Rogue’s winter beer smells and tastes like apple, spruce, pine, and hops. It’s a red ale (a.k.a. an American amber ale) but has double the hops of the normal Rogue red. Still, it’s balanced, and avoids being a one-note hop-bomb. Six percent ABV, light carbonation, medium body, almost nonexistent head.
Hood River, Oregon’s Full Sail brewery has been brewing Wassail since 1988, and it’s not a holiday ale that relies on spices for its winter vibe. It pours a dark mahogany color, with the creamy body and texture of a stout and an assertive hit of hops that IPA fans will enjoy. (On the flip side, this beer may be too hoppy for people who like mild-flavored brews.) We thought the strong malt and hops flavors were balanced enough that we’d drink this year-round if it were available. And with a high 7 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), it helps numb the pain of annoying relatives.
St. Paul-based Summit is known locally for its rock-solid and easy-drinking Extra Pale Ale, but the brewery really shines with its fussily perfect seasonal and limited-release brews. The aroma of Summit’s Winter Ale is chocolaty, and it tastes like satsumas, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It’s pleasantly sweet and mellow without being syrupy, and the spice flavors linger in the finish.
Safe and balanced, Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale even has a nondenominational holiday name, so as not to offend. It’s mild—hell, it only scores six on the International Bittering Units scale, around what a can of macro American lager does—but that’s not to say it’s flavorless. You can taste a little bit of vanilla and some baking-spice flavors (maybe cinnamon and citrus peel?) that blend nicely with the mellow beer. Surprisingly, it packs a 6.9 percent ABV.
Flavored with roasty coffee and toffee but smooth-drinking, Magic Hat’s black lager is dark in color but light in body, and has a lower ABV than our other selections at 4.6 percent. It’s a nice change to find a black lager for a holiday beer, but given the Vermont-based brewery’s reputation for funky, unconventional brews it’s not too surprising.
The first thing you’ll notice about this San Francisco beer in a can is its killer label: an old-timey illustration of FDR by a garland-bedecked fireplace. The beer, which 21st Amendment says is based on an English-style strong ale, is dark and malty, lightly sweet, and restrained enough in its spicing (which includes cocoa nibs) to make you want another. The only real gripe we have is that the aftertaste seemed a tad ashy, but at 7.9 percent ABV, no one is going to notice for long.
High Alcohol and Rich Malt Heavy Christmas and Seasonal Brews
By Pat Smith, Kevin Hussey and Matt Goldstein
Winter ales actually date back to the times of the Pagans and were believed to be originally brewed and drank for celebration of the winter solstice. After the birth of Christ, winter ales and Christmas Ales were made each year to celebrate Christmas, especially in brewing monasteries. Monks don’t talk much and unfortunately they’re celibate, but hey, they make some damn good beer.
Port Brewing’s Santa’s Little Helper Russian Imperial Stout:
The Santa’s Little Helper is a must try for all beer lovers and maybe the best seasonal beer out there. Especially for malt lovers, Port Brewing’s Santa’s Little Helper Russian Imperial Stout puts the MALT in stout. It’s simply a phenomenal brew. With notes of chocolate, roasted malts and caramel, Santa’s Little Helper is one of our favorite stouts and we wish it was available year round. 9.5% ABV, Port Brewing. Pizza Port, CA.
Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale:
The Old Man Winter Ale is an old ale style seasonal brew by Southern Tier Brewing. Our clear number 2 of the season, Southern Tier seems to bring it every time they make a beer. Reddish brown in color, and having beautiful notes of malts and barley with hints of light hops, the Old Man Winter Ale has a smooth but complex finish. 7.2% ABV, Southern Tier Brewing Co. Lakewood, NY.
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome:
The Winter Welcome is Honey-amber-colored and creamy with a head of small bubbles. Having a floral aroma and delicious malt flavor, the Sam Smith winter welcome style seasonal ale is very drinkable with a great bite. 6.0% ABV, Sam Smith Old Brewery. Yorkshire, UK.
Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi:
Beer Advocate refers to this style as a Biere de Garde. The Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi is gold in color and actually bittered with the bark of Frankincense, and mixed with a small amount of Myrrh which is an herb that has roots in ancient winemaking as well. The Gift of the magi can also be considered a golden ale. 10.0% ABV, Lost Abbey Brewing. San Marcos, CA.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale:
The Celebration Ale is rich and robust in malts with dry hops and won medals at numerous beer competitions, including gold. The Celebration Ale sets the bar for seasonal IPA’s. 6.80% ABV, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Chico, CA.
Weyerbacher Winter Ale:
Winner of multiple medals and deep in rich malts, the Weyerbacher Winter Ale has a roasty flavor with a dry finish. 5.6% ABV, Weyerbacher Brewing Company. Easton, PA.
Petrus Winter Ale:
The Petrus Winter Ale is a Dark Belgian Ale and dark brown in color. Not very thick for a seasonal winter brew but having notes of fruit and spice, The Petrus Winter Ale is slightly sour and complex. 6.5% ABV, Brouwerij Bavik. Belgium.
The Hoppin Frog Frosted Frog Christmas Ale:
Brewed with ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, the Frosted Frog is a clear dark reddish brown color with a light spicy sweet scent almost like a spiced wafer cookie. With a beautiful heavy malt flavor, the spices in the finish and aftertaste work very well. With 12 IBU’s and 8.6% ABV, the Frosted Frog Christmas Ale is a Winter Warmer brewed by Hoppin Frog in Akron Ohio and pairs well with Pumpkin Pie and Turkey. http://www.hoppinfrog.com
The Sly Fox Christmas Ale:
The Sly Fox Christmas Ale is back for another year. After a successful run in 2008 & 2009, the Sly Fox brewery did not disappoint this year. With 16 IBU’s and 6.50% ABV, the 2010 Slyfox Christmas Ale has hints of peppermint, ginger, nutmeg and a semi-sour taste. Red in color, this Christmas ale has a great bite and aromatic hops. “If this one doesn’t get you into the Christmas spirit, you truly are a Scrooge.”
The 21st Amendment Fireside Chat Winter Spice Ale:
The Fireside Chat Ale is an ode to FDR’s depression era radio addresses which were like a “kick in the butt and a hug at the same time. At 45 IBU’s and 7.90% ABV, the Fireside Chat Ale is a ruby red color with a light Belgian nose. This winter ale has a smoky flavor and great kick. Made with pale, Munich, wheat and chocolate malts, balanced with magnum and Goldings hops and top fermenting yeast, the 21st Amendment Fireside Chat Winter Spiced Ale has spices and cocoa added. A is a solid winter ale.
Brewed with ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, the Frosted Frog is a clear dark reddish brown color with a light spicy sweet scent almost like a spiced wafer cookie. With a beautiful heavy malt flavor, the spices in the finish and aftertaste work very well. With 12 IBU’s and 8.6% ABV, the Frosted Frog Christmas Ale is a Winter Warmer brewed by Hoppin Frog in Akron Ohio and pairs well with Pumpkin Pie and Turkey.
Great Lakes Christmas Ale:
Handcrafted with spices and honey, the pour is a beautiful and clear light brown. The malt flavor is excellent and the finish is perfectly crisp. The aftertaste is dry and long and the spice notes are subtle. This beer is defined by the malts and its simply outstanding. The spice notes are honey, ginger and cinnamon with all natural yeast, hops, barley and malts. It’s very obvious why this beer is was a gold medalist at the World Beer Championships. .
The Pennsylvania Brewing Company in Pittsburgh is mostly known for its lager styles, but they make a credible entry into ales with the new Allegheny Pale Ale. On draft at the Drafting Room in Exton, it doesn’t differ much from similar offerings by Stoudts or Troegs, but as those breweries are masters of the East Coast-style of session-y pale ales, that’s not a bad thing. The Allegheny is dark gold in color with a floral, slightly hoppy nose. Muted hop and citrus flavors with a slight sweetness in the mouth feel make it well-suited for warm weather drinking or if you’re at the bar and just thirsty. Overall, a well-composed beer that doesn’t stumble over itself trying to attack your taste buds.
