamon/nutmeg) and bready aromas. The taste starts with a carbonated bang, with the spices emerging quickly and some other flavors coming out a bit as the beer warms. But that mouthfeel is quite aggressive - carbonation is through the roof in the beginning, though it quickly smooths out in the relatively dry finish. If it weren't for the carbonation, I'd say this was a light to medium bodied beer, but the initial rush really does kick it up a notch. Not a revelation, but quite intriguing (and better than last year's variety, if I remember correctly)... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/9/11.

Seriously, this is like, what, the 4th Christmas beer I've had this year that is vintage dated with a new recipe every year? Not that I'm complaining (I actually rather like the switchups, though I could really go for a bottle of 3 French Hens right about now and that probably ain't gonna happen), but I did find it funny. My holiday beers this year have also skewed towards the winter warmery style, while last year was more of a Belgian Strong Dark affair. Well, I've got a few more posts in the pipeline and long weekend's worth a drinking ahead of me, so there's plenty of room for variety...

Winter Wünder

| No Comments

It's the umlaut that makes this beer. I just want to pronounce it vinter vunder as if I'm German (or, at least, an American poorly impersonating a German). In all seriousness, I have mixed feelings about Philadelphia Brewing Company. They make beers that I like in styles I don't normally go for (i.e. their Kölsch). But their takes on styles I do enjoy tend to be disappointing (i.e. their IPA or their Wit). None of their beers are outright bad or anything, but they are an unusual brewery, focusing more on sessionable ales than most craft breweries. But I figured I'd give this spiced holiday ale a shot:

Philadelphia Winter Wunder

Philadelphia Winter Wünder - Pours a clear, light orangish brown color with a finger or so of head. The aroma is sweet and quite spicy, especially with clove. The taste also features lots of spicing, though it seems a bit more diverse than the nose would have you believe (you can get more cinnamon and fruit out of it). Mouthfeel is a bit harsh and strangely carbonated. You get a rush of carbonation as you drink, but then it dissipates quickly. And yet it's got a bit of a dry finish. Very strange. Still, it's a decent beer. Not something I would probably rush to try or recommend, but certainly festive and enjoyable enough. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/3/11.

So this is about par for the course for the Philly Brewing Co. A solid beer, but nothing mind blowing. Still, they make a couple of higher gravity beers that I wouldn't mind trying... but that may take a while. Holiday beer reviews will continue for the near future...

Decembeer Club

| No Comments

Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. Tonight, we wondered why we don't do this more than once a month. We had a strange turnout this month. Lots of people, but really only 4 of us were drinking lots of beer (other folks bring wine or don't drink at all). Still, a good time was had by all, and we had a pretty nice selection of beers:

December 2011 Beer Club
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. As usual, conditions were not ideal, so take it all with a grain of salt. Actually, no. It's the final word on the subject. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the picture):

  • Harpoon Winter Warmer - A pretty straightforward winter warmer style beer. Not quite as dark as I'd expect, lots of holiday spices in the nose and taste. Decent, but nothing special... B-
  • Achouffe N'Ice Chouffe - Achouffe's holiday beer brewed with spices turned out to be a bit disappointing. Pours a nice brown color with a bunch of head and a nice Belgian aroma. But the taste is filled with sweet raisiny character that doesn't always work well for me. It got a little less powerful as it warmed up a bit. Very sweet and raisiny. A decent beer, but I expect more out of Achouffe... B-
  • Great Lakes Christmas Ale - It's got all the standard winter warmer characteristics, but it's also brewed with honey, and you really get that additional honey character in the taste. It makes this a somewhat unique brew, and it's actually well balanced. That being said, I've never been that big of a honey person, so it's still not knocking my socks off. B
  • Leinenkugel's Fireside Nut Brown - I've never been one for Leinenkugel's beers, and I don't think this was anything special, but it's a reasonably well executed brown ale with a nice nutty flavor. Not something I anticipate trying again, but it wasn't repugnant either. B-
  • Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale - I actually reviewed this last year and my thoughts on the beer have changed very little. A decent beer, but not something I'd go out of my way for...
  • Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager - My least favorite beer of the night, this one wasn't really offensive so much as it didn't really have much going for it. Flavors seemed a bit muted (especially considering the context of a beer tasting) and while it was crisp and clean, it just didn't do much for me. C
  • Goose Island Christmas Ale - ZOMG! It's a beer mostly owned by Anheuser Busch. I have a reflexive dislike for that, but then, this was actually one of the better beers of the night. A really well balanced and tasty winter warmer style beer. Hop flavors of pine and spruce dominate the palate, but it's not particularly bitter either, which is an interesting combination and everything is rather well matched. B+
  • Heavy Seas Yule Tide - A Belgian style tripel, this one doesn't really have much in the way of holiday spirit, but it's a decent strong pale ale. Typical Belgian yeast flavors are there, but it is extremely sweet. This worked fine for the limited portions of beer club, but to be honest, I'm positive this would become overly cloying if I tried to drink an entire bottle of the stuff. B-
  • My Homebrewed Christmas Ale - I've been trying these ever since I bottled it, but this particular bottle seemed a bit under-carbonated. My regular 12 ounce bottle sseem to be fine (I'm sipping on one right now, actually), but this 22 ounce bottle seemed a bit light on the carbonation. Not sure what to make of that, but it should hopefully work itself out by Christmas...
A few of the beers in the picture were not actually opened. We ended up using them as a sorta Holiday beer exchange/white elephant style gift for each other. Overall, we all had a good time and I'm already looking forward to the January edition of beer club. Until then, expect a whole slew of additional holiday beer reviews!

