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Monday, December 23, 2013

Great Lakes Brewing Co's 2013 Christmas Ale

  • Style: Holiday Ale
  • ABV: 7.50%
  • Season: Winter (late October/November/December)
  • Ease to locate: Brewed in Cleveland, OH.   Easy to find in liquor/bottle shops and some large grocery stores in IL, NY, NJ, VA, WV, KY, Washington DC
  • Color:Lightly golden brown with heavy copper and amber tones
  • Head: Two finger, light beige head with tight lacing
  • Aroma: Sweet caramel malts with spices that really open as it warms.  Scents of cloves, ginger and nutmeg.  A bit of resin on the back of the nose.
  • Mouthfeel: On the lighter side of medium with abundant carbonation
  • Finish: Medium with a resin hop tail
  • Food friendly?: Yes.  Hearty winter food that benefit from a bit of baking spices.  Not too spicy chili or Moroccan tagine.  Serve with sharp cheeses, like pecorino romano. 

Apple user link: This song always makes me think of my Dad. Traditions are important.

                                                                   On the 13th day I think we all just need a good drink.  That's a LOT of shopping after all.

Christmas is a time of traditions. Secular ones. (Important.  Black Friday frenzy anyone?) Family ones. (Very important.  They're the ones that buy you all the presents, after all.)  Drinking ones. (I'll let you decide on this one's place in the grand scheme of things.  I personally may have squealed a bit when I saw a certain seasonal offering in my local grocery store this year.)  For many of us (the Squealers) Christmas ales are a highly anticipated part of the holiday season.  And for me, the first sighting of those Great Lakes Brewing's bottles with the Christmas tree ship on them always evoke a warm, excited, seasonal response (did I mention the squeal?)  

My Great Lake's Christmas Ale poured a light golden brown with amber and copper tones warming the brew.  A solid, two finger head of light beige foam formed quickly, but took it's sugar cookie sweet time in settling.  Tight, spotty lacing rimmed the glass, creeping delicately up the sides.  The nose was slightly sweet with caramel and soft brown sugar scents layered on top of light holiday spices.  It wasn't a heavy aroma, but opened greatly as the beer warmed.  A note of bitter resin came out as the brew sat for a while as well.   Now, of course no one should be drinking their craft beer as cold as the Grinch's shrunken heart, but this was the sort of beer that got better and better the longer you waited to drink it.  Patience is apparently a holiday virtue (try telling that to the guy standing behind you in line while last minute shopping this year.  I triple dog dare you.)   There was a strong malt backbone, just as on the nose.  Lots of caramel malts and a bit of brown sugar sweetness off set by the spiciness of cloves, ginger and cinnamon.  As time when on, I discovered that the taste of honey and vanilla appeared as well.  The hoppy resin note worked extraordinarily well with the spiciness while still balancing out the sweetness.  I think it's pretty safe to say that this is one of the best balanced Christmas ales on the market right now.  The mouthfeel was on the lighter side of  moderate with a good amount of carbonation that helped to make this an easy to drink sort of beer.  The finish was also medium  with a very welcome hop trail on the very end of the sip.  All in all, this beer was just the perfect holiday bite of beer.  

When I first reviewed Great Lake's Christmas Ale last year,  I was pretty new to the whole seasonal ale scene.  But this beer quickly became a favorite holiday indulgence.  I would play off of the balanced sweetness and spiciness of this beer by serving it with a Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Honey and Apricots.  Or, alternatively, try it with a simple bowl of Beef Chili made with Beer and Coffee.  Cook with a richer beer such as, a Eugene Porter from Revolution or, oh, I don't know, Great Lake's Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and pour yourself a side pint of this delicious Christmas Ale.  Squealing is purely optional.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Revolution Brewing's 2013 Fistmas Holiday Ale

  • Style: Spiced Ale (Revolution calls it a red ale)
  • ABV: 6.1%
  • Season: Early winter (November through December)
  • Ease to locate: Revolution distributes in most of IL and parts of OH.  Here's a link to their beer menu page 
  • Color: Brown with heavy red and amber tints.  Slightly hazy with visible carbonation
  • Head: A festive 2 finger, light beige head with generous medium sized bubbles
  • Aroma: Pine hops with a bit of caramel malts and a hint of spice.  Nose opens as it warms, allowing the notes of anise and cloves to emerge
  • Mouthfeel: Moderate with great carbonation
  • Finish: Medium with a resin/ pine tail
  • Food friendly?: I actually enjoy this beer more with food than without.  Try it with some lightly spiced chicken or turkey chili.  Also serve it with a bacon friendly roasted chicken panini.  This is excellent with sharp cheeses, especially sharp provolone

 Apple user link : No one likes a skinny Santa

 I've always thought that the Santa in this show is a bit of a jerk.  Please don't tell him.  I'm still waiting for that pony.

