Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Here we go a Wassailing....Review of Winter Seasonals

Lineup of winter seasonals

Once again, the changing of the “seasons” in the endless heat of Houston is demarcated by the arrival of a new batch of seasonal beers. As I’ve written before, this has become one of my primary ways to mark the changing of the seasons. There is, of course, some degree of melancholy wrapped up in that statement. I miss the shifting landscapes of northern New York, the distinct smells and sights and temperature changesi of the seasons. That being said, marking seasons with beers is not completely without merit. Because, you know, beer.

Christmas lights...after the beer sampling.

For me, winter is not usually the highlight of the seasonal beer cycle. When I lived in colder climes, winter was a time for stouts and porters, dark thick beers for sustenance against the frozen world around me. However, the specifically branded seasonals tend to rotate around highly spiced Christmas ales, stuffed with all manner of Christmas-y estoterica…nutmeg, spruce tips, essence of elf, you name it. These haven’t appealed to me in the past because I like to keep my beer and potpourri separate. But since I’ve started to make a habit of reviewing the seasonal seasonals, and hadn’t really covered winter yet, I was going to have to take one for the team….

Morituri te salutamus.

Over the course of the last month or so I have, in selfless service to you, the readers, loaded up a couple six packs of winter seasonals and slogged my way through the lot of them. In honor of the falling temperatures, I have assigned each a temperature based on relative coolness. Keeping in mind this is being written whistfully from a 78 degree December day in Houston, cooler = better.

IMGP9892-12Alaska Winter Ale – 105 with 100% Humidity. The “flavored with Spruce Tips” was intriguing. After tasting it, I am less intrigued. By which I mean, I have lost faith in humanity. This unfortunate blasphemy against thousands of years of brewing tradition tastes like a freak accident involving a pine air freshener and a bowl of stale froot loops. The sickly sweet malt and fake pine aftertaste was enough to drive a man to drink another beer.
IMGP9892-11Breckenridge Christmas Ale – 75 and Balmy. This is why I'm not excited about winter seasonals. Somewhere under the melange of spice is a beer. Not offensive, just kind of there.
IMGP9892-6Deschuttes Jubelale – 62 with a nip in the air. I want to like Deschuettes more than I do. All of their offerings are ok, but just ultimately forgettable. Their Jubeale continues the trend. Points lost for stupid name.
IMGP9892-3St. Arnold Christmas Ale – 55, not enough for a jacket, but too cold for short sleves. St. Arnolds is one of our more successful local breweries. Some of their stuff is top notch, some of it is so so. This ale splits the difference and settles comfortably into mediocrity.
IMGP9892-4Samuel Adams Winter Lager – 48, a crisp autumn day. This Sam Adams is different from the Boston Lager in that one is called Winter Lager, and the other is called Boston Lager. That's about it. It's supposedly spiced with the usual mix of hoo hah, but it's so subtle, you mostly just get lager. Which is ok, because Sam makes a good lager, but it's missing the “winter”.
IMGP9892-10Newcastle Winter Ale – 36, hey I can see my breath! While Newcastle's offerings have been hot or miss lately, the Winter Ale is a decent entry. It manages to even taste somewhat crisp like cold air. Not quite solid winter fare, but pretty decent.
IMGP9892-5Silly Yak Brewery Cinnamon Bits Christmas Ale – 32, hey, a snowflake! This is an extremely local brewery...small batch homebrew made by a colleague at work. It is not subtle. But if you're going to do spiced, might as well go all in. Just try not to think about the name too much.
IMGP9892-9Anchor Brewing Our Special Ale – 25, baby it's cold outside. Anchor is usually a solid bet, and their Our Special Ale is always decent. This year is a nicely balanced ale with a subtle piney hops taste. Extra points for a great label.
IMGP9892-8Wasatch Winterfest - 0, No we can't turn the heat up, put on another sweater. Wasatch is a great little Utah brewery. I was a bit surprised to find their stuff in the supermarket. Wasatch usually tends to be somewhat irrevent (my first experience was on a trip to Utah where I sampled their Polygamy Porter, whose tag line is “why have just one?”.) This is a really nice ale, with a nice blend of hops with an odd, but enjoyable coolness to it. Good stuff for an evening in front of a roaring fire or, you know, drinking.
IMGP9892-7New Belgium Snow Day – 20 Below, we've gone hypothermic. Fittingly enough, New Belgium's previous, less tasty, winter seasonal was 20 Below. This time, though, they hit the mark. New Belgium is a perennial favorite, and this is no exception.


i Other than Hot and Muggy, Hotter and Muggier, Plumber’s Buttcrack in Mississippi in August, and winter weekend.

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