Thursday, December 20, 2012

12 Beers of Christmas: 10 5 Golden Rings and 11 Gifts of the Magi

The presents are all wrapped, the cookies are baked and the Christmas Eve beer is chilling in the fridge; the big day is upon us, but there's still plenty of time to be enjoying the season's finest brews. If you've been following along, you know we're reaching the final beers in my First Annual 12 Beers of Christmas, a coveted position saved for the finest beers I have experienced this season. These are beers that you shouldn't hesitate to try. My Christmas Gift to you:

5 Golden Rings 
Golden Ale, 750 ML. Bottle, 11.5% abv
The Bruery
Placentia, CA

5 Golden Rings is the fifth beer in five years from The Bruery's own 12 Beers of Christmas (Last year was 4 Calling Birds, 3 French Hens before that and so on...), and for me they've been one of the high notes for my Christmas season.

5 Golden Rings is regal, a massively elaborate beer that actually tastes golden. Anyone who is a fan of Fin Du Monde  from Unibroue will find a lot to love in Golden Rings. Both are spicy golden ales, and like its Canadian cousin, it  has a powerful presence with a smooth but sparkling body and a noticeable kick from the high alcohol content.

But while Fin Du Monde is great as a year-round Dinner Beer (and for your Apocalyptic endeavors, since Fin Du Monde is "End of the World" in French, though that's more likely a nod to the hangover you'll get if you overdo it), 5 Golden Rings of course has a more pronounced Christmas feel to it.

The theme of Gold is prevalent, too, with not only its shining color but also its ingredients - pineapple and cake spices, caramel and cinnamon. The flavors are festive, evocative of sweet glazes and cookies and everything you love about the season, but pineapple wins out (that's Christmassy, isn't it? Something about welcoming people into your home?)

How, uh, festive?

It starts sweet with a tart finish from the pineapple. And, like any beer of this fortitude (more than 11%, remember), it lends itself well to sipping and savoring, preferably over the course of a meal. But, please, try to find this if you can. It's an exceptional beer.

Gifts of the Magi
Winter Ale, 10.7% abv
Lost Abbey/ Port Brewing Company
San Marcos, CA

While some beers may overload themselves with flavors to beat you over the head (DO YOU TASTE HOW CHRISTMASSY I AM?), others are content to merely evoke the feeling of the time of year. Gifts is one such beer, and it's a splendid beer that bursts with the flavor of, well, good beer. Copper colored with a spicy nose, wonderfully balanced malts and a hint of hoppiness in the finish, it's a wonderfully clean flavor that is really wonderful to experience.

It harkens back to "old times," (which I grant you I was no part of), but it evokes an old world sensibility and tastes warm and embracing, completely devoid of anything that would deter its straightforward flavors. I had the pleasure of tasting this "fresh from the tap" at Port's brewery after Thanksgiving, and I can tell you it holds up bottled tremendously well.

It sounds like the beer might relegate itself to "basic" with a "play-it-safe" appeal to simplicity, but there's actually a a great deal of Christmas Beer magic going under the hood. While thankfully sans the gimmick of gold leaf (no, it DOESN'T cut the inside of your lip, you goldschlager chugging sorority girl), the other two portions of its namesake are present, with Frankincense bark providing the bitterness and the myrrh giving it the herbal notes. I can't say I've ever consumed either before, nor that I could distinctly hone in on their particular flavors, but whatever their effect, it is anything but unpleasant.

The most unique aspect of the beer, though, might be the use of brettanomyces - literally, "British Fungus," a sort of wildcard of a yeast that is added at the last moments to "shake things up." The yeast is added after brewing has neared completion in hopes of sort of multiplying the flavors. It's a sort of gamble, though, as the yeast can be regarded as a pesky contaminant in other circumstances. Here, though, it brightens the flavors perfectly.

So, there you have it. My cream of the crop, my favorite beers of the season. Please, I implore you, to find these beers and give them a try. Delicious on two completely levels, they'd make any self-proclaimed beer snob (holler!) very merry indeed. Stay tuned for one final Christmas beer!

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