December 3, 2009

'Tis the season - Christmas Ales

It's the most wonderful time of the year. And not just because of the holidays. Now is the best time of year because of all the great holiday beers that are available.

This is my first holiday season as a real craft beer drinker. Last night I had an introduction to a variety of these beers at the Tria Fermentation School's Hoppy Holidays class. It was led by Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack), who did a great job of schooling us in the advent of Christmas beers, as well as imparting some interesting tidbits along the way (like the history of St. Nick, the origins of the first image of Santa Claus, some truly great vintage ads of Santa hawking beer). All this while teaching a class of students who became quiet loud and unruly as the tastings continued.

Here is the line up we had along with where they're from and the ABV of each:

Anchor Christmas Ale (San Francisco, CA) - 5.5%
Brasserie Dupont Avec Les Bon Voeux (Tourpes-Leuze, Belgium) - 9.5%
Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza (Dexter, MI) - 12%
St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel ( Le Roeulx, Belgium) - 9%
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Watou, Belgium) - 10%
De Struise Tsjeeses (Woesten-Vleteren, Belgium) - 10%
Troegs Mad Elf (Harrisburg, PA) - 11%
Samichlaus (Eggenburg, Austria) - 14%

So after looking at the ABVs, you can probably figure out why we were all so boisterous towards the end of this class.

It was an eye-opening experience. These were much different tasting than my usual IPAs! But some of them - particularly, for me, the Dupont Avec Les Bon Voeux and De Struise Tsjeeses - were really awesome. I think I liked those two best because they were the most mild of them all. Many of the others were very malty, and, in the case of the Jolly Pumpkin, very funky - which is because the brewer uses a yeast that makes it taste funky on purpose (it's also fermented in wooden barrels and then the different barrels are blended together).

Any one of these beers would make a great stocking stuffer for the beer lover on your gift list. For the beer lover who likes to read (which perfectly describes me) pick up a copy of Don Russell's book Christmas Beer, which tells the story of Christmas beers and has a list (compiled last year) of the 50 best Christmas beers.

Here's to holiday cheer with some Christmas beer!

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