By John Scholl
Tis’ the season of overeating, over-spending, and over-indulgence. Our job at ManBQue is to make sure you’re doing at least one of these in style. One of the benefits of being a newly Cicerone-certified Beer Server is getting to review some of my favorite beers of the season. This year’s list consists of flavors inspired by everything from mulled wine to candied peaches that remind us of the good times the holidays bring.
6. Anchor Brewing – Merry Christmas & Happy New Year (Our Special Ale)
This was priciest of all the beers I sampled, at about $15 bucks a six pack. The good news is Anchor changes the recipe each year; so if you don’t like it now, try it again next year. The beer pours a very deep red – close to the color a red wine. The nose is typical “Christmas” spice and sweet malt. The flavor reminds me of a cold Glühwein (a German mulled wine served hot) that’s heavy on cinnamon and clove. While mulled spices aren’t typically my thing, this beer could take place of a glogg on a cold winter night.5. Deschutes – Jubelale
Jubelale is a strong English ale that has a sweet caramel taste mid palette that then turns to notes of fruit with piney hop finish. The beer is a dark red with a beige head giving a caramel malt nose. I was surprised on the initial sip by the big hop bitterness, I feel it may have be because I had let it cool a little too much. As it warmed, I found that this thick winter ale coats the mouth and that the cherry notes really start to shine. I would suggest drinking this beer around 50 degrees on a 10 degree night while playing 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.
4. Bell’s – Christmas Ale
I feel that since Bell’s Winter Ale is so dependably solid that it’s often overlooked. It shouldn’t be missed; it was one of my favorites from last year and continues to be this year. As soon as the copper colored beer is in the glass you’ll start to smell hops and biscuity grain wafting from the thick head. There’s slight sweetness, and an alluring peppery taste appears after drinking a few ounces. If I had to describe this beer in one word it would be “balanced”, which is surprisingly hard to achieve in the holiday beer category.
3. Shiner – Holiday Cheer
I have a special place in my heart for wheat-based beers – they were my gateway into better beer. Holiday cheer is a dunkleweizen (dark wheat), which is a traditional German winter beer. Shiner upped the game by adding peaches and pecan. I like to see this in the line up for holiday beers as they usually consist of scotch, strong, or English ales spiced to taste like a Christmas candle. After pouring into a weizen glass, I enjoyed the banana yeast, grain, and dominant peach aroma. The subtlety of this beer is welcome, as it’s not hitting you in the face with spices. The sweet peach and pecan backbone is very enjoyable but not overbearing. This is beer for the non-beer drinker with approachable style and sweet flavor.
2. Bent River Brewing Co. – Jingle Java
A stout brewed with coffee, vanilla, caramel, pecan, cinnamon, and rum. Throw in some girls wearing black fleece jackets and Ugg boots and it might as well be a spiked holiday latte from Starbucks. Or so I thought. A holiday stout got me wondering; why don’t we see more of them? Stouts and cold weather go hand-in-hand, so stouts and the winter holidays should go together. Despite the hodgepodge of ingredients in this beer, I really liked it. It starts off with a roasted grain, coffee, and vanilla nose. The beer is a little thin, but the bitterness of the coffee with the caramel pecan sweetness really plays well. Just when you’re about to swallow, you get hit with a hint of cinnamon. I never got a rum taste, but I’m okay with that. Maybe the rum flavor would have been too much. I’m not sure of the distribution, but if you’re near the Quad Cities this holiday season, make sure to stop in at Bent River Brewery and pick some up.
1. Brouwerij Corsendonk – Corsendonk Christmas Ale
This beer came recommended to me from Chris Quinn, owner of The Beer Temple, when he noticed I was stocking up on holiday beers. He totally hit the nail on the head – this is my favorite holiday beer of the season. Corsendonk is a Belgium strong ale that pours dark brown with a khaki head. The Belgian yeast is prevalent immediately in the aroma and carries over into the flavor. The beer had notes of brown sugar and orange that reminded me of helping my mom bake sugar cookies while a pot of wassail boils on the stove. It’s priced reasonably well at $10 for a corked 750ml. This beer not only looks cool but also has a flavor that should appeal to everyone. Pairs great with decorating a Christmas tree.