We head to the land of misfit beers for this installment of The Session hosted by Jay Brooks and the Brookston Beer Bulletin.
“For seasonal beers, the Solstice/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Mithra time of the year is my mostest favorite. This past weekend, we had our fifteenth annual holiday beer tasting for the Celebrator Beer News, and sampled 42 of this year’s Christmas beers. Here’s how I’ve described them in the introduction of the tasting notes for the holiday edition each year:
Holiday beers are by design no one style, but are a chance for individual breweries to let their talent and imagination run wild. At the holidays, when people stop their busy lives and share some precious time with family and friends, the beer they choose should be equally as special as the time they’re sharing. So a holiday beer should be made to impress, to wow its audience, to stand out. That’s the only criteria that should be met by one of these beers. Will it impress? Different breweries, thankfully, do this in many, many different ways. Some use unusual spices or fruits, some use special malts or hops, some use other uncommon ingredients like spruce or rye, and some make a style that itself is unusual. So there’s nothing to tie these beers together apart from their celebration of the season. That makes it both a delight and a challenge to judge. Ultimately, perhaps more than any other tasting, these beers are simply a matter of what you like and our judging is a matter of what we like. So try them and discover for yourself the many flavors of this holiday season.”
The day after Thanksgiving, I head out to beer shops and stock up on Holiday beers even though the weather is far from frightful in Los Angeles. Invariably, my wife will ask why there is significantly less room where the leftover turkey and fixin’s should be as I crack open my first Christmas beer of the season. I love the variety of holiday ales first and foremost and it is seems to be the only time of the year where an IPA seems out of place, despite the dilligent work of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration and others.
For this Holiday fueled Session, I want to list (despite my deep-seated aversion to listicles) what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL holiday ales. The beers that you drink when you decorate the tree or wrap the presents or while other people open presents and you get a break from your own gifts.
1. Anchor Merry Christmas – Happy New Year
The streak is at 41 this year and it is literally the first holiday beer that I pour each year. I even keep a few past years on hand to compare and contrast with.
2. Deschutes Jubelale
The artwork can be hit or miss and I do long for a photography version on of these years, but this is, along with beer # 3 my home state of Oregon go-to holiday tipple.
3. Double Mountain Fa La La La
With all due respect to Celebration. This is the hoppy Christmas beer that I look forward to. Maybe it is the stars on red design but it is a repeat buy for sure.
4. St. Bernardus Holiday Ale
This beer just tastes and smell’s like a kitchen at Christmas.
5. Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale
$5.99 for a 750ml beer is a steal and a half. And this beer is just so good. Very close to St. Bernardus and another beer that gets cellared and brought out as a “fancy” beer for guests.
6. Eagle Rock Jubilee
My local. There winter warmer for Los Angeles has had in past been very evocative of fruitcake in some years and I can’t wait to try it in regular and barrel-aged versions as well as part of a mixer with their IPA, Populist. Where it becomes Populee!
Once I get through that list, I start looking for new holiday ales to see if any will make the cut for seasonal standards. Right now I am looking at a Boulevard Snow & Tell and a Bell’s Christmas Ale. The former has expanded their offerings here in L.A. and the latter just entered our stores with a splash this year. And maybe I will sneak other Winter IPA’s into the mix, I hear there is a new Green Flash IPA out there. Better get out and check the stores.