We asked, you voted, and now our cellar’s six beers lighter!
A few weeks ago, we were digging around in our cellar and noticed how jam-packed our holiday beer shelves had become. First-world problems, yeah, yeah. But the issue with holiday beers is that they’re either here-and-gone, relatively light (ABV-wise) winter warmers, or bottles like Our Special Ale and Samichlaus that are just. So. Hard. To open. It’s too tough to figure out which to sip and which to save, particularly as more and more American breweries release new holiday beers; with no history, we don’t know about their staying power.
So, feeling a little longing for something deep and dark among all the sunny summer beers, we asked you which five Christmas beers we should crack open, leaving our shelf-cleaning up to you. At the vote’s end on Tuesday, 158 of you cellar rats had made your choices (see right). Let’s just say this office was VERY glad y’all saw the value in keeping Deschutes’ Once a Decade Ale closed; it’s dreaming happy beer dreams until 2020.
So what DID you choose? These five beers. Well, six, because Old Jubilation was a double-play. Here’s how they tasted, in order of coal-in-your-stocking to Nintendo-under-the-tree-circa-1990.
5. 2009 BridgePort Ebenezer Ale: The only thing “holiday” about this bottle is a distinct wrapping paper character. At 6.4% ABV, this usually rich, strong winter warmer simply sat in the cellar too long. The faint scent is just a low figgy hum, and the taste is one-dimensional oxidation; lingering vignettes of hop dryness and malt sweetness made us wish we’d dragged it out sooner.
4. 2009 & 2011 Avery Old Jubilation: Avery suggests cellaring its annual English-style old ale for no more than three years, but we think it’s more like two. Our 2011 bottle was perfectly orchestrated; a toffee-cherry start and chocolate ending were well-connected and zipped up tight with a roasty bitterness. The 2009 vintage, though, poured noticeably grayer and murkier, and was just… dead. An odd, oxidized, one-note malt-alcohol taste was proof that this brew had lingered longer than a regifted fruitcake.
3. 2000 Anchor Our Special Ale: We so wanted to love this nearly 12-year-old bottle, our lone specimen of Anchor’s famous holiday beer (now called Anchor Christmas Ale) that’s only 5.5% ABV but has long been a cellar staple. The pour was gorgeous; it trickles out reddish-brown but settles into a deep brown. Prune and raisin mix with some bitter char, molasses, a strong woodiness and a tiny anise note; all of those elements, though, coalesce in a swallow that’s a bit too watery. The beer’s held up well considering its ABV, but we’d love to get our hands on a 2005 or 2006 version that might have a bit more body.
2. 2011 Boulevard Nut Cracker Ale: The bottle bears a drink-by date of March 2012, but that’s conservative: This beer’s still completely wonderful. Toffee and a sharp nuttiness join wet Chinook hops that are surprisingly alive and well for a zippy beer with some serious bite. The dynamic swallow’s shocking given the low 5.9% ABV and wet hops’ flight risk. It’s a Christmas miracle!
1. 2008-2009 Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale: This tasting made us a believer in this English strong ale. It’s long been a holiday classic, but this was the first time we’d ever aged it—and we were blown away by its delicious simplicity. Loads of toffee and considerable toast meld with a dry figgy fruitiness that just oozes Christmas; the most gorgeous oxidation weaves a distinct oldness through the drink. The English: They really know how to do a cellar beer.
They didn’t all taste spectacular, but we learned a lot from your selections—and sipped some pretty great stuff that provided some welcome respite from spritzy summer beers. If you pop open any holiday beers while it’s still sweltering, let us know!