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale

| No Comments

Like Anchor's Christmas Ale, these are apparently vintage dated and feature new artwork on the label each year. Unlike Anchor, the recipe appears to be the same each year. While I haven't sampled a lot of Samuel Smith's catalog, what I've had so far has been uniformly solid stuff. No face melters, but really well executed examples of classic styles like oatmeal stouts and brown ales. As such, I was quite looking forward to this beer. Alas, my hopes were dashed.

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale - Pours a clear amber color, lighter than I'd expect, but with a nice couple fingers of head. The smell reminds me more of an English Pale Ale - light malts and grassy hops. The taste is also like an English Pale Ale. Light malts in the beginning with some buttery notes (typically not a good thing, but they're light here) and earthy hops coming out in the finish. Not a bitter bomb, but it's there. There's a slight spiciness to it, but it wouldn't surprise me if they got all that character out of yeast and hops. Mouthfeel is definitely a bit too light. It works well enough to start, but as I got towards the end, the carbonation was too low. It wasn't a bad beer, but it's not particularly in my wheelhouse either and it's not something I see myself revisiting anytime soon. C

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a, uh, glass. I mean, you can see the picture, right? I don't know what to call that glass. But I drank it on 12/2/11.

A disappointing effort from Samuel Smith, but I'm still a fan of their stuff and will most certainly be trying something else from them in the near future. Well, if I keep buying beer the way I have been lately, it probably won't be the near future. Seriously, I've got a lot of stuff in my cellar these days. Good stuff. Stuff I should really drink soon. Not to mention 4 cases of homebrew. But I digress. Beer club tomorrow! See you then.

Anchor Christmas Double Feature

| No Comments

Every year, the craft beer pioneers at Anchor Brewing put out a special Christmas ale as the holiday approaches. It's apparently quite the beer dork tradition, and while I've only started drinking these last year, I was excited for this year's installment. The recipes change with each iteration (as do the labels), so it's only natural that folks save a few from previous years and compare them. Since the recipes are different, it's not technically a "vertical" tasting, but I thought it would be a fun exercise and besides, I had totally forgotten about the 2010 bottle that was sitting in the back of my fridge. So on one cold evening, I threw on a couple of Holiday horror movies (both of which were rather unremarkable) and popped my two Anchor Christmas vintages (both of which were rather good) for a comparative tasting, starting with the 2010.

Anchor Christmas Ale 2010

2010 Anchor Christmas - Pours a very dark brown, just a hint of ruby red when held up to the light. About a finger of tan head. Aroma is quite nice. Very sweet smelling, maybe brown sugar and vanilla in there with a faint hint of dark fruit (raisins?). Taste has some spiciness to it, and that brown sugar character is there too, but there's an overarching flavor I can't quite place and a strange bitterness that settles in the finish. There's an aftertaste that isn't particularly pleasing. Mouthfeel is still quite nice, even after a year, though perhaps a bit on the light side. Here's the strange thing - I like this beer and I think it might even be better than it was last year, but I'm rating it lower than I did last year. I definitely overrated this last year, but I'm really glad I retained this bottle. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/2/11.

Anchor Christmas 2011

2011 Anchor Christmas - Also pours a very dark brown, though not quite as dark as the 2010 variety, and more reddish colors show through when held up to light. Aroma is very spicy - cinnamon is clearly apparent. It smells sweet, but with none of that brown sugar or dark fruitiness from 2010. The taste seems much spicier (again with the Christmas spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, etc...) with a complex arrangement of malts. On the other hand, the bitterness here is much more subdued and better matched to the beer, leading a nicer finish and less of an aftertaste. The mouthfeel is again nice, though again a bit lighter than expected. As the beer warms, it seems to get more complex and ever more drinkable. Overall, I think it's a small improvement over last year, and quite a good beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/2/11.

I actually really like some aspects of the 2010 beer (a fantastic aroma coming off that thing), but I do believe the 2011 to be a more balanced brew. This was fun - I'll probably save a few of the 2011 bottles and do the same thing next year. I've also been cracking a few of my homebrewed winter warmers lately, and I'm happy to report that they compare favorable to the Anchor beers (which were the basic inspiration for my recipe).

St. Feuillien Cuvée De Noël

| No Comments

Not quite Belgian Beer Roulette, as I've had St. Feuillien's Saison before (a solid beer, that), but I wasn't really sure what to expect from this either.

St. Feuillien Cuvee De Noel

St. Feuillien Cuvée De Noël - Pours a medium dark brown color with a couple fingers of tightly knitted off-white head. Aroma is full of raisins and Belgian yeast spice. Taste is extremely sweet up front, with some Belgian yeast spiciness and those raisins coming in full force in the middle. The finish surprisingly dry for such a sweet beer (not super dry, but much moreso than I would have expected from the initial taste...) Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied with lots of carbonation and a slight warming character due to the alcohol. Overall, a nice beer, but perhaps just a bit too sweet. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/26/11.

Certainly not at the top of my Holiday beer list, but I'm glad I tried it...

Categories

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID

About

Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

Follow me on Twitter

Like me on Facebook

Toast me on Untappd

Recent Comments

  • Mark: I think I remember you posting something about that back read more
  • Jay Hinman: Cool that you got to go to this, Mark. I read more
  • Mark: No, I obtained this through... methods. Glad I did, as read more
  • Jay Hinman: I don't think I sent this one to you, did read more
  • Mark: Apparently the popularity of single malt and the rise of read more
  • Padraic Hagan: I've had some real winners from the independants. A few read more
  • Mark: You know what the funny thing is? Upton no longer read more
  • Padraic Hagan: I don't...uh...none of my tea is certified, uh, poop free. read more
  • Mark: I've never disliked the bubblegum note (as evidenced by ratings), read more
  • Mark: Padraic will be here all week. 2 drink minimum, tip read more