5 Must Try Christmas Beers…. Available at Major Beer Distributors and Bottle Shops
By: Chris Wise
Sly Fox Christmas Ale – 5.5% ABV
This malty, full-bodied red ale is packed full of traditional mulling spices designed to warm you up on a cold evening. Sly Fox is able to balance the flavors of ginger, clove, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg to create a truly unique seasonal beer. Beers trying to bring together this many spices can be overpowering sometimes, but the Sly Fox Christmas Ale is surprisingly drinkable and delicious. Sly Fox is also particularly proud that all ingredients are added fresh instead of using extracts. The cinnamon dominates the flavor and aroma of the beer, with hints of vanilla and brown sugar backing it. Nutmeg is the other dominating flavor pulling this beer together.
Compared with other winter and Christmas ales, Sly Fox is able to create a flavorful beer without overwhelming the drinker. At just 5.5% ABV, the Christmas Ale is a tamer option than some higher alcohol content winter beers. The ale has a deep, hazy amber color, which looks great when poured in a glass, and has a creamy texture and a dry finish. Sly Fox’s Christmas Ale is a great way to get introduced to winter ales, using spices in balance and creating a robust yet drinkable ale. The 2013 Christmas Ale will be available in draft houses, 12 oz. cans and 25.4 oz. corked bottles. This year’s cans are designed to look like an ugly sweater and have gift tags on the label so they can be personalized. Ugly sweaters, gift giving, cinnamon and nutmeg, all in one can, sounds like Christmas to me.
Saranac Caramel Porter – 5.4%ABV
Saranac’s Caramel Porter is a robust, flavorful porter reminiscent of a by-gone era. Combining dark caramel malts with Fuggles and East Kent Golding’s hops creates a smooth, yet slightly bitter, roasted flavor. A longtime favorite among craft beer drinkers and Saranac’s #1 requested beer; this is a very dark beer that boasts a lighter flavor. Unfortunately, this seasonal offering can be difficult to get your hands on, especially considering Saranac does not adhere to a strict brewing schedule. (Their website even admits “(perennial beers tend to reappear depending on the season…and frankly when we feel like it.”) The point being if you either see this porter, a six-pack or in a variety pack, on the shelves at the beer distributor, make sure to get your hands on some while you can.
At first sip you taste the rich malty, roast flavor which is smoothed over by toffee and caramel flavors which linger in your mouth afterward. Perfect for casual drinking coming in at 5.4% ABV, the porter has a medium-sweet finish with almost no hints of hop. The mixture of coffee and molasses flavors gives the beer a great combination of flavors, reminding you of pancakes and syrup. This porter is a great dark beer to try for the inexperienced porter drinker, with an amazing combination of flavors and malty finish. And remember to keep an eye out for this one while you can still get it.
Arcadia Ale’s Cocoa Loco – 7% ABV
We are lucky Arcadia Ale’s Tim Surprise didn’t stop at try #9 in coming up with Cocoa Loco. The idea for the brew came from Tim’s love of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and Arcadia Ale’s track-record at successfully reproducing British-inspired ales for 10 years at the time. Tim thought, “How hard could it be?” and set out to create a triple chocolate stout of his own. Turns out it was much tougher than Tim could have imagined. Instead of tweaking the recipe once or twice, get it right, it took Arcadia Ales ten recipes before they were satisfied with the results. And to be honest, we’re happy they didn’t stop till effort #10, because they definitely got it right in the end.
The patience it took to find the right balance when mixing three different chocolate malts together with a number of other premium two-row malted barley’s finally resulted in a success. By keeping the cocoa nibs in the boil during the process and adding a small amount of lactose, milk sugar, for mouth feel, Arcadia was rewarded greatly for their efforts: Cocoa Loco is a well-balanced, complex, rich, creamy chocolate stout that evokes a chocolate shake from your childhood. Balancing the sweet, roasty and creamy tastes was certainly a struggle, but in the end the result was well worth the agony along the way.
Great Divide Hibernation Ale – 8.7%
A celebrated winter tradition since 1995, Great Divide’s Hibernation Ale is a robust, dry-hopped ale. Great Divide, known for their IPA’s and Yeti series of Stouts, ages this English-style Old Ale for three months before it is ready for sale. The lengthy aging process gives Hibernation its revered malty-richness, complex hop profile and hearty warming character. This means Hibernation Ale is ready to enjoy as soon as you purchase it or can be stored in your cellar and enjoyed anytime.
Hibernation Ale begins with a wonderfully clean aroma, almost like a lager, which masks the beer’s very complex flavor profile. Upon tasting, you can notice flavors of chocolate, smoke, coffee, candy and brown sugar sweetness at first, followed by toffee and a mild, herbal hop spice. Hibernation finishes slightly sweet with a lingering aftertaste of smoke. This amazing flavor profile has won Hibernation the Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the Strong Ale/English-Style Old Ale category, as well as a number of silver medals. With its medium-full body, moderate carbonation, and reassuring alcohol warmth, this beer is perfect for chilly nights.
Thirsty Dog’s 12 Dogs of Christmas – 8.3% ABV
There is currently debate swarming in Ohio over which brewery can lay claim to the best Christmas Ale in the region. Some would hand the award to Great Lakes Christmas Ale, but there is a lesser known rival out in Ohio which has many questioning the supremacy of Great Lakes. Thirsty Dog, located in Akron, Ohio, thinks their Christmas Ale is king of the holiday season, and has the profile to back up this claim. Unfortunately, Thirsty Dog is not widely available as other beers, such as say Great Lakes, so try some out when you get a chance to decide which you like better for yourself.
The 12 Dogs has a deep, dark copper color with an off-white head, and a very robust aroma of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg (it reminds one of opening up a Christmas cookie tin). The ginger and cinnamon are the dominating flavors, with a backing of nuttiness, which balances the flavors well. Thirsty Dog claims, “We feel it is the perfect libation, filled with flavors of the season,” which I agree with. If the 12 Dogs of Christmas can’t get you into the holiday spirit, then you truly are a Scrooge.
All of the above Christmas Beers are proudly distributed by Galli Beer Distributing Company.