ON & OFF THE BEATEN PATH :: 2012 Holiday Brews in Review

by David Daugherty on January 17, 2013

Ed: While Dave was planning on doing some Holiday Beer posts during the holidays, Holidays got in the way of Work, Life got in the way of Work, Flu got in the way of Work, and Work got in the way of… this piece. That said, Dave alway provides some good insights and fun details, so here we go.

After going through an array of holiday beers from Thanksgiving through Christmas, there are 2 that really struck me as holiday worthy. One is on top of my recent favorite beers list, and the other, an old favorite. Let’s start with the newby.

Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza Special Ale

I was glad to see that Jolly Pumpkin was available here in Phoenix.  I had a number of their beers while living in Ohio, the opportunity to visit their brew pub in Ann Arbor Michigan and, I have to say, their style is unique.

courtesy of guysdrinkingbeer.com

courtesy of guysdrinkingbeer.com

Everything I have tasted from Jolly Pumpkin has been sour, tart, or both.  I sat on this 750ml bottle for a year and the pour from the bottle into the pint glass was predictably crazy.  The light brown head of highly active carbonation rocketed immediately to the top of the glass leaving only about an eighth of an inch of beer on the bottom.  I waited more than 5 minutes for the beer to level out yet there were only about 2 fingers of the deep reddish liquid showing.  I poured a little more into the glass and waited another 5 minutes.  The head took on the look of the foam you get from a root beer float!  Finally, able to smell and taste after the beer settled down and had a chance to warm up a bit, I have to say I was impressed.

Noel comes in tart to the nose and mouth,  by no means a bad thing.  The aroma may be tart but dark fruits such as plums and figs arise with it.  The mouth feel is definitely tart from the beginning but levels out into a dark malt flavor.  There is an alcohol taste that comes through late but I would expect that considering Noel comes in at 9% ABV.  Like Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Noire , one I also immensely like, this style isn’t for everyone.

We here at YBN have been tasting beer for quite a while now and realize one thing.  You need to have as open mind as the brewers themselves when it comes to beer tasting.  I give this holiday treat a tremendous round of applause. Jolly Pumpkin is dedicated to old world craftsmanship, using open fermentation, oak barrel aging and bottle conditioning,  yet maintaining a real imagination when it comes to their line. Released as a seasonal beer in December, I look forward to next Christmas to enjoy the next generation of this offering.

Anchor Brewing Merry Christmas Happy New Year 2012

christmas-bioNow for the old favorite, a winter warmer that does just that.  I look forward to this every year because it’s also a unique brew.  For the past 38 years, Anchor has brewed this holiday favorite with just one…
BIG difference:  The recipe is different every year as is the label, which features a different pine tree each year.
They don’t release the ingredients as they are very secretive on that front.  The only thing I do know is that the beer comes in at 5.5% ABV so drinkability is not a problem here and is available from November-February.  Go out and get some, you won’t regret it.  As always, this is a dark and spicy ale and what makes this year’s so good is that the aroma comes in with a subtle spruce and caramel note.  The color is sort of a deep amber, the flavor mixing in what I taste as ginger, nutmeg and pine making this an enjoyable holiday treat.  I enjoyed this sitting in front of a fire on the patio and it couldn’t have been a more perfect evening.  There is a lot more I can say about this favorite of mine and getting to San Francisco to visit the brewery is on my list, but I’ll let Anchor describe this 2012 offering:

“2012 Anchor Christmas Ale. New tree. New recipe. Same traditions.

Each year since 1975, Anchor Brewing creates a distinctive Christmas Ale, available from early November to mid-January. A rich, dark spiced ale, our secret recipe is different every year—as is the tree on the label—but the intent remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life.

imagesSince ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. Our tree for 2012 is the Norfolk Island pine. Captain Cook discovered this South Seas isle and its native tree in 1774. These tropical-looking conifers, which thrive in sandy soil and coastal climes, were first planted in California in the 1850s. The Norfolk Island pine on this year’s label, hand drawn from life, resides in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Each year our Christmas Ale gets a unique label and a unique recipe. Although our recipes must remain a secret, many save a few bottles from year to year. Properly refrigerated, the beer remains intriguing and drinkable for years. Different nuances emerge as the flavor mellows slightly, much like the memories of great holiday seasons past. Celebrate the holidays with Anchor Christmas Ale, an Anchor tradition since 1975.”

Oh, and I did have a few bottles left over from last year.  All I can say is “Incredible!”

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season and that you had a chance to imbibe in some holiday cheer.  I also wish you good health and prosperity in the new year to come. that you have enjoyed reading our takes on food and beer and other things just as much as we enjoyed experiencing them and writing about them.  Cheers!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy Michel January 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm

sounds interesting enough and was intrigued that it would keep for several years.
Thanks for the info and the tasty bits.


admin January 23, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Judy, More than a few fine beers these days are “bottle conditioned” which is to say they are actually, like wine, designed to continue to mature in the bottle over a few years, though usually not as long as most red wines. Scroll down and you’ll see a tasting of a wonderful Anniversary Issue from Sierra Nevada, having sat upright in a nice cool (not cold) darkish space for about 2 1/2 years. Spectacular! http://yourbeernetwork.com/?p=1331


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