For the next few weeks, I thought that I'd post about some local to the Midwest Christmas beers.  Of course two of them I've already reviewed (here's a link to 2012's Fistmus post.) but I think that they both deserve a repeat visit.  I've now passed the the one year mark for this blog (I know, it doesn't look a day over 364!) and funny thing is that as the year has gone on, I've discovered that my palate has changed considerably. In some ways it's grown sharper, able to pick out nuances that easily escaped my attention last year at this time.  My taste has also grown to include flavors that were once, lets just say, less than enjoyable to me (Hello, Mr. Sour.  So very glad to make you acquaintance finally.  Have you met Mr. Heavy Pine?) I think for those reasons alone, a second look is called for on my part.  Seasonal (holiday especially) beers are anticipated by beer geeks the way an eight year old child  might wait for Santa by her fireplace. Only we beer geeks wait in never ending lines in cold, dark, smelly parking lots for the chance of buying a few $30 plus bombers only to be told once you get to the front of the line that all they have left is the weird experimental beer that the master brewer came up with one late night after ingesting more than a safe amount of moderately priced Kentucky bourbon mixed with Fresca.  Or that could just be my experience.

My 2013 Fistmas Holiday Ale poured a lightly cloudy red amber brown with a two finger, just off beige, head.  I could see the carbonation rising steadily in my glass (as can you in the photo above.  Jinx!). The foam was a tight mixture of medium and slightly large bubbles which resulted in lots of pretty lacing creeping up the sides of the pint.  The head took it's time to settle into a thick, top layer film which stuck around for a good potion of the drink.  I could easily smell the pine hops on the nose, so much so that it was difficult at first to find another scent until my own nose grew accustomed to it.  Now, I'm willing to admit, I have never been a huge fan of pine flavored hops and probably never will be.  If I had my way, every IPA would use Citra, Galaxy or Crystal hops ( and what a boring, humdrum world it would be.  The Cohen Brothers would have to make a movie about a renegade band of underground brewers who smuggle Chinook hops in from Canada to brew pine scented DIPAs.  John Goodman would probably finally get an Oscar for his work.)  But over the past year, I've come to appreciate their presence in many beers, Fistmas included.  There was a small amount of sweetened caramel malts in the initial scent, but as the beer warmed, the beauty of the aroma came out to play.  The spicy bite of anise, cinnamon, cardamon and cloves emerged and made their holiday presence known.  The taste mirrored the nose almost exactly.  Lots and lots of pine, but nicely balanced by the malts and spice combination.  Honestly, if you grew up in the late seventies, early eights and happen to live in my household (and if you did, that means that you're most likely my brother and you owe me a Christmas present.  And stop touching my stuff) you would know the joy of  Jingle Cookies, a yearly December treat highly anticipated by my family.  This beer reminded me of those Christmas cookies in the best possible way.  The body was a moderate mouthfeel with a medium finish ending in a pine forward tail. The beer had a fresh element to it that carried from the nose, to the taste and worked in wonderful harmony with the body and finish.  A very well crafted, definitely on Santa's nice list, sort of brew.

Some Christmas beers are made to drink all on their lonesome own.  Maybe by a crackling fire.  Or at least in front of a high definition one on the TV.  I think that Revolution's Fistmas benefits from being served alongside of something good to eat.  Keep it relatively simple, maybe a steaming bowl of moderately spiced shredded turkey chili.  Or finally dig that panini press you received from Santa last year out of the back closet (again, just me?) and make a bacon, tomato, cheddar and roasted chicken pannini to go with the beer.  When I poured open my first can of Fistmas this year (yes, Virginia.  They come in cans now!  It's a Christmas miracle! ) I paired it with a few chunks of a sharpe Provalone cheese and the difference the food made was extraordinary.  It took it from just being a nice, holiday spiced red ale, to something that skyrocketed to the top of Santa's Nice list.  And that's a pretty good place to be this time of year.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Half Acre Beer's Luther's Boot

