ON AND OFF THE BEATEN PATH :: The Last Of the Holiday Beers 2011… almost

by David Daugherty on January 12, 2012

The holidays are over, the decorations are gone and life continues after a great season of giving and sharing.  During the holiday, we experienced some excellent winter brews, so I thought I would give you three more I enjoyed with friends and family between Christmas and New Years Eve 2011.  This is the last of the holiday beers that made 2011 a great year for these special treats!

Jubelale from Deschutes Brewery, Bend Oregon:

This was my first tasting of a winter ale from Deschutes, and it was wonderful!  Poured into a pint glass, the color was a deep red with a tan head and constant lacing. The nose was festive with notes of fruit, spice and heavy malt. The sweet aroma got sweeter as the beer warmed, but it was that first sip that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Jubelale was sweet, but not too sweet, very chewy with brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon and roasted malt.  Citrusy hops came through as well, making this festive ale a complex and delightful brew.  Considered a Strong Ale, I could not get enough of this seasonal which weighs in with an ABV of 6.7% and 60 IBU’s.  This is now one of the “must haves” on my annual list of winter brews to enjoy over the holidays.

Next up was another one I hadn’t seen or tasted yet,  Newcastle Winter IPA, from The Caledonian Brewery Company. Harvey wrote about Caledonian in his piece on Scotland, enjoying their Heavy far bit more than I did this offering. I wouldn’t totally dismiss this one, but I wouldn’t make it a major holiday beer for guests.  The reason I say this is because as much as I love their Brown Ale, Newcastle could have put a little more effort into this ale. Simply stated, it was nondescript.  With most winter ales, as the beer warms you get more flavor. Not this one. In fact I got more flavor notes accidentally while eating a cookie!  I say accidentally, because I’m not much for sweets or desserts and, oddly, I tried the cookie while critiquing the beer. I was probably just looking for something to stimulate my palate. Interestingly, though, I think this is one of those brews (as Harvey also wrote about Dogfish Head Midas Touch) that’s better had with a dessert or sweet of some kind.

Poured into a pint glass, this Winter IPA produced a white head which dissipated quickly.  The lacing was constant,  the aroma a little sweet and malty which didn’t translate into the mouth feel.

The taste was less than stellar. I was looking for that hoppiness that one would normally get in a beer claiming to be an IPA, and it just wasn’t there. The carbonation proved to be what I would have expected, crisp and bubbly.  Then again, [Premium American Beer name here] Light is also Crisp and Bubbly.  Nuff said.  With an ABV of 5.2%, it’s hard to classify this as a winter “warmer,” hard, flavor wise, to look at it as an IPA… so no real connection to what they call it or how they market it. Disappointing.

Last but not least is my absolute, No. 1, anxiously awaited for year after year, winter ale classic.  Anchor Brewing Co.’s Merry Christmas & Happy New Year Ale for 2011.  I enjoy this offering for a number of unique reasons; brewed since 1975, the recipe is completely different every year , even featuring a different pine tree on the label each year.  Here is the description from the brewery about the series:

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. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. Our tree for 2011 is the bristlecone pine. Found high atop California’s White Mountains, bristlecones are among the oldest living things on the planet. Some date back nearly 5,000 years, to the dawn of the ancient art of brewing.

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.

This year’s brew was unbelievable, once again my favorite winter ale.  It was very hard to explain the characteristics of this ever changing winter ale mostly because I just wanted to enjoy the moment and not think about what the beer consisted of.  I discovered this winter ale in the early 90’s and never had one that I didn’t like.  As the brewery keeps the ingredients a secret, I would decline to attempt a guess at what they are. Now if someone out there who has tried it would like to give their account of what they think the ingredients of this special ale are, that could be fun.

I know, not much of a review or analysis, but I just wanted to give a huge shout out to a wonderful Ale that has us offering up a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year… just by ordering it!!

So the holidays may be over, but I do have one of Anchor’s holiday ale’s from 2009, not too easy to get at the time. I’m planning on extending my season by putting it in the fridge and opening later this month.  I’ll let you all know how well this beer held up over the last 2 years.  From all of us at YourBeerNetwork, I wish you all prosperity, good health, and good beer in the coming year.  Cheers!

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