International Showdown: North America Destroys Belgium in a Double Blind Taste Test
By Don Corino, Pat Smith, Kevin Hussey, Howard Goldstein, John Morina, Steve Sharkey, Tim Rodgers & Matt Goldstein
The Belgian Tripel Trials were an international showdown between Belgian Tripel Ales and North American Belgian style Tripels. A Belgian Tripel, or sometimes Triple, can also be described as a strong pale ale. Tripel is a style that was created by Trappist Monks before WWII in which 3 times the amount of malt is used in the brewing process as compared to a standard Belgian or Trappist Ale. Many Belgian monastery’s support themselves and their religious studies through brewing beer and making cheese. These quiet and religious men who dawn themselves in maroon robes and rope belts have proven to be some of the best brewers in the world. With about 8-10% ABV per beer, the Trappist Tripel style brews are usually thick and gold in color, slightly sweet and bitter with a complex finish. All of the beers competing in the double blind taste test were Belgian Tripel styles except for the Trappist Rocherfort 8, which is actually a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. (We like to throw in a curve ball or two.)
The beers competing were as follows: Allagash Tripel, Victory Golden Monkey, Westmalle Trappist Tripel, Chimay White Tripel, Maredsous Tripel, Trappist Rochefort 8, Kasteel Tripel, Flying Fish Exit Four American Tripel, La Fin Du Monde, Sly Fox Incubus Tripel and Weyerbacher Merry Monks. After the scoring was tallied, it became apparent that North America crushed Belgium! It wasn’t even close! The beers were judged by scent, color, flavor, finish, bite and aftertaste. Has North America perfected the style created by Belgian Trappist Monks? The numbers don’t lie. Editors Note: For those who will argue that North American Beers had an advantage because they were fresher, that arguement doesn’t hold up with Belgian Tripels. The high alcohol content and the fermentation style in Tripels create an excellent beer for bottle aging and conditioning and many of the beers we sampled were exactly that, bottle aged and conditioned. Freshly bottled beer is not necessarily the best way to serve a Trappist style Tripel. Some of these beers get better after being shelved for a year or two. Despite all of that, real champions rise to the occasion… The Belgian Tripel Trials had 10 different tasters and were scored as follows:
1. The Flying Fish Exit 4 American Tripel:
The Exit 4 is our 2010 Belgian Tripel champion! The Exit Four flavor was sweet, bitter, and floral with notes of hops. This bottle conditioned ale has a perfect balance of malts and hops with a complex finish and great bite. The Flying Fish Exit 4 American Tripel is simply one of the best beers in the world. Flying Fish Exit 4 was winner of a Gold Medal at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival and named by Mens Journal as best Belgian beer brewed in America for 2009. Flying Fish also performed extremely well in our Oktoberfest contest with the Oktoberfish finishing in the top 5 out of 25. Brewing since 1995 in Cherry Hill NJ, the Flying Fish Brewery is one of the best in the world and often overlooked in the recent craft beer craze. Food pairing suggestions for the Exit 4 are fish, roasted vegetables, shrimp, and strong cheeses.
2. La Fin Du Monde Tripel:
La Fin Du Monde performed extremely well in the Belgian Tripel Trials. In fact, the La Fin Du Monde was very close to the Flying Fish in scoring and completely separated itself from the rest of the pack. The La Fin Du Monde Tripel is a phenomenal beer. It’s sweet with hints of wheat, fruit, spice notes and a good head with a slightly bitter finish. The bottle describes the beer as being brewed with triple fermentation and is brewed in Quebec Canada and bottled at 9.0% ABV. La Fin Du Monde actually translates to the “end of the world.” If the world was actually ending and La Fin Du Monde was your last beer, it would be a pretty damn good ending.
