Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Twelve

Brasserie Dubuisson - Scaldis de Noël (2008)

When it became obvious I was not going to post the twelfth beer by Christmas Day, I decided not to rush it. I actually went through a couple of different beers that I thought would be the final beer, but neither turned out to be very good, so I decided to pass on posting them. I finally decided on the little bottle of Scaldis de Noël that has been in the beer cellar since 2008. Brasserie Dubuisson was created in 1776 and is the oldest brewery in Wallonia, Belgium and is actually still in the same location. What is even more remarkable is that it is still a 100% independently owned brewery.

For a five year old bottle of beer, there was still a good amount of life in this Belgian Strong Dark Ale as I poured it into the glass. A nice dark mahogany colour with a thin layer of carbonation. It was definitely time to drink it though, as there was visible particles floating around in the beer. However, they didn't affect the aroma or flavour. Molasses, caramel and dark fruits noticeable in the aroma. Flavour was similar but with more of the dark fruits like figs, raisins and dates coming through at the start. Those gave way to toffee and and a roasted malt sweetness before finishing light and surprisingly a little bitter. It also left a little residual tangy sweetness across my tongue. The 12% ABV was still enough to provide a noticeable warming affect.

Although it was sometimes a little difficult to find the time during the holiday season to write the posts, I did enjoy creating this Twelve Beers of Christmas series and I'm glad I finally got around to doing it. Hopefully I can continue it next year with an all new round of holiday seasonals. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Eleven

The Bruery - 5 Golden Rings

The fifth beer in the 12 Days of Christmas series from The Bruery. As indicated in the post for Beer Six a few days ago, the beers typically take their inspiration from their corresponding version, so 5 Golden Rings was brewed as a Belgian Golden Ale.

Poured out a clear golden colour in the glass with a thin white head. Wonderful sweet aroma of golden fruits like pineapple, banana, pear and Belgian yeast. Juicy is one of the best ways to describe the flavour. Lots of pineapple, citrus and grape with notes of pear and grapefruit. Bready malts and caramel come through in the middle followed by cloves and allspice.  Finish is semi-dry and slightly bitter. I think it could benefit from a little more carbonation as the mouthfeel is a little heavy and syrupy. The 11.5% ABV comes through in full force, giving a rather strong warming and almost burning affect.  We'll see how this one ages and turns out in 2020.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Ten

Affligem - Noël (2008)

From what I found, it appears that the Affligem brand of beers was actually brewed by the Op-Ale Brewery in Opwijk, Belgium under license from the Affligem Abbey. The Op-Ale Brewery also produced beers under their own brand name but was eventually purchased by Heineken who later renamed it to Affligem Brewery. That was all news to me, same with the fact that Heineken owns about 190 breweries around the world is third largest after AB-InBev and SABMiller.

Affligem Noël is another beer that I typically purchase during the holidays, although I don't think I've seen it this year. The one I'm enjoying right now is actually a bottle that's been sitting in the back of my cellar since 2008 or 2009 (I'm not exactly sure, I have two different dates written on the bottle). Anyway, still a great beer that's aged very well. Carbonation is light, but still present. Aroma is sweet caramel, toffee and dark fruits with some bready Belgian yeasts coming through. Flavour is along the same lines as the aroma to start, but then I also get the addition of what to me tastes like coconut with a little pineapple. There's a citrus bitterness in the semi-dry finish and a hint of spices start to come through in the very end with notes of cinnamon and little light pepper at the back of my throat. Considering it's four or possibly five years old, there's quite a strong warming affect from the 9% ABV that I expected to be more mellow. I may have to try and hunt down a few bottles from this year (assuming we got any here) and see how a "fresh" one compares to this one.

It appears that Christmas Day is fast approaching, so I'll go ahead and push out two posts today with hopes that I'll complete the 12 part series by the 25th.  However, I still have a quite a few more bottles of Christmas Beers in the fridge (and will most likely buy more), so I may do a few CD+ (Christmas Day plus #) posts as well.

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Nine

Jolly Pumpkin Aristan Ales - Noel de Calabaza

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales was founded in 2004 and quickly gained notoriety for producing fantastic farmhouse ales using traditional methods. Fermented in open vessels with a variety of French and Belgian yeasts, the beer is then aged in oak casks for months where it undergoes a secondary fermentation with wild yeasts in the barrels. After aging, the beer is bottled with additional yeast and left to bottle condition (develop further flavours and carbonation in the bottle). All of that fermenting and aging results in beers with complex and unique flavour profiles.

