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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s Christmas Ale

  • Style: Winter (Holiday) Ale
  • AVB:  7.50%
  • Season: Winter
  • Ease to locate: Widely available in the Midwest, NY, NJ, VA, WV, KY,  & Washington DC
  • Color: A festive copper color
  • Head: One & a half finger that falls quickly
  • Aroma: Strong holiday spices of cloves and ginger
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with nice carbonation
  • Finish: Short to medium
  • Food friendly: Savory/sweet dishes like a turkey & cranberry panini or roasted pork & apples, also great for a holiday desert tray

It's beginning to look a lot like the liquor aisles at least.  It seems to be the norm now that most craft breweries put out a seasonal brew or two every year.  And like all Christmas presents, some are better than others.

Just like Christmas cookies, everybody has their favorite (I'm partial to snicker doodles myself.)  I'll admit it.  One of the nicer perks I've discovered since beginning this blog is that friends are eager to share their favorite beers with you.  Sometimes they even throw a free one or two my way to review.  I recently helped a co-worker locate his favorite hometown seasonal ale and he was nice enough to pass a bottle along to me.  Teacher always says that every time a beer cap pings, an angel gets her wings.  And, you know, I just want to do my part to help increase the angel population.  

Christmas ales originated during the Middle Ages, but not as part of holiday celebrations.  Spice were often put into regular beer back then in place of hops.  This was thought to give beer a medicinal property, and sine you couldn't exactly drink the water and penicillin & Cold-Eaze still had 400 years to go, it seemed like a good idea.  In the 20th Century, small European breweries began to create special ales during the winter months as a treat for their regulars.  Christmas ales often taste of cinnamon, cloves and ginger; spices that just scream Christmas, just as George Baily might call out to his old Building & Loan.  Great Lakes Brewing Co., is a well distributed brewery located in Cleveland, Ohio.  They've won quite a few World Beer Championship awards for their beers, the most recent being a silver medal for this holiday ale in 2012.  Now, you can put whatever stock into awards that you wish.  To me, the proof is on the plum pudding, so to say.

Great Lake's Christmas Ale poured a rich copper color, and maybe it's just the holiday induced stress talking here, but the golden reddish hue seemed extremely festive all on it's own.  A one and a half  finger, light colored head settled into a next to nothing film that floated on the surface of the drink.  There was minimal lacing that took a heavy swirl or two to even produce.  What the head lacked in staying power, it more than made up for it in aroma.  I could smell the typical holiday spices of cloves and ginger right off the bat.  The first taste reflected the scent perfectly, heavy on the cloves followed right behind by the ginger and cinnamon.  I had a sudden urge to bake some snicker doodles.  In fact, this beer would go great with a Christmas cookie platter or a slice of pecan pie.  As the beer warmed a bit, it opened slightly and revealed notes of honey and caramel vanilla.  It grew less spicy and more sweet as it sat.  There was a nice bit of carbonation which helped to balance out the sweetness.  Fizz always equals festive in my book any way. (my book being this of course.  It's an easy one night read.)

The mouthfeel was moderate, which was pretty much expected.   The clove and ginger flavor carried over to the semi-short finish.  I think the reemergence of the spices on the finish really helped to keep the honey sweetness from becoming cloying.  A decent Christmas ale should be as easy to drink as a glass of lemonade on a hot day.  And a hell of of a lot easier to drink than whatever the heck glogg is.  And if you do know what glogg actually is, keep it to your Thor-loving, fiord-living self.  

One of the best things about seasonal beer is the opportunity to enjoy unique offerings that are available for only a short amount of time.  Many breweries take November and December as a chance to try something new (such as New Galrus' fruit forward beers or the Lagunitas Brown Shugga' Ale substitute, Lagunitas Sucks! ale)  If you're lucky, you may be able to indulge in a fresh pull from a draft at your local brew pub.  But if you'd rather imbibe in the comfort of your own home (because that's where you keep the lazy boy chair and flat screen) a bottle of holiday ale is still about as fresh as you can reasonably get.  Due to the seasonal nature and limited amount produced, you're pretty much guaranteed a recently bottled beer.  Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s Christmas Ale is a nice addition to the holiday beer repertoire.  Serve it with roasted pork and apples for your holiday dinner party.  Make yourself a leftover turkey and cranberry panini.  Or better yet, take it as a contribution to a Christmas Cookie Exchange to liven things up.  I'd certainly invite you back next year if you did.