3. The Sly Fox Incubus Tripel:
The Incubus is an excellent Trappist style brewed with German Pilsner malt and invert sugar. Light in color and citrus notes, with 39 IBU’s and 10.3% ABV, this American Tripel easily beat out all of the classic Belgians it went up against. Sly Fox is brewed in Phoenixville PA and is well known for their Pikeland Pils and Route 113 IPA. Sly Fox is also one of the best canned beer brewers in the world.
4. The Victory Golden Monkey:
The Golden Monkey is brewed with German 2 row malts, European whole flower Hops, and imported Belgian yeast. At 9.5% ABV, the Victory Golden Monkey is light gold in color with notes of honey, wheat and oak. Milky and a bit sour with a good dry finish, the Golden Money is a little light on carbonation. Golden Monkey and Victory brewing are an American staple in craft beer and brewed in Downingtown, PA.
5. Westmalle Trappiste Tripel:
The Westmalle is considered by many as the quintessential Belgian Trappist Tripel! The Westmalle Tripel is a cloudy and murky yellow color, with notes of citrus and oak. With a great mouth feel and a dry, light finish the Westmalle is a little light on carbonation and aftertaste. The Westmalle Trappist Tripel is a classic Belgian ale! At 9.5% ABV, the taste of the Westmalle Trappist Tripel can actually vary depending on bottle size and glassware according to the brewers. The Westmalle Trappist Monastery in Belgium has been brewing beer since 1836 and the Westmalle Tripel has been brewed since 1934 with the same recipe since 1956.
6. The Kasteel Belgian Tripel:
The Kasteel is a top fermented ale and then re-fermented in the bottle. Yellow in color with little head but great carbonation, the Kasteel Tripel is lighter in color than the other Belgians. With notes of wheat and flavor like a fine wine, the crisp bite and bitterness make this a great Belgian Tripel that can hang with some of the best beers in the world.
7. The Allagash Tripel:
The Allagash is a murky cloudy yellow, light in body with notes of wheat with coriander spice. Dry and bitter with good head, this Allagash is pound for pound much better than the infamous Allagash White! According to the Allagash brewery, the Tripel is great when paired with crab cakes or an assertive cheese such as Roquefort or Stilton. The Tripel is particularly delightful with asparagus. Is also the perfect accompaniment to a fruit dessert or wonderful on its own as a digestif.
8. Trappistes Rochefort 8:
The Rochefort 8 was our curveball in the contest. We wanted to see how the flavor of the Belgian Strong Dark Ale stacked up against the golden colored Belgian Strong Pale Ale Tripels; and the Rochefort did not disappoint. The Trappistes Rochefort 8 is very malty with good head and heavy sediment. Smooth, with notes of caramel, espresso, coffee, good carbonation and light hops, the Rochefort 8 also has a light scent. The Rochefort 8 is the largest selling beer from the Rochefort brewery. Brewed by Cistercian Trappist Monks, the men are described as those “who leave everything behind to live with God and in that way open the eyes for the Resurrection of the Lord.”
9. The Maredsous 10 Tripel:
The Maredsoushas scents of fruit and a very sweet flavor with notes of fruit, lemon, cherry, good carbonation and little head. At 10% ABV the Maredsous Tripel is brewed in Belgium by the world famous Duvel Company. Duvel also brews the critically acclaimed Ommegang in the U.S..
10. Chimay White Cinq Cents Tripel Ale:
Chimay is one of the most famous Belgian beers in the world. Chimay’s three staple beers, the Blue Reserve, the Red Premiere and the White Cinq Cents Tripel put Belgian beer on the map. The Chimay White Tripel is a top fermented Trappist ale. The White Cinq Cents has good head, with a clear brown light cloudy color. Bitter and dry with a light toasted malt flavor and a scent of hops, there is a touch of fruit in the finish. The Cistercian Trappist monks of Chimay have been developing the production of Trappist beers and cheeses since 1862 at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont Monastery.
