This time last year I was elbow deep in Christmas beers. For the past couple of years I've done a month-long Christmas beer challenge where I drink a different Christmas seasonal each day leading up to Christmas. Sound like fun? It was, at least until the middle of the second week when all the Winter Warmers start to taste the same and you'd strangle your own mother to get your hands on a Pilsner. I decided to pass on the Jingle Beers this year and just realized this would be my first Christmas beer review of the year.
It may be March but the snow is still falling I decided to open up a bottle of Bell's Christmas Ale and pretend we were still in the holiday season. I picked up this bottle as part of a "build your own six pack" mixer just after I wrapped up my annual Jingle Beers review of Christmas seasonals. After drinking two dozen Christmas themed beers during the month of December I was a little burnt out and decided to hang on to this bottle for next year, or at least throw a miniature Christmas in July party for myself. This weekend's snowstorm changed my plans and I decided to make the most of staying indoors by opening up an early (late) Christmas present.
I was especially proud of finding this bottle of at the liquor store, not because it was particularly rare but because it was on the clearance rank. I'd seen a few bottle of these on the shelves over the holidays but didn't get around to picking one up. Even though the holidays are a month behind us I couldn't pass up getting a bottle of this collaboration for half price. The timing worked out well because just enough time had passed that I was no longer burnt out on holiday seasonal beers. After picking up this bottle I realized something a little strange...
I debated whether or not to include this as one of this year's Jingle Beers because there isn't anything terribly festive about an Oatmeal Stout that's been spiked with blueberries. Since Buffalo Bill's Brewery only releases this during the winter months I figured I'd go ahead and include it anyways. Oatmeal Stouts are great, hearty beers with thick textures and dark flavors... so I'm not sure exactly how the addition of tart blueberries would work here. When I was pouring this beer I just about forgot that what was so special about it. This beer looks like a plain stout, it's black with a thin off-white head. When I went in closer I could smell those blueberries rolling out of the pint glass.
I've had Schlafly's Christmas Ale a number of times over the past couple of years and I've come to an important conclusion, this beer is a million times better on tap. I don't want to make it sound like the Christmas Ale is bad when it's poured from a bottle, that isn't the case. What I mean is this beer goes from good to amazing when you have it direct from a keg. Schlafly's Christmas Ale is a great example of how a Winter Warmer can be spiced without tasting being too harsh on the palate. Whether you have this beer from a bottle or a tap, it'll have the same malty base with cinnamon spice.
I'm not quite sure what to make of this Jenlain Noël. The thought of a French Christmas beer certainly intrigues me, even more so because it is a Bière De Garde. I went into this beer with high expectations, which may be a little unfair but I tried to keep an open mind. That being said, this beer started disappointing me as soon as I poured it into my glass. This beer smells a bit like iced tea that's been poured over toasted nuts. There's a little funk and a little malt on the nose but not nearly as much, or in the right proportions, as I was expecting from a Bière De Garde. That pretty much sums up this entire beer really...
Boulder Beer's Killer Penguin is the non-Barleywine Barleywine... It has a double digit alcohol by volume percentage and smells a little boozy, but it doesn't have that thick dark flavor/texture that I've come to expect from Barleywines. That's not to say the Killer Penguin isn't a good beer, it has a lot to offer if you're willing to cut this lighter, mellower Barleywine some slack. While pouring this beer from it's wax dipped bottle into my snifter, I noticed the aroma was much lighter than I was expecting. The first thing I noticed was the crisp and sweet cherries and grapefruit on the nose. There is plenty of malted goodness in this beer but it doesn't stand out as much as the other flavors because it isn't roasted or super sweet. This isn't a complaint, but it contributes to the overall blendedness of this beer.
This was one of my favorites beer from the original series of Jingle Beers. Anchor's Our Special Ale is a Christmas seasonal that is rich and spicy in a very well balanced way. This beer starts off tasting a bit like cinnamon and nutmeg, not super strong but still obviously spiced. Those flavors meld into a syrupy caramel, almost butterscotch, maltiness that mellows everything out before the finish. Our Special Ale finishes with a flavor reminiscent of a pine cone. Distinctly like pine yet syrupy, like I'd imagine sap tasting... Afterward, you're palate is coated in a sweet flavor similar to a mild maple syrup.
This Schlafly beer is a limited edition holiday release that is that coincides with the opening of a new downtown grocery store in St. Louis called Culinaria. As the story goes, this beer was originally brewed by one of Schlafly's employees to be served at his wedding. The beer was such a big hit with one of the higher ups at Schnuck's that a second run of this beer was commissioned to commemorate the opening of Culinaria. There were only a limited number of these Culinaria Holiday Ales bottled so I leapt at the chance to pick up a bottle when I was in Saint Louis recently. I'm a big fan of Schlafly's Christmas Ale so I'm excited to get to try a rarer bottle of their limited edition Holiday Ale.
Ah the elusive Shiner Holiday Cheer... I was only able to find this beer at a single restaurant last year. After having a bottle of last year's Holiday Cheer I went to a number of liquor stores looking for a six pack but no one in the area had it in stock. This year I was lucky enough to find some Holiday Cheer at the store and pick up a couple. This is an interesting take on the Christmas seasonal. It isn't a traditional Winter Warmer, but it does have a lot in common with those beers. The Holiday Cheer is a Dunkelweizen style dark wheat that's been brewed with pecans and peaches. Those added flavors push this Dunkelweizen into Winter Warmer territory by giving it a sweet and nutty flavor. There's very little bitterness in this beer but the parallels are otherwise quite obvious.