The Noel de Calabaza is the first and only farmhouse or sour beer on the Twelve Beers of Christmas list. Not because I don't like them, but because I don't think I have any others. The aroma is surprisingly light, but the smell from the wild yeasts definitely let you know that this is not a traditional Belgian dark Christmas ale. If you can get past the funky yeast smell, you can also get hints of oak and dark fruits in the aroma. Although the flavour is predominantly tart and funky from start to finish, it's not overpowering. If you take the time, you can get a lot of different flavours out of this beer. Dark fruits like raisins, figs and plums with maybe some green apple, grapes and sour cherries. Some of the oak even starts coming through in the dry and tart finish. The alcohol is 9% ABV, but it really doesn't even come in to play. This was definitely a great change of pace from the traditional sweet and spicy Christmas beers and I savoured it down to the last drop.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Eight

Anchor Brewing - Christmas Ale

Anchor Brewing has been brewing their Christmas Ale (a.k.a. Our Special Ale) since 1975. And every year for the past 39 years, a unique beer has been brewed for it and a different tree is featured on the hand drawn label. However, I think the trees are more varied then the recipe as I find the beer tastes pretty similar each year. It's a beer that has basically become synonymous with the holiday season for me and I have a tradition of enjoying a magnum of it on Christmas Day.

This is definitely one Christmas beer that contains a lot of holiday spices in the aroma and flavour. Ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon... pretty much just name a traditional holiday spice and it's in there. Some years have been more intense then others but this year it seems to be pretty balanced. Along with the spices is some molasses, brown sugar, roasted malts and a bit of a pine bitterness in the finish. The alcohol level will also vary, but it's typically around 5.5% ABV, making it an easy drinking Christmas ale.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Seven

New Belgium - Frambozen

Flemish for raspberry, Frambozen has been brewed by New Belgium since 1993. Only fresh raspberries from the Pacific Northwest are used and because of that, the amount produced will vary based on the amount of raspberries that are available that year. Back in 2006, a very poor raspberry crop limited the amount they could produce and Texas was one of only a few select markets that received any that year.

If you're not a fan of raspberries, then this is definitely not the beer for you. The aroma and flavour is filled with the smell and taste of ripe, tart raspberries. Even the colour is a ruby-tinted light brown with a light pink head. However, there is still a good amount of malts that break through with a hint of nuttiness and a little bitter chocolate that helps to balance it out and remind you this is still a brown ale. It's a little sweet up front, but that gives way to a finish that is slightly dry and tart but not mouth puckering. Some of the toasted malts even come back in the lingering raspberry tartness. This is another beer that I've aged (sometimes accidentally as bottles get shoved to the back and forgotten) and it typically holds up well. The raspberry tartness becomes even more intense as other flavours start to drop away, but I would recommend drinking it fresh and often while it's still available.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Six

The Bruery - 6 Geese-A-Laying

The Bruery started their 12 Days of Christmas series in 2008 and each year a unique beer is being released for the next verse in the song. Some of the beers are inspired by their corresponding verse and all are designed to be capable of aging until the final 12 Drummers Drumming is released in 2020. The Partridge In A Pear Tree, was a Belgian Dark Strong Ale. 2 Turtle Doves was brewed with cocoa nibs, toasted pecans and caramelized sugar as the beer was based on the "Turtles" candy, resulting in cross between a Belgian Dark Strong Ale and an Imperial Porter. 3 French Hens was a spicy Belgian Dark Strong with 25% of it aged in French oak. 4 Calling Birds is a traditional Winter Warmer (not a lot of inspiration from calling birds) and 5 Golden Rings was appropriately brewed as a Golden Ale. Unfortunately, I missed out on the Partridge in a Pear Tree, but I have tried the subsequent releases and now have bottles in my cellar of verses 3 through 6.

