Monday, December 30, 2013

On the Ninth (and Tenth)Day of Beermas...Great Lakes Christmas Ale and Block Three Sinterklaas!

Want to get the Beermas Countdown done by New Year's Day, which has been difficult with an intense work schedule this past couple of weeks.  But I've got a day off before the absolute shitshow that will be New Years Eve, so here's a couple more.

Quick note: another one of the initial brews I set out to review, Captain Lawrence Winter Ale, went a bit south before we got a chance to try it.  Crazy how that works sometimes; I had a bottle of Grand River Jubilation Winter Ale saved in the cellar from last year and it held up well, while this brew was picked up in August and didn't last.  Might not have stored it well.  Fortunately, a winter brew from just around the corner in St. Jacobs was able to step up to the plate.

Beer: Sinterklaas Winter Ale
Brewery: Block Three (St. Jacobs, ON)
Type: Belgian Dark Ale
ABV: 5.4%

First winter seasonal from the region's newest brewery.  Nice to see Block Three get on the ball with some cool seasonal releases - makes for an exciting lineup, and gives geeks like me something to look forward to every month or so.  After the bold German bock stylings of Samichlaus, Sinterklaas is a milder Belgian Ale also named after old St. Nick - Dutch style, in this case.

Poured into my Block Three snifter.  Amber caramel in colour, with about a half inch of head that recedes into a thick ring with some swirls and islands floating about.

Nose is very fruitcake like, or so I'm told, since I never eat that shit.  Cinnamon, caramel, nutmeg, raisins, candied cherry.  Very nice nose to it.

Tasty Belgian ale, considerably drier and more tart than the nose had led on.  Still, a tasty blend of tart cherry, spice, malt, Belgian yeast, and dry puckery hops.  Medium bodied, slightly sticky, and with moderate carbonation; not too boozy, which gives it some great drinkability.

Not quite as 'fruitcake' as I'd expected, but it nevertheless is a solid Belgian-style ale with good tartness and various Christmassy flavours.   Another fine brew from Block Three!

Beer: Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Brewery: Great Lakes Brewing Co. (Cleveland, OH)
Type: Winter Warmer
ABV: 7.5%

Next up is the annual Christmas brew from Great Lakes...the American one.  Another pickup from Premier Gourmet in Buffalo.

Poured into a small whisky glass.  Amber-ruby in colour, with a generous dollop of cappuccino foam that produced lots of lacing and had some remarkable retention.  Great looking brew.

Nose is more from the gingerbread family of Christmas beer: malty, cinnamon, nutmeg, and bold ginger.  Like a ginger cookie.

Tastes much the same - lots of spices and ginger, with some additional apple, cherry (or perhaps cranberry, since it was somewhat tart).  Highly enjoyable brew, and with a moderate body, gentle carbonation, and only a mild booziness, quite drinkable too.

Finishing off the countdown tomorrow/Wednesday with Southern Tier 2XMAS and Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the Eighth Day of Beermas...Anchor Our Special Ale!

Beer: Anchor Our Special Ale
Brewery: Anchor Brewing Company (San Francisco, CA)
Type: Winter Warmer
ABV: 5.5%

Hope everyone out there had a wonderful, safe, and beer-filled Christmas!  I played host this year, as we usually do, and despite the craziness of the month before, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were relatively relaxing, giving us lots of time to try out some new board games and sample some Christmas brews.  Because of a lot of last minute bartending shifts, and the general business of Christmastime, I didn't quite get the Beermas Countdown finished by Christmas Eve as I had foolishly anticipated, but we're going to carry on nevertheless.  After all, the season is hardly over! Technically, the Twelve Days of Christmas actually begins on December the 25th (lasting until the 6th of January, when it in some places it is traditionally the time of taking down the tree), and Yule is still in full swing for a bit.  Moreover, I've never been a fan of 'ending' Christmas on Christmas Day; all that hard work and preparation gone by in a mighty rush.  I've always enjoyed the calm of Boxing Day and the week following Christmas; there's leftovers in the fridge, presents to play around with, and more time to enjoy all the goodies you've spent so much time preparing.  So Happy Boxing Day everyone, and let's get started!

Another classic holiday ale today that, like the Redhook Winterhook, is a changing recipe and so the year in which you purchase and enjoy Anchor Our Special Ale makes a difference.  Not only does the beer's composition change from year to year, but so does the tree on the label; although the tree will always be of the Christmas variety, this year's batch features a lovely California White Fir. Unfortunately, the website declares that the recipe remains top secret from the public, and so there's little to go on except ones own sense of taste and smell.  Let's get to it.

I cracked this brew open on the 24th just before a large ham and potatoes dinner.  Pours a deep caramel brown colour into a short tasting glass.  Half an inch of mocha head that recedes into a thick ring with lots of lace.

