Sunday, December 21, 2014

12 Beers of Christmas Part IV: California Christmastime

Welcome back!

This marks the final chapter of Ben Likes Beer 12 Beers of Christmas 2014, a tour of the local guys - the Christmas gifts from the Golden Coast and my current place of residence, California.

These offerings are probably tricky to come by if you're not nearby (within a 20 mile radius, actually, for one of these...), but they represent three very different visions of Christmas beers that you'd only find in the United States. While Belgium is content to revel in the spices of the season, these creative brewers take what it means to be a Christmas beer and injects it with some California dreamin'.

Merry Christmas everyone :)

Santa's Little Helper 
Imperial Stout
22 oz., 10.5% ABV
Port Brewing,
San Marcos, CA

This formidable little hunk of coal is as intense as a cup of strong-brewed black coffee. Vividly robust and charmingly aggressive, Santa's Little Helper earns every syllable of its Imperial title.

 Fun fact- there's no Santa on this bottle, and you can thank Coke for that. They own the visual copyright to Santa on beverage containers. Scroogey bastards.

But as for the beer...

A gentle note of chocolate opens the flavor before plummeting into the deep, dark depths of this crazy holiday malt bomb. As you drink, though, you warm up to (or gain a tolerance, really) this aggression and it becomes a tasty beer in its own right. Stout lovers will of course be pleased with this guy, but those prefer their beers light and bubbly might be out of their depth.

Pair it with a holiday dessert, though, and the story changes. Balance that Mall-on-Christmas-Eve-level aggression with some cookies and you'll get some delicious balance out of it. I paired it with egg nog and it was heavenly, I tell you. Heavenly!

Approach with caution, maybe, but definitely approach it.

Magnificat 2013 Edition
Belgian-style Christmas Ale
22 oz. bottle, 10.1% ABV
Monkish Brewing,
Torrance, CA

If you live in the vague vicinity of Torrance, CA, I implore you to make the effort to visit. Covered in a previous blog post, Torrance is a mini San Diego of truly excellent craft beer breweries