The 6 Geese-A-Laying is a Belgian Dark Strong Ale brewed with Gooseberries. It poured a deep amber colour with a light fluffy head. Sweet malts, Belgian yeast with a little fruitiness in the aroma. It started out mildly sweet with caramel, toffee and candied fruit flavours. However, that sweetness gave way to a tart and slightly acid fruity finish. And the more the beer warmed, the more the tart berry flavour came out and lingered after each sip. For being a big 11.5% ABV, the alcohol was not very noticeable, but I could certainly feel it after finishing the bottle myself. It's definitely going to be interesting to see how all these beers ager over the next six years.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Five

Mikkeller - Santa's Little Helper (2013)

Mikkeller was founded by homebrewers Mikkel Bjergsø and Kristian Keller in 2006 in Copenhagen, Denmark, but Kristian exited the company in 2007. Mikkel is referred to as a gypsy brewer as he does not own a brewery, but instead uses the brewing and bottling facilities of various other breweries. Even though this seems like it would be a limitation for a brewer, Mikkel has apparently brewed over 600 different beers (according to their Wikipedia page). Mikkel's brother Jeppe is also a gypsy brewer who founded rival brewery Evil Twin Brewing in 2010.

After the disappointing non-Christmas Christmas Ale that was Beer Four, Santa's Little Helper gets us back on track. It's a Belgian Strong Ale that poured almost completely black with a fluffy tan head. Roasted malts, brown sugar and dark chocolate in the aroma with a hint of the alcohol hiding inside. Sweet caramel and roasted malt flavours up front with slight tastes of licorice and molasses coming out as the beer warms. A slightly bitter finish followed by a lingering flavour of roasted coffee and bitter chocolate. As the beer continued to warm, I also started to get a hint of cayenne pepper at the back of my tongue and throat. Perhaps that's the spices referred to by the "brewed with spices" on the label. The 10.9% ABV is a little noticeable with a gentle burn as it goes down providing a nice warming glow. I have another bottle of this that I think I'll age for a few years as I think it will probably mellow out the flavours and tone down the alcohol.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Four

http://deranke.be/Brouwerij De Ranke - Père Noël

Santa Claus hugging a snifter of beer on the label with the word's "Belgian Christmas Ale" underneath are the only things that makes this a Christmas beer. There is nothing in the aroma or flavour that gives it the typical characteristics expected of a Belgian Christmas Ale. The brewery's own website even indicates "...very different from any other Christmas ales you might know". They're not kidding.  I contemplated not bothering to include it as part of my Twelve Beers, but since I'm a little behind on my posts due to taking a trip back to my Canadian homeland, I'll go ahead and keep it as number four.

It's actually a pretty good Strong Belgian Pale Ale and I'd be more enthused about drinking it if that's all that I was expecting. Usual aromas of lemon and bananas with a hint of white pepper and cloves. Light pale and sweet caramel malt flavours to start along with some of the same spiciness found in the aroma. Finishes very dry with a grassy hop bitterness. A decent beer, but again, certainly not one that I could classify as a Christmas Ale. On to number five!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Three

Another of my annual favourites, Deschutes Brewing has been producing Jubelale since 1988.  For that first few years it was bottled by hand in 750ml bottles until becoming their first beer that was released in six-packs in 1993. Back then the label was a simple Christmas wreath added around the brewery's iconic oval label containing a mountain and stream. Starting in 1995, a different regional artist has been commissioned each year to create the artwork for the label.

Deschutes Brewery - Jubelale (2013)

Poured into a large Deschutes snifter, it had a big fluffy tan head that settled slowly and left great lacing. The mouthfeel on it is exceptional, it's so silky smooth that it feels like the beer is just floating over your tongue. I actually had to slow myself down or this beer would have disappeared in only a few drinks. Lots of sweet and toasted malts in the aroma and flavour. A little holiday spice with a touch of chocolate coming through before finishing with a slightly piney bitterness. At 6.7% ABV, it's actually on the lower end for a Strong Ale, but that's part of what makes it such a drinkable beer.

This year's label is titled "Lost in the Loud" by local Bend, Oregon artist Avlis Leumas who's goal was to "create balance with opposites: as serene and quiet as the piece is, there is movement and activity everywhere”.

Deschutes Brewing - Jubelale (2011)

Whilst digging around in my cellar, I found a bottle or two of Jubelale from 2011 and its aged very well. The colour is a little lighter and the head is not as fluffy and dissipated quite quickly. There's a lot more toffee and roasted malts in the aroma and flavour then the one from 2013. The finish is less bitter (as would be expected since hop bitterness drops off quickly as a beer ages) and has been replaced with a stronger roasted coffee flavour. The mouthfeel is a little thinner, but still quite creamy and smooth. I'll definitely have to put a few away from this year to age.

