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Hophead: Christmas Cheer Through Christmas Beer

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Spring ales, summer hefes and autumn's Oktoberfest beers are nice when the season arrives. But for many beer lovers, including myself, nothing can compare to the rich variety of beer that winter brings.

Along with seasonal stouts and porters (which I intend to write about next week), winter also heralds holiday-specific beers. Of course, my seasonal beer drinking is far from over. But following are a few favorites of this year so far. There are several I haven't had the chance to try yet, like Samichlaus, Scaldis Noel and Rogue Santa's Private Reserve. And I would love to read other suggestions in the comments.

Sierra Nevada Celebration
Because they're so refreshing and pair so well with spicy food, I usually think of IPAs as summer beers. But the big piney blast of hops makes this something like drinking a Christmas tree, while the sweet caramel malts and 6.8 percent ABV will put any beer lover in a jubilant mood.

Boulevard Nutcracker Ale
The name was fitting for this one, as I picked up on a sort of savory nutty taste along with its molasses and caramel sweetness and a robust presence of Cascade and Chinook hops. I picked up on a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon, but it's so subtle that it's hard to tell whether any holiday-associated spices were added or not.

Saint Arnold Christmas Ale
This is a great example of a rich, hearty, complex and malty winter warmer. Candied fruits, toffee, clove and gingerbread are all present in this wonderfully malty, slightly sweet beer, while floral and piney hops keep it well-balanced.

Anchor Christmas Ale
Anchor is best known for its Anchor Steam, but its 35-year tradition of excellent Christmas ales is probably its second biggest claim to fame. This year's offering lives up to the tradition. It's a complex, generously spiced, thick, dark brown, malty bottle of holiday cheer. Cinnamon, nutmeg, gingerbread and herbal hops all celebrate joyously with slightly sweet malt flavors. The creamy texture and slightly bitter finish make for a great all-around beer. Lady Hophead and I have gone through two six-packs already, and I'm sure we'll go through another couple before the holidays are over. So far, I'd say it's my favorite of the season.

Edit: Meant to include this in the introduction, but forgot... Tonight at around 6 p.m., Real Ale will tap a firkin of its special cask-conditioned coffee porter at the Libertine Bar. This coincides with the Libertine's keep-the-glass Thursday night deal, making it a must for beer lovers. I'll be there, but can't make it until later in the evening. Save a couple pints for me, will ya?

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