11. The Weyerbacher Merry Monks:
Merry Monks is a bottle conditioned Abby Tripel. Brewed with Pilsner malts and Belgian yeasts, the Merry Monks is bottled at 9.3% ABV. This Weyerbacher is sweet with notes of bubble gum and then a sweet aftertaste. Even though Weyerbacher finished last in our double blind taste test, we’ve tasted it many times before and it is certainly a fabulous beer. If you’re looking for more bang to your buck, the Merry Monks might be a better choice than some of the more expensive beers on our list. Weyerbacher is brewed in Easton PA, home of the Easton Assassin and former heavyweight champion, Larry Holmes.
We’d like to give a special thanks to our beer wenches, Sari Abrahamson, Elizabeth Corino and Carolynn Chapman. Without our very dedicated beer wenches, the Belgian Tripel Trials would not have been possible.
Editors Note: Beers were selected on the basis of availability….
is back for another year. After a successful run in 2008 & 2009, the Sly Fox brewery did not disappoint this year. With 16 IBU’s and 6.50% ABV, the 2010 Slyfox Christmas Ale has hints of peppermint, ginger, nutmeg and a semi-sour taste. Red in color, this Christmas ale has a great bite and aromatic hops. “If this one doesn’t get you into the Christmas spirit, you truly are a Scrooge.”
The Weyerbacher Slam Dunkel
Weizenbock is a double dunkelweizen and one our favorite styles. After a very successful small batch release in 2007, the popularity of the double dunkel forced Weyerbacher to make the Slam Dunkel a regular seasonal brew. The Slam Dunkel is malty, sweet, with hints of fruit. Having a sweet nose and good bite, the Weyerbacher Slam Dunkel is an unfiltered 7.00% ABV and made with Weihenstephen yeast and more than 50% wheat malt. This is a classic weizenbock!
The Founders Curmudgeon Oak Aged Old Ale
is brewed with molasses and heavy malts. With 50 IBU’s and 9.80% ABV, the Founders Curmudgeon is a thick reddish brown color with a scent of sweet malt. Although not to carbonated, the Curmudgeon has a final kick in the finish needed for an excellent brew. The flavor is an awesome malt, with sweet hints of fruit, and then dries up a bit in the finish. Can Founders do no wrong? The Curmudgeon is a perfect old ale…
The 21st Amendment Fireside Chat Winter Spice Ale
is an ode to FDR’s depression era radio addresses which were like a “kick in the butt and a hug at the same time. At 45 IBU’s and 7.90% ABV, the Fireside Chat Ale is a ruby red color with a light Belgian nose. This winter ale has a smoky flavor and great kick. Made with pale, Munich, wheat and chocolate malts, balanced with magnum and Goldings hops and top fermenting yeast, the 21st Amendment Fireside Chat Winter Spiced Ale has spices and cocoa added. A is a solid winter ale.
Is this Double Gold Medalist the Best Beer in the World?
By Matt Goldstein
Regarded by many as the best beer in the world, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder Double IPA certainly has made its mark in the craft world. We’ve been waiting to try this beer for a long long time. After the mini debacle and beer-less adventure at the Earth Bread and Brewery, we decided to take the show down the road to our favorite neighborhood classic craft beer joint, Mt Airy Philadelphia’s McMenamin’s. Right as we sit down the Pliny the Elder tap is looking us dead in the face. WOW! We’ve finally found it, Xanadu. Winner of two gold medals at the Great American Beer Fest, Rated #2 at Beer Advocate and #13 by Rate Beer, Pliny the Elder comes with a lot of hype.
When we put out our top 25 breweries list a few months ago, the Beer Advocate faithful berated us for not listing Russian River at #1. The problem is that in Philadelphia, most of us have never even seen Pliny the Elder, ever! (Only two of our 20 writers have actually been able to try it. Well, now its three.) I’ve been going to bars 2-3 times a week for almost 15 years and have simply never seen or heard of Pliny the Elder or it’s younger brother and triple IPA, Pliny the Younger. Clearly, it’s all relative to accessibility.
