Crafty Christmas Beers of the World
The holidays are here and it’s my favorite time of year for beer! Soooo many great beers come out during the winter months. I love it. My wallet hates it. I wanted to share some of my favorite Holiday Seasonals with you, but thought I’d offer a few that you might not be all that familiar with.
Most Colorado craft beer fans know about Great Divide’s Hibernation, Odell’s Isolation and Avery’s Old Jubilation, but what about those crazy Belgian’s and their wacky beers? And what’s going on outside of Colorado? Well, I thought I’d take some of the confusion out of the equation and break down a few of those other, maybe lesser known beers that are out there right now.
Here’s a few suggestions to share with those wine snobs in your family, your drunk uncle or just to help get you through dinner with the in-laws. Whatever your situation is, here’s a guide to some of our favorite holiday brews.
Brasserie d’Achouffe – N’Ice Chouffe
The little gnomes from the Ardennes Mountains in Belgium know how to make a great beer. N’Ice Chouffe pours a deep, dark brown with a 2-finger, off-white head and huge carbonation. Notes of dark fruits, candi sugar, orange peel and Belgian yeast dominate the nose, while the flavors take on raisins, cinnamon, oranges, biscuit and malt. A lovely winter brew that will age for 2-3 years. In fact, the bottle has an “enjoy by” date two years out from the original bottling. 750 mL bottles retail for $10 – $12. Score: 3.75 / 5
Brasserie Fantôme – Fantôme De Noel
Another Belgian classic, this one from brewer Dany Prignon and his quaint, farmhouse brewery in the small town of Soy, Belgium. Fantôme De Noel pours a hazy, copper color with a 3-finger tan head and moderate lacing around the glass. The aroma is fresh fruit (apples, cherries, pears), earth, oak and a touch of hops. The flavor brings out more fruit and candied apples, biscuit and like most Fantôme beers, there’s a bit of funk as well. The carbonation is crazy on this one and mine was a gusher. Folks, have your glass(es) ready! 750 mL bottles retail for $12 – $15. Score: 3.5 / 5
P.S. All of the Fantôme beers are corked. My wife and I opened this one at the “haunted” Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and I forgot the corkscrew! Oops. Don’t be me!
Brouwerij Het Anker – Gouden Carolus Noël
Brasserie Dupont – Avec Les Bons Vœux
This next one from Belgium is a Saison from Brasserie Dupont. Dupont is a master of the Saison style and this is their 9.5 % ABV Winter release. Avec Les Bons Vœux translates to “With Best Wishes”. The beer pours a cloudy yellow color, with a huge, 4-finger white head. The aroma is lemon, Belgian yeast, earthy hops and pepper, while the flavor has notes of lemons, peaches, apricots, pepper, spices and sweet malt. This is a beautifully balanced, almost champagne-like beer. Xmas morning beer-mosas anyone? Light and dry, it’s a great beer for the non-craft drinkers, yet complex enough to keep the sophisticated drinker interested. Hard to believe it packs a 9.5% ABV punch, as the alcohol is very well hidden. A 750 mL bottle will run you $11 – $14. Score: 3.5 / 5
Brauerie Schloss Eggenberg – Samichlaus
Samichlaus, which translates to “St. Nick”, is a monster of a holiday beer. This comes in at a whopping 14% ABV and for a long time, held the title of being the World’s Strongest Lager. It’s brewed only once a year on December 6th and spends the next 10 months aging. Samichlaus pours a clear, dark amber color with a tiny, quickly diminishing head. Looks more whiskey than beer. Huge notes of caramel, raisins, cherries, brown sugar and leather in the nose. The high ABV gives the taste an expectedly warming and boozy feel with notes of dark fruits, honey, nuts, vanilla and rum. Samichlaus is a thick, syrupy brew with a sticky, full mouthfeel. Very tasty and a great candidate to cellar away for a few years. 11.2 oz bottles run $4 – $6. Score: 4 / 5
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales – Noel de Calabaza
Jolly Pumpkin is a Michigan-based brewery, well known for making some funky, yet very approachable sour beers. Noel de Calabaza is a winter release that pours a dark ruby-red color, with a 4-finger!, foamy, tan head. The aroma dances with sour cherries, oak, brown sugar and pepper. The flavor is moderately tart with notes of dark fruits, vinegar, oak and a touch of spices. A very nice gateway beer into the world of sours, that also ages well. 750 mL bottles sell for $13 – $16. I wouldn’t call this one a “gusher”, however a slow, steady stream of foam poured out of my bottle for 5+ minutes. Score: 4 / 5
The Lost Abbey – Gift of the Magi
This unique, Brettanomyces-based brew from The Lost Abbey in California is a funky, Farmhouse / Biere de Garde. Gift of the Magi is a 10% ABV brew that pours a hazy, copper color with a 3-finger, bubbly tan head. The aroma is all fruit here with loads of pineapple, pear, apricots and apples. In the back, you can pick out caramel, malt and a touch of funk. The flavor is expectedly sweet and fruity with caramel apples, bread and a small dose of hops. Very dry mouthfeel that leaves you wanting more. Another candidate for cellaring, I’ve had some nice ones in the 2-3 year range. 750 mL bottles sell for $12 – $15. Score: 3.75 / 5
This Oregon brewery is known for their deep, rich Old Ales and Strong Ales. Doggie Claws, is an American Barleywine that is released every November. Reader beware, this is NOT available in Colorado. This one’s for the beer traders, pac-NW travelers or beer freaks that have creative ways of getting ahold of beers that aren’t distributed to our great state. In other words, it’s going to take a little more work to track one of these down. I’ve also seen it for sale online from liquor stores that are willing to pack and ship. Is it worth it? Let’s find out.
2010 vintage. Doggie Claws pours a cloudy orange color, with a 1-finger, sandy head. Light carbonation comes up through the beer and leaves a touch of lacing around the glass. The aroma is super sweet with loads of toffee, rum-soaked raisins, leather, oak and a bit of bourbon. The taste brings out notes of leather, tobacco, brown sugar, booze and caramel. Another great candidate for the cellar. Over time the hops will drop out and the rich flavors will blend together like a fine wine. Plan on shelling out $5 – $7 for a 12 oz. bottle. Score: 4.5 /5
De Dolle Brouwers – Stille Nacht
I saved my favorite for last. De Dolle Brouwers or “The Mad Brewers” out of Esen, Belgium, releases Stille Nacht annually to ring in the holiday season. This was actually distributed to CO at one point (as was Hair of the Dog mentioned above), but for one reason or another, hasn’t made it out here in a good 5 years or more. I’ve previously ordered bottles at Falling Rock Tap House, but I’ve got a feeling those days are over. Regardless, it’s distributed to quite a few states and if you happen to be traveling or have a way to get some, I highly recommend it.
Stille Nacht pours a rusty-brown color with a two-finger, creamy, off-white head. Slow carbonation rises through the beer and leaves a thick coating of lace around the glass. The aroma is a combination of oak, candi sugar, figs, apple and funky Belgian yeast. The taste is sweet and is layered with apple, honey, cherries, cinnamon, port wine and the ever so slightest hint of sour. Stille Nacht is ridiculously complex and only gets better as it warms. It’d be tough to put this into a category, but it bounces between an English Barleywine and a Belgian Quad. Words just can’t do justice to this beer. Get out and track one down for yourself. It’s also another for the cellar. I’ve had bottles aging for 7+ years and they’re still holding up well. 11.6 oz. bottles sell in the $6 – $7 range. Score: 5 / 5
I hope this list gives you a reason to try something new this holiday season. There are hundreds and hundreds of great beers to reach for during this time of year and this list is by no means complete. Stop by our Facebook Page and share what you’re drinking during the winter months. Aside from the last two picks, all of these beers were purchased in the Denver area. Head to the better beer store in your neck of the woods and try them out for yourself.
Hope everyone has a great holiday!