Now that yesterday's Epiphany has come and gone, even those who hold onto the holiday spirit well past New Year's Day have to admit that it's time to get back into the workaday routine.
But that doesn't mean the spirit doesn't linger a bit, at least when it comes to good beers. Along with winter warmers and seasonal stouts that aren't specifically intended for holiday consumption, you can still find a few Christmas beers on shelves and taps at good beer stores and pubs.
Barbar Winter Bok
I tried this one at the Libertine in late December, but they didn't have any left on a more recent visit. Brewed with honey, bitter oranges and coriander, this was a lovely sweet (but not too sweet) amber beaut with lots of dark fruit notes reminiscent of good Belgian dubels and a nice hop bite at the finish. Definitely worth trying again.
Scaldis Noel (Bush de Noel)
This was kind of pricey considering it came in an 8.48 oz bottle (or 25 cl, whatever the hell a cl is--those wacky Euros). Though I'll admit, it was a very pretty foil-covered bottle. But one sip at Trinity Hall recently and I could see why it was well worth it. A dark reddish-amber Belgian, it's a bit syrupy-sweet with kandi sugar, caramel and notes of figs, raisins and cherries to accompany food. But as a dessert sipper, it's sublime--and powerful, at 12 percent ABV with an alcohol warmth that is perceptible but not too strong.
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St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
A ruby-brown strong (10-percent ABV) ale, this one had all the dark fruity sweetness and rowdy carbonation of great Belgian ale with spicy clove and nutmeg notes to add the holiday spirit.
Similar to St. Bernardus, but with more dark fruit character, more clove and a hint of cocoa, this is another favorite--and another where the 10-percent ABV is dangerously well-hidden.
Pike Auld Acquaintance
This Seattle holiday beer is made with orange peel, coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg--and lots of hops. Yet it's all very well blended, without the in-your-face hop punch typical of West Coast brewers. Considering the holiday-themed bottle, I'd have liked the spices to show up a bit more, as it's not a malty warmer-style beer and not especially festive at 5 percent ABV. Even so, overall it's a nice beer.
Got this one by the bottle at Trinity Hall. It has nice toasty, bready malts with some sweet toffee flavor and a soft, floral hop bite. It's a British IPA, and it tastes very British. Don't think I'd bother again, but I am curious to try others in Ridgeway's "Bad Elf" series now, like the "Criminally Bad Elf" barleywine and the 11-plus ABV "Insanely Bad Elf" imperial red.