The label art for this release was a collaboration by artists Cara Thayer and Louie Van Patten which "explores a painted dialogue of human forms". It was further explained that "the hand-knitted mitten and scarf reflect the handcrafted character of Jubelale, while the snowball in motion evokes the fleeting nature of winter".

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer Two

Goose Island - Sixth Day

Goose Island has only recently started distributing to Texas, so this is holiday beer that I haven't had before. According to the website, they "change the recipe slightly so that you have something special to look forward to" which is what Anchor Steam has been doing with their holiday seasonal since 1976.

I was surprised that it was labeled as a Brown Ale (albeit a Festive one) based on the colour in the glass and I had to let it warm up quite a bit before more characteristics of a brown ale began to emerge. Aromas of sweet malts, red licorice with a slight scent of herbal hops. Flavours of molasses and fruity esters to start which then gives way to hints of bitter chocolate in the finish. The alcohol content is 8.3% which left a bit of burn going down. But there was also an odd stringent bitterness that carried through from start to finish that dominated too much for me to enjoy it. The Bottled On date shows Sept 13 which is not that long ago, but I've tasted that same flavour in other brown ales that have been sitting around too long. A little disappointed in this one, but perhaps it's better when fresh.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December Glass Nights at the Ginger Man

The Ginger Man has released their list of glass nights for the month of December:

4th - Rahr Brewing - Winter Warmer
11th - New Belgium - (Seasonal)
18th - Boulevard - Nutcracker
25th - Merry Christmas (bar opens at 6:00pm for those alone or tired of your relatives)

The glasses are available starting at 6:00pm and only one glass per person with purchase of the beer of the day. As always, the glasses are subject to change and only available while supplies last.

There is also a couple of Brewers Nights this month:

Karbach Brewing - Tuesday, December 10th @ 6:00pm
Green Flash - Tuesday, December 17th @ 6:00pm

Twelve Beers of Christmas - Beer One

St. Bernardus - Christmas Ale (2010)

This is one of my all-time favourite holiday beers, so it's no surprise that I started with it. However, this is a bottle from 2010 that has been resting comfortably in my beer cellar for the past three years. Holiday beers often have higher ABV and sometimes include strong flavours of spices, fruits and sugars and a little extra time can help to calm things down and balance it out. I also just enjoy seeing how beers change as they age.

There was still plenty of carbonation when I popped the corked and the head dissipated down to a thin layer of bubbles in the glass. It has such a wonderful aroma of dark fruits, sweet malts and holiday spices that are also carried over into the flavour. It tastes of plums, dates, and apricots with sweet caramel malts along with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg in the finish. All that combined with the bready flavours from the St. Bernardus house yeast and its like a slice of my Mother's Christmas cake in a glass. And although it's a hefty 10% ABV, the past few years in the cellar have helped to take the edge off and give it a smooth and creamy mouthfeel.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Twelve Beers of Christmas

Walk down the beer aisle at your grocery store or beer store and you'll notice the shelves, the floor and all other available space is now filled with stacks of holiday beers. My beer cellar, fridges and pantry are usually overflowing at this time of year as well (much to my wife's dismay) as I pick up bottles of my usual holiday favourites and any new ones that I've yet to try. With all this beer around me, I've wanted to do some sort of Christmas beer series for the past few years and I'm finally getting around to it. Although I'm calling it the Twelve Beers of Christmas (I know, not exactly original) I may certainly surpass that number of posts based on the number of holiday beers on the market right now. Perhaps next year I'll change it to a Beer Advent Calendar which would give me twenty-four, but I'm getting ahead of myself as I haven't even managed to complete the first of what will hopefully be at least twelve posts before Christmas Day. Anyway, my plan is to showcase my favourites as well as some of the new ones to the Houston market. Feel free to list your own favourite holiday beers in the comments. And if you're really feeling the holiday spirit (I'm sure there's some sort of pun in there), you can always send me a few of your favourites. Cheers!

Ginger Man Christmas Beer Tasting

The Ginger Man in Houston is hosting its annual Christmas Beer Tasting on Saturday, December 7th at 3:00pm.  Tickets are $40 per person and available now.  Sadly, I will be out of town that weekend, but I have enjoyed a few of their previous ones.  Based on my past experiences, a taxi or designated driver is most likely necessary as holiday beers are typically quite high in ABV.