Wednesday, December 26, 2012

SBRtv's Top 5 Christmas Beers of 2012

 Christmas is that time of year we reserve for giving, receiving and goodwill towards men. It's also a time for beer! Not just any beer, but those special beers that brewers release once a year. Those special beers that are brewed to warm the cockles of our hearts, or something like that. What the hell is a cockle anyway? But I digress. I've had the opportunity this season to enjoy many Winter and Christmas beers but for now I'll focus on the Christmas variety. Unfortunately, I can't list, or much less, review all of those delightful brews so, I've chosen my top five selections for the 2012 year.

Just on a side note; choosing my top five was a difficult task and even more challenging to arrange those from five to one. How did I arrange the top five? Well, I sat down this evening and pinned them together one after another.

Photo by James Gass
5. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Anchor Brewing, Winter Warmer, 5.5%
Coming in at number five is Anchor Brewing's Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I was surprised that this one didn't didn't rank higher on the list. While it is a wonderful Christmas themed beer, it just wasn't as good as the others. MCHNY had the aroma of a Christmas beer but it wasn't as pronounced as I had hoped. I really had to put my nose in the glass to get the full effect of the cinnamon and nutmeg characteristics.

The taste was less pleasing than the aroma with mostly bitter hop flavor followed by subtle Christmas spices. On the back end it turned to a bitter dark fruit and left my mouth feeling dry. It did, however, have a good mouthfeel but that just wasn't enough to make up for the lack of holiday flavor. I'd say it was more of a spicy porter than anything else. Did it give me that feeling of Christmas? Sure, but I'd say it was about a 2 out 5 wreaths on the Christmasy scale; silly, yes, but it works for me.

4. Festive Ale, SweetWater Brewing Co., Winter Warmer, 8.6%
I do love me some SweetWater and I was excited to finally partake in the festive goodness that is Festive Ale. It poured a lovely deep brown, almost black, color with a nice khaki head. Although the head looked nice contrasted against the beer, there wasn't much of it. It poured about a one finger head that dissipated within a few moments. The aroma of Festive was quite interesting. It had a dark fruit sort of smell accompanied, subtly, by baker's chocolate. It really reminded me of special brews from He'Brew Brewing, similar to Jewbelation 16 or Rejewvenator.

The taste, however, was very different. On the front end there were some wonderful chocolate notes with a bit of spice while the dark fruit was more subdued. The chocolate really takes over on the back end and I still got a hint of those dark fruits without much bitterness. It finished smoothly and was quite refreshing for something that had a medium, bubbly, mouthfeel. Festive Ale is definitely a winter warmer style beer and the combination of flavors would work as an after Christmas dinner beer. It scores a 3 1/2 wreaths on the Christmasy scale.

Photo by James Gass
3. Samuel Adams White Christmas, Boston Beer Co., Winter Wit, 5.8%
New this year to Samuel Adams' seasonal offerings is White Christmas, which deviates from traditional Christmas beers. It poured a nice hazy golden color typical of a wit and had a nice two finger head. Immediately, I expected this to smell similar to a wit beer but in fact it was full of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bit of orange zest; all the spices I'd expect from a winter warmer. As for the taste, all of those notes from the aroma really came out in the flavor. The cinnamon and nutmeg blended nicely with orage and lemon notes for a pleasant taste that really reminded me of all the things I love about Christmas.

On the finish, the cinnamon subsides and I'm left with the crisp, refreshing flavors from the orange and lemon zest. It has a medium mouthfeel that was very bubbly but went down smooth. They took the spices of Christmas beer and mashed them together with a wit beer to create what I like to call, a winter cooler for us in the South. Christmas in the South is already warm and it's nice to have a beer that doesn't require a fresh coat of antiperspirant before drinking. Samuel Adams' White Christmas gets 3 1/2 wreaths on the Christmasy scale.

Photo by James Gass
2. Delirium Noel, Brouwerij Huyghe, Belgian Strong Dark, 10%
Noel was not at all what I expected from a Christmas beer but was still one of the best I've had, which is why it made the number two slot on our list. It poured a deep amber color with a great three finger dense head. While it is unfiltered and I could see all the yeasty bits floating around, it was actually fairly clear. It has a powerful fruity aroma that just hits you in the face and is backed up with a bit of alcohol. There is a presence of bananas, grapes, cranberries, and a hint of cinnamon spice.

All of those fruity aromas really came out in the flavor with a bit of hotness from the alcohol. The cinnamon I noted in the aroma was less present in the taste; I couldn't pick it out until a few sips in. The back end is where the fruity really comes out but it's more of the dark fruit; the grape and cranberry. It had a dry finish to it with just a touch of tartness, almost wine-like. Noel is not a traditional Christmas beer in the sense that there are no spices present. Instead, it's very fruity in aroma and taste and more suited as a desert beer for after Christmas dinner. While it is a fantastic beer, it just doesn't remind me a whole lot of Christmas other than the fact that it would pair with several holiday deserts. It gets 2 wreaths on the Christmasy scale.

Photo by James Gass
1. 2XMAS, Southern Tier Brewing Co., Double Spiced Ale, 8%
Topping our list of best Christmas beers is a brand new one from Southern Tier called 2XMAS. Southern Tier has really done it with this double spiced ale that just screams Christmas. It poured a dark ruby red color with a wonderful two and a half finger head. The spiced aromas just kick you right in face as soon as it's poured! It was a mix of cinnamon, clove, fig, and nutmeg with the volume cranked up to 11. Oddly enough, I even caught a whiff of...Christmas tree? Yes, I believe I did! It has a medium mouthfeel with the perfect amount of carbonation; bubbly but not too bubbly.

2XMAS tasted just as good as it smelled! The flavor was complex with all of the spices I mentioned above and I even got a bit of orange. The fig subsided while the cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove took over. There wasn't much bitterness until the finish. As soon as I swallowed, the bitterness kicked in just for a moment and faded away leaving just the spicy goodness. If I could take all the essence of Christmas and put it in liquid form and bottle it, this is what it would taste like. The ghosts of Christmas could have saved themselves some time and just given Scrooge a glass of this, it'd put the Christmas spirit in him just the same. 2XMAS gets 4 wreaths on the Christmasy scale.

Wrap up
There you have it folks, our top 5 Christmas beers of 2012. Now, I know a lot of you will go on the offensive and ask me why such-and-such beer didn't make it. The simple answer is distribution; we don't all get the same beers so, I had to comprise the list of what is available to me. Feel free to leave a comment with your top five because we all have different tastes and we'll all have different lists.

Until next time, from all of us at Southern Beer Review to all of you, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


  1. I think this is a pretty good list. The only surprise is Samuel Adams White Christmas in 3rd.

    1. It was a tough call between Festive Ale and White Christmas but I liked White Christmas a bit more than the Festive Ale.