  • Style: Amber Rye Ale
  • ABV: 6.00%
  • Season: One and done
  • Ease to locate: At the Half Acre tap Room only. Hence the very cool looking growler in the photo to the left.  Honestly, Half Acre has the best looking growlers
  • Color: Lightly cloudy brown with reddish tones 
  • Head: One finger off while head that dissipated quickly.  Spotty lacing rimming the glass
  • Aroma: Very malty & caramel sweet notes.  Lots of grain & bready yeast.  A hint of spiciness from the rye
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with abundant carbonation
  • Finish: Medium with a strong malt element.  Slight hops on the tail
  • Food friendly: Sure.  I'd pick a meal that veered towards a savory element to offset the sweetness of the grain.  Try it with  roast beef & horseradish or a simple mushroom  or root vegetable soup.  Serve it along side sharp cheddar cheese or a bit of mild creamy cheese like Gruyere

Apple user's link: I just see Hedwig & Crookshanks on an afternoon outing at Hogswarts

                                                                                                                      My assumption is that this is briefly after one of them ate Scabbers.

Sometimes it's nice to let someone else pick out the drinks for a given night.  I tend to be the one to bring a new craft beer or the latest release to a gathering.  Sometimes it's because I've become enchanted with a certain beer and want to share it with people that I love or can at least tolerate for a given night.  (You know who you are.)  Other times, I grab a bomber or two from my stash that I've been meaning top crack open as I rush out the door.  But it's those casual gatherings where someone else takes the initiative to share something that they might love/want to pop open, well, those are the most fun evenings of all.  And if they bring the undiscovered beer in a cool looking growler, even better.  (Extra point for the owl.  Owls rock.)

Handy Dandy ICBG tasting glass.  Don't leave home without it.

 The other night, my brother showed up for dinner with a growler of Half Acre's Luther Boot which is a one time, growler/tap only Amber Rye Ale.  The beer poured a lightly cloudy, reddish brown liquid.  A one finger light beige head formed and dissipated quickly into a thin layer of foam.  Delicate, spotty lacing rimmed the glass.  The aroma was big and malty with roasted grains and sweet cereal notes.  There was also a heavy aroma of  bready yeast and a very, very light note of spice.  The taste improved on the scent with a better balance of the same notes as on the nose.  Yes, it was still very much a malt bomb, but a better balanced one than the nose was.  Elements of brown sugar, sharp rye and a hit of peppery hops evened out all of the initial sweetness.   I'll be honest, if I hadn't looked it up, I wouldn't have guessed that it was a rye ale.  Half Acre produces some of the better locally made rye ales and I was surprised at just how delicate the note was on this beer.  However, I also had to take into consideration that this was not only a growler stored beer, it was a growler beer where I had no control about how it was stored.  Could the rye note have been heavier on the tap pour?  Or was Half Acre making a subtle sort of rye ale?  An Amber rye for people who don't like rye?  The world may never know.  The moderate body was sharp with an abundance of carbonation, giving a bite to the sweetness of the grain.  A medium finish was very light on rye and peppery hops, giving the beer an easy sort of drinkability, but not much distinction. 

I usually have a difficult time pairing rye grain based beers with a variety of dishes, but the mildness of the note in Half Acre's Luther's Boot expands the possibilties beyond the usual suspects of cold cuts and mild cheese.  I'd serve this beer with a hearty Root Vegetable Soup thick with Squash & Lentils.  The sweetness of the ale would work nicely with the butternut squash and pancetta in the soup, while the spiciness of the rye and peppery hops could play nice with the thyme, garlic and bay leaf seasoning used in the recipe.  I'd also pair it with a mushroom heavy dish, such as this Wild Mushroom and Beef Stew.  Since this recipe calls for 12oz of an Amber Ale, why not measure out some Luther's Boot to incorporate while you're at it?  (a little for the stew, a little for me.....)   Of course, one of the things that I love about growlers is that they are meant for sharing.  Any time that you share a good beer, well, that's just a party waiting to happen.  And if you throw an owl into the mix, all the better.