Nose is most certainly Christmassy - big malt, toffee, chocolate, and loads of spices, including ginger, allspice and cinnamon.  I'm also getting a decent hit of evergreen boughs as well.

Very tasty Christmas ale that tends to emphasize spices over the malt.  So far this season we've seen a pretty good mix of the two, with the British style going for the richness of the malt, and with this one resembling mulled wine in its spice composition.  Spruce and cinnamon are the heaviest hitters for me, with nutmeg and toffee coming in the background.

Certainly an enjoyable beer to be had around this time of year.  Spices get a great chance to show off, and the brew has a sufficient malty base to provide some nice heft.  Definitely will pick up a few more of these in the coming years to see how the recipe changes!

Friday, December 20, 2013

On the Seventh Day of Beermas...Wychwood Bah Humbug!

Beer: Wychwood Bah Humbug Christmas Cheer
Brewery: Wychwood Brewery (Witney, UK)
Type: Winter Warmer
ABV: 5%

"Marley was dead, to begin with..."

Bit of a rough week so far.  Tons of Christmas stuff to do, and with a series of shitty driving days, getting around to get things taken care of has been a pain.  On top of all this, I had a miserable drive through Toronto to get to a job interview, and I didn't end up getting the job.  With still a lot of errands left to do, a rapidly increasing Visa bill, lots of work shifts still to go, and with more rough weather headed this way, I'm starting to feel a bit like Scrooge, which is typical for this time of year.  Christmas is just far enough away, and that initial feeling of excitement at the beginning of December has worn off quite a bit.

But, like with the story of Scrooge, there's a happy ending in store: most of the Christmas tasks are done, and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone over the holidays.  Despite the shitty drive on the 401 (two hours from Mississauga to Highway 400) and the bad news from the interview, I was able to spend some quality time with the folks and decorate the family Christmas tree, which was a nice treat.  And, let's not forget - there's still lots of Christmas beer still to come!  So let's keep Christmas well and enjoy the finer parts of the season still to come!

Poured into a nonic pint glass.  Amber caramel colour, clear, and with a nice sturdy cap of foam that recedes away after awhile.

Nose is quite malty, with a bit of tea hops and a lovely maraschino cherry and cinnamon component that I'm quite digging.

Tasty Christmas ale that is one I keep going back to every year - the name and label itself is enough to warrant picking up at least one.  Similar malty notes, that same cherry and spices, orange, clove, and a dry tea hop finish to clear things up.

Mild bodied, medium-to-light carbonation, a bit oily.

Hard to stay grumpy with the Christmas tree lit, the Rat Pack singing Christmas carols through the stereo, and with a tasty English Christmas ale in my hand.  Less than a week to go - cheers to all of you (and stay safe out there on the roads!)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On the Sixth Day of Beermas...Goose Island Sixth Day!

Beer: Goose Island Sixth Day
Brewery: Goose Island (Chicago, IL)
Type: Strong Brown Ale
ABV: 8.3%

Moving our way through our Christmas Brew list and we come across another big seasonal offering from another big American craft brewer - Goose Island of Chicago.  Well, I guess 'craft' is a tricky word to use here.  You see, Goose Island was more or less purchased by Anheuser Busch in 2011, meaning it is now owned by one of the biggest breweries in the world, the same folks who brew Budweiser and Bud Light.  So what does this mean?  Truth be told, I don't know; I'm still more or less ambivalent towards the actual business of brewing - it's the results I really care about.  And since I haven't really had a consistent and thorough look at Goose Island's lineup - and certainly not with regards to their quality over time - I can't truly say I know whether their brews are better or worse than before (though if their Bourbon County Stout is any indicator, I'd say they're still doing just fine).   At the very least, it looks like distribution should be on the up and up, so maybe it might mean more Goose Island brews our way maybe?

Goose Island's more well-known seasonal is their particularly tasty Christmas Ale, a nicely balanced and flavorful brown ale.  I wasn't able to p
ick up a bottle of that, but they had much boozier version of the Christmas Ale that is Sixth Day Festive Brown Ale.  Sixth Day is certainly well-suited for being slotted into the Countdown, and just for kicks, let's put it in at number six, shall we?

Poured into a small nonic glass.  There was some big visible sediment in the bottle, so after swirling that in the result was a hazy brown-chestnut hue with a quarter inch of foam that recedes into a thick ring.

Nose is nicely boozy and malty, with an American Barleywine quality to it.  Toffee, brown sugar, chocolate, tea hops, caramel.

Landing somewhere between a barleywine and a brown ale, this one is hard to spot.  Big and many like a barleywine, but slightly held back; nutty and tea-like like a brown ale, but amped up too high. Despite this strange placement, however, the result is very tasty.  Spices, cinnamon, boozy malt, chocolate, floral/herbal hops, apple cider, toffee.   Bit of dry bitterness to the finish.  Very nice indeed.

Thicker bodied, medium carbonation.

