Wednesday, December 3, 2014

12 Beers of Christmas Part II: 6-Packs-A-Packin'

Part 2! Tis' the season for a furious flurry of beer purchases, artsy amateur photos (it's ok, though because it's not food), and then thoughtful chugging and note taking. Seriously. I actually take notes. It's what distinguishes this whole thing from a drinking problem.

This mini section is about Winter 6 packs; unlike the bomber bottles of the season (stay tuned), I still have 5 more to go after the first one. Joyous day! I'm sure there's a joke in here about this being the only sort of 6 pack I'll have at this (FINE, ANY) time of year, but it's eluding me. The pieces are there. Put something together and I'll assume it's funny.

Note that I said winter - many breweries take the secular route with their offerings, but not always. Many simply offer a winter seasonal without any specific allusions to Christmas, though the flavor profiles are often the same; roasty notes in particular shows up in many of the offerings, though others aren't afraid of loading in the baking spices, particularly nutmeg and cinnamon. Of course, others eschew that concept altogether and put a Christmas tree on every carton. We'll take a look at both.

Regardless of the style, it's dependable truth that practically every sizable craft brewery will offer a winter seasonal. From Sierra Nevada's Celebrator to New Belgium's Snow Day, any of the bigger craft brews will usually offer a 6 pack varietal for the season. Smaller breweries will often go the bomber (22 oz) route, but we'll save that for another episode. Pick a favorite, though. They're crowd pleasers for your holiday events.

So, with that, let's go over three that I haven't covered before.

Hullaballoo Winter Beer 
Hangar 24 Brewery
Redlands, California
Winter Ale, 6.5%

This wintery bloke is American made but inside its malty, bready body beats the heart of a true English gentleman. The site claims that it starts as a Scottish ale, but I think it lacks the noted sweetness that often comes with that style.

Instead, we have a bready, biscuity, roasty malt showcase of a beer. Something of a halfway point between an English bitter and a traditional porter, Hullabaloo's British hops manifest quickly in the finish, meaning you won't be chugging too quickly (but a modest ABV means it won't be a problem if you do). But fear not, hop-phobes, it's a far cry from a "hoppy" beer. Its dark body belies a light and crisp body that practically begs to be enjoyed fireside. Bonus points if it's in an English pub.

Worth checking out.
Obligatory Caveat: Hangar 24 is a local California brewery with distribution only in California.

Old Jubilation 
Avery Brewing Company
Boulder, CO
English Old Ale, 8.3%

Formidable and yet equally kindhearted (sorta like your grandpa!), Avery's Old Jubilation is a Christmas staple for me; I say without hesitation that is one of my favorite beers of the season. And that's because it offers something very different than many of the other offerings of the reason (aside, actually, from the aforementioned Hullabaloo...which could fairly and endearingly a "Old Jubilation Light"). Forgoing Christmas spices, OJ (a better use of the acronym than many alternatives) is instead a celebration of specialty malt. Every robust flavor from your favorite dark beers are accounted for and in fine rhythm: coffee, chocolate, biscuit and hazelnut.

A bit stout-like, perhaps, but not nearly as dry, with a touch of nutty sweetness at play throughout. It's also a gorgeous  beer - cola-colored with a ruby shone - meaning I can make some sexy, sexy beer porn (see above). It's a sophisticated and alluring brew, sure to stand up to any bone-warming winter meal offer in December. And it'll last for years in your cellar. Grab a 6 pack and put a few away, if you can muster the restraint.

Highly recommended (and available nationwide).

Merry Christmas 2014
Anchor Brewing
San Francisco, CA

Sequoiadendion giganteum!
That's a type of pine- the Giant Sequoia. Or maybe a Harry Potter spell. Hopefully both.

It is certainly the tree adorning this year's Christmas Ale from Anchor Steam, a tradition that has reached its 40th year.  Each year, a different tree represents the brew, which likewise changes unpredictably with each new Christmas. Every aspect is labeled TOP SECRET. Speculate away, but it won't matter - it'll be a different beer next year.

This year's iteration walks an interesting line between Belgian Dubbel and Irish Stout, with some Christmas spices playing nicely, and quietly, with both. The roasty notes are distinctly wintery, but kept from being overbearing by a slight sweetness. It's lower ABV means you can go through the whole 6-pack quicker than you'd assume, but that's ok. It's a tasty beer that truly celebrates what it is to be a Christmas beer.

Also worth picking up - and better yet, should be relatively easy to find.

So...there you have it. 3 worthwhile winter 6-packs. A cop-out, perhaps, but I do believe that if you have allegiance to a certain brewery, you can pick up their winter offerings with confidence. But if you're a bit stuck hunt down that Old Jubilation. You won't regret it.

Stay tuned for Part 3! We're going to Belgium!

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