Continuing to enjoy holiday beers well after the holiday season shouldn't make you feel like one of those neighbors who leaves their Christmas lights up through Valentine's Day. Every day's a holiday, and today you can crack open a special brew to celebrate (or rue) the fact that on this date in 1973 the American League owners voted to institute the designated hitter rule.
The Belgian strong dark ale Scaldis Noël was really good, though a little on the hot side -- the 12 percent ABV is not what you could call well-hidden. Rich raisin and dark fruit are the most noticeable flavors (along with alcohol) of this clear amber-mahogony brew. I'm not into cellaring beers the way so many of my beer-geek friends are, but I think this one could mellow out and develop some interesting flavors with a year of rest.
The imperial Russian stout Avery Czar, on the other hand, was dangerously drinkable at almost 12 percent ABV. It had a nice malty molasses and cocoa sweetness balancing the coffee and dark-chocolate bitter notes, with a silky body.
Sierra Nevada Celebration is, once again, a great IPA. It's not spiced or anything to make it a holiday beer, but rather hits stores during the holiday season because it's brewed with the first harvest of fresh hops. It's a complex mix of citrus and piney hops with a crisp, clean finish and a nice break from heavy winter beers.
Like Celebration, Victory Yakima Glory is a seasonal IPA made with fresh hops but not a winter warmer or holiday ale. It's even more bitter, with citrus, piney and herbal hops anchored by a very rich dark caramel malt backbone, rich and strong enough at 8.7 percent ABV to almost qualify as a double IPA. Victory's describes it as a dark or black IPA, and it looks black in most photos I've seen, but it was more of a reddish-mahogony color when I opened mine. Whatever the color and whatever you want to call it, it's outstanding.
The label, not to mention the name, of Lagunitas Sucks does just about everything it can to steer you away from buying the beer. Apparently the Lagunitas crew just sort of spaced on making the beloved seasonal Brown Shugga', or didn't have the brewhouse space, or something, and the copywriter uses a whole lot of words to apologize over and over without a word about what's actually in the bottle. While Beer Advocate lists it as a double IPA, Sucks (at just under 8 percent ABV) tastes like a pretty hoppy strong ale, sweet and rich with a sticky body and a bright fruity, hoppy nose. And like just about everything Lagunitas brews, it's really good.
Rogue Santa's Private Reserve was a good amber ale, nutty, crisp and light but not especially memorable.
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Anchor Our Special Ale is my wife's favorite beer in the world, so we blew through a few six-packs before it mostly disappeared from shelves in town. She got the lion's share of them, of course. The beloved annual ale, with its hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, spruce, vanilla and other herbs and spices, has come to define the Christmas beer. This year's batch didn't seem to stray much from recipes of years past, and it didn't disappoint.
Saint Arnold Christmas Ale is a good spicy, creamy, hoppy, sweet amber ale. It's not the best warmer out there, but pretty good for a 7-percenter priced the same as the Houston brewery's everyday offerings. New this year, or at least newly bottled, was Sailing Santa, supposedly a 50/50 mix of Christmas Ale and Elissa IPA. I refused on principle to pay $7 or $8 for a 22-ounce bottle of something made of two beers that each sell for about that amount per six-pack. My attempt to make a Sailing Santa myself from its components didn't change my mind; it just tasted like a sweeter and spicier Elissa or a hoppier Christmas Ale, but not as good as either. Saint Arnold Winter Stout came on the heels of Christmas Ale, and is again this year a balanced if unexceptional stout, dark cola brown sporting a thin fizzy head with meek chocolate and coffee notes emanating from a light but drinkable body.
Full Sail Wassail was something like a cross between a brown ale, a stout and Anchor OSA. It had a good rich body with roasty malts and was a good balance of bitterness and sweetness.
Stone 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale, released around November 11 (11-11-11), was really tasty and a lot better than its predecessor in my opinion. Beers in the Vertical Epic series are released about every 13 months (last year's was on 10-10-10, the year before on 9-9-09, and so on back to 2-2-02) and intended to be cellared until December 12 of this year. Stone Brewing Co. sent me a bottle, and since I'm not much of a long-range planner I went ahead and opened it. Pouring a pretty ruby red with an off-white head, it's made with Hatch peppers and cinnamon, with clove and some yeasty banana also on the nose and a heat that grew as slowly as the glass drained. Aged or not, the spices made for a fine holiday beer. You can try it alongside a tapping of 10.10.10 at 7 p.m. tonight at Flying Saucer on the Lake.