The bartender pours a 12 ounce draft in what is a mini pilsner glass. The look is a beautiful gold color and the nose has a scent of hops with citrus and spice. The taste is dry, slightly sweet and dries up towards the finish. No doubt, this is a classic IPA. The Pliny is crisp and has great bite. The hops are very well rounded and not over bearing like some IPA’s. The presence of malts are just as notable as the hops. It’s a perfectly balanced IPA. The Pliny the Elder Double IPA is flat out a world class beer, but maybe a bit over hyped. Is it the best beer in the world? Of course not! Only the Whiskey Goldmine can tell you what the best beer in the world is. We have the monopoly on culture, class, taste and amazing. Don’t ever listen to anyone else but us!
From the Russian River Web Site: Pliny the Elder was a Roman naturalist, scholar, historian, traveler, officer, and writer. Although not considered his most important work, Pliny and his contemporaries created the botanical name for hops, “Lupus salictarius”, meaning wolf among scrubs.” Hops at that time grew wild among willows, much like a wolf in the forest. Later the current botanical name, Humulus lupulus, was adopted. Pliny died in 79 AD while observing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. He was immortalized by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, who continued his uncle’s legacy by documenting much of what he observed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
“It’s not revenge, it’s a reckoning.” –Doc Holliday
By James Parker
The Troegs Dead Reckoning Porter is a seasonal offering that might not be tapped anywhere right now and could possibly end its’ run at the local bottle shop. However, if you do see Dead reckoning, and are a fan of the Baltic style of porters, it’s more than worth your money and time. Out of the bottle, Dead Reckoning’s body is a true shade of dark brown, and it supports a foamy, khaki-colored head. You can easily detect the chocolate in the nose, and if you linger a little bit, one not only gets a slight alcohol presence, but also a wonderful roasted aroma. It’s relatively straightforward upon first taste, but it will leave an impression as your mouth warms up to it. The chocolate and roast hints in the nose combine to make Dead Reckoning to be bitterer than expected, and it has an excellent mouthfeel — frothy and cold on the back of your throat. If you’ve ever wanted to try a roasted milkshake (and you probably have), this is your chance.
Dead Reckoning Porter, 5.4% ABV. Troegs Brewing, Harrisburg, PA
The Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout is barrel aged for several months in freshly emptied Jim Beam Bourbon casks. Barrel aged craft beer has been a major trend in micro brews over the last few years and rightfully so. Perhaps a little trendy, but the final product speaks for itself. For example: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Black Pearl by Maui Brewing, 21st Amendment Ale, Hoppin Frog’s Barrel Aged Boris the Crusher and of course, the Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout. The Schlafly Reserve is rich, malty, roasty, with notes of caramel, chocolate and tastes of oak, roasted barley and bourbon whiskey. The bourbon cask ageing adds an exceptional character and complexity. Even the scent has subtle notes of whiskey. The sweet corn aroma and flavor of bourbon goes great with the a slightly sweet stout.
With all the different flavors, the Schlafly Reserve is a great beer for the Fall season and a great beer for the big holiday dinners. It’s also an excellent beer for desserts and whiskey tasting.
Schlafly Reserve Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, ABV: 10% IBU: 75, St. Louis MO.
Ballast Point makes two IPAs, and between winning a Gold Medal at the 2010 World Beer Cup and the general public freak out that ensued whenever it was tapped this year, the Sculpin seems to be everyone’s favorite. Don’t overlook the Big Eye, though. The Ballast Point flagship IPA pours a nice dark amber color and has a balanced nose that reflects its taste. A hoppy beginning, malty finish and slight bitterness engage the tongue and the palate, and encourage you to drink slowly despite the ease with which it goes down. The Big Eye IPA is a very nice take on the style that deserves recognition and consumption.
Year-round in 12oz, 22oz, & draft
Alc. by Vol.
From the Ballast Point web site: If you have fallen for the IPA style like we have, Big Eye will be a welcome addition to your repertoire. You’ll revel in Big Eye’s bitter, hoppy flavor thanks to the American Columbus and Centennial hops that are used to flavor and dry hop our flagship IPA.
We thank our hops every day that the English loved their bitters—or else the IPA style may not have been born to help the beer survive the journey from Cape Hope to India back in the 18th century.