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Noel De Calabaza

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Ok folks, coming down the homestretch here. Only two holiday beers left to review. This one is an Belgian style ale aged in oak barrels with wild yeast to give the beer a bit of a sour twang. I didn't realize that last part when I bought it (beers that say they're oak aged generally make me think of bourbon barrel aged stuff, not sour stuff, though both seem to happen frequently), so that wild ale twang sometimes catches me by surprise. This was my Christmas night, done with all the festivities, vegging out on the couch beer, and despite the unexpected wildness, it fulfilled its duty well enough:

Jolly Pumpkin Noel De Calabaza

Jolly Pumpkin Noel De Calabaza - Pours a dark brown color with some amber highlights and a white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. The aroma is full of vanilla, oak, sugary sweetness, and a twang that I normally associate with sours. And yes, there is a bit of a tartness to the taste, though it's not nearly as prominent as it is in a lot of sours. The taste has a lot of sweetness and fruitiness along with some spiciness (peppery? Not notably Christmassy, but it's there...) and that wild twang emerging in the finish. The richness of the base beer's flavors can clearly hold their own with the sourness, a combination I usually like better than beers that are super sour. The mouthfeel is strong and full bodied, a little acidic, but well matched. Overall, it wasn't what I was expecting at all, but I'm enjoying it... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/25/11.

I don't really know what style to call this one. BA calls it a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but it seems more like an American Wild Ale to me, so that's what I'm putting it as. In other news, Jolly Pumpkin is a brewery I should really become further acquainted with.

Two Front Teeth Holiday Ale

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So I bought this beer last summer. Damned if I remember why I bought it then, but I did. Heck, I've never even really heard of the brewery (as it turns out, they're a very small, semi-local brewery)... But it's been sitting in my fridge since then, and it actually seemed appropriate for New Years, so here we are.

Why is it a New Years beer? When you hear the phrase "Holiday Ale" you're probably thinking about something that's Christmassy. Darkish beer with spices and/or lots of warming alcohol, with maybe the odd imperial red ale making an appearance. But there's definitely a different connotation for New Years. When it comes to alcohol, people tend to think of Champagne as the spirit of choice for that holiday. Jim from the Beer & Whisky Brothers blog recently laid out his 5 Rules for New Years Beer and while I normally find such proclamations kinda silly, I thought I'd play along anyway. Because I'm a silly guy, after all.

So let's see here. The beer is corked, so check that off. The label is a bit iffy. It's well designed and everything, but it's not like a fancy, classy Champagne label. It is light colored and as it turns out, you can see through it, so we're back on track. It's definitely quite effervescent and bubbly, so there's another criteria met. The name "Two Front Teeth" isn't quite nasty, but neither is it properly festive, unless you're hanging out with a bunch of hockey players for new years. So that's a strong 3 out of 5, with the other two criteria on the borderline. Call it 4 out of 5. Not too shabby:

Spring House Two Front Teeth

Spring House Two Front Teeth Holiday Ale - Pours a bright, clear golden color with tons of fluffy head. Smells deeply of musty Belgian yeast and typical banana/clove aromas. Taste is candy sweet with a punch of spiciness and a nice dry finish. There are definite hints of fruitiness in the taste, but I'm not getting any cherries out of this. As it warms, that fruitiness becomes more pronounced, but I still couldn't pick out cherries... It's light colored, but it feels a bit on the heavy side. Medium to full bodied and a little alcohol warming effect, but still smooth. Not an everyday beer, but it's working well as a new years beer! From what I've heard about this beer, I'd like to try a fresh bottle of this stuff, as it seems like it may have mellowed out in my fridge after such a long stay... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.75% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 12/31/11. No date on the bottle, but I'm guessing it was bottled in late 2010.

Interestingly enough, the past two years worth of New Years beer for me have been strong saison style beers (last year's being Avec Les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont, a hard beer to beat and one of my favorite beers period, let alone holiday beers). They do strangely seem to fit the mold. I'd also assume that a light colored sour beer would work - think Russian River Temptation (I suspect Jim would take issue with the name of the beer and the Scythe imagery on the label, but who cares what he thinks). In fact, that beer is quite champagne-like. Perhaps if I can't find a new saison for next year...

Fireside Chat

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I had this beer last year and was quite taken with it. It didn't blow me away or anything, but it had a C+ on Beer Advocate at the time, which struck me as dreadfully underrated. BA seems to have upended the cart by using, like, 3 different rating scales now, none of which are the old letter grading system that was being used last year. Right now it's got a 74 (out of 100), which still seems awfully low. What have these 21st Amendment people done to inspire such ire? Is this beer made with the venom of an endangered species? Perhaps it's brewed solely with illegal immigrants in a sweatshop? Is this beer an elaborate money laundering scheme for mobsters? What's going on here?

I will say that it wasn't quite as great as I remembered from last year. Perhaps this could be attributed to it being on tap last year, or perhaps I got a fresher can and by the time I got my hands on it last year, it had mellowed out some... But it's certainly not as bad as BA is indicating... Well, anyway, here goes:

21st Amendment Fireside Chat

21st Amendment Fireside Chat - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights and a finger of tan head. Lots of holiday spices in the nose - cinnamon, clove, and the like. Taste is sweet, with some caramel malt character and just a hint of roastiness. The finish is spicy and dry, with more bitterness than I remembered from last year. Medium bodied and well carbonated, this one hides its relatively high ABV well. Overall, it's a really solid winter warmer style beer. I'm slightly less impressed with it out of the can, but it's still much better than the relatively craptacular ratings it garners on BA. I'll give it a B

Beer Nerd Details: 7.9% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip on 12/24/11. Unfortunately no Fireplaces were available during consumption.

There you have it. Up next on this brewery's front is Allies Win the War - 21A's collaboration with Ninkasi (with whom I'm entirely unfamiliar, as they don't distribute here). I bought one of the gorgeous 4 pack boxes of that beer, so I've already had one and quite enjoyed it. I'll probably be drinking another for actual evaluation purposes soon.

Yule Smith Winter

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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.

Sly Fox 2011 Christmas Ale

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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

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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

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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!

Anchor Christmas Double Feature

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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).

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

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