Although I still lean towards the Christmas Ale, this is a great boozy substitute.  Quite enjoyable Christmas brew indeed!

On the Fifth Day of Beermas...Here comes Samichlaus, Here comes Samichlaus, right down Samichlaus Lane!

Beer: Samichlaus
Brewery: Schloss Eggenberg (Eggenberg, Austria)
Type: Doppelbock
ABV: 14%

Bit of a change of plans for this post - I was all geared up to do Thiriez' Biere de Noel, but after drinking it I decided that the beer had gone off, so rather than do it a disservice by a review, I just left it off the list entirely.  A shame, but it does sometimes happen.   Fortunately we have an excellent substitute for today, a doppelbock from Austria that is by a wide margin our the strongest beer in the countdown.  This year marks the second anniversary of Samichlaus's arrival in Ontario, and although he certainly seems more than welcome up on the province's rooftops (click click click), the LCBO and AGCO were initially not so welcoming of old St. Nick.

Seems that a few years back, the folks who sought to distribute Samichlaus in Ontario were met with resistance from both the LCBO and AGCO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario).  Not for the strength of the beer, mind you, which at 14% is certainly among the very strongest beers to be available on liquor store shelves.   No, the reason for the initial refusal for having the brew in the province was the name 'Samichlaus' (Santa Claus in Swiss-German), which they argued didn't fit in with the LCBO's stance on 'don't promote beer based on Santa Claus', I guess.  Thus, when the brew was introduced into Ontario in 2008, a big sticker was plastered over the name to protect our precious little snowflakes from knowing the truth about the man in red's endorsement for seasonal boozy German-style ales.  In 2010, the AGCO chimed in and had the beer refused again - this time, because of the image of Santa on the cover.  Of course, the whole situation smacked of an awful stupidity that demonstrates the very worst of these provincial institutions.  To ban a beer based on a label that is potentially 'appealing to children' is ludicrous.  Children shouldn't be wandering around the LCBO shelves without supervision anyway, and if they do, they aren't going to be going for an obscure bottle of Austrian beer (though maybe that brightly coloured Santa-supported bottle of eggnog might be more intriguing, hmm?)  What were they thinking would happen - that some eight-year old with a bottle opener is going to crack one of these open and chug it down all because Santa is on the bottle?  Oh, but what if the little tykes find a bottle of Samichlaus in Mom and Dad's beer fridge?  Surely the image of Santa will prove to be utterly irresistible for youngsters, who will drop their toys at the mere sight of a bottle of "Santa Claus juice"?
Might be a good time for the parents to take some responsibility here, and you know...stop their kids from drinking...

Fortunately, clearer heads prevailed for one reason or another, and Samichlaus is now a regular beer for the Christmas season.  And what a beer it is...

Poured into my Duvel tulip glass.  Dark caramel ruby in colour, with a half inch of head that boils off to a thick ring - not uncommon for beers this strong.

Smells very sweet at boozy - rich caramel, plum, vanilla, tart cherry, lightly burned sugar.  Fan-freaking-tastic.

Lovely and sweet, very rich, a real pleasure to sip.
Big sweet caramel entry, vanilla, plums and grapes, before a boozy spicy finish.  Light puckery aftertaste.  Tastes very much like a sweet barleywine, rather than a doppelbock (maybe a tripelbock or quadbock?).  Either way, it's a potent and inviting brew that has a moderate body and strong enough carbonation to keep things moving.

Terrific brew, one I will keep coming back to again and again, so long as the forces that be decide that I am capable of handling it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On the Fourth Day of Beermas...St. Peter's Winter Ale

Beer: St. Peter's Winter Ale
Type: Winter Warmer
Brewery: St. Peter's (Suffolk, UK)
ABV: 6.5%

(Sorry for the delay between beer days - it's been a crazy week with work and the job front and getting Christmas things going...)

Another holiday standby that often rears its head in the LCBO around this time of year.  I tend to get it simply because I enjoy English Christmas ales this time of year, and St. Peter's is a pretty solid brewery whose products come in these unusual bottles that definitely appeal.

Poured into my St Peter's glass that I received last year and which has spent most of this past year on the shelf - clearly it is due for some use!  Dark brown brew, much darker than I'd remembered and certainly more so than the Sam Smiths. Almost getting into porter territory here.  Ruby highlights, good head of foam that recedes into a bubbly ring.
Nose is a nice malty bomb - toffee, bit of chocolate, dark fruits, spices, caramel.  A bit like Christmas pudding.

Tastes quite nice as well - malty, spicy, a good Christmas brew that would also play well at other times throughout the winter (so I guess "winter ale" is appropriate here!)  Dry tea hop finish, typical for the style.

Thicker mouthfeel, low carbonation.

For maltier tastes, this is a solid Christmas brew to go with.  Nice caramel and toffee, bit of nuttiness, and some extra spices to boot.  Goes well on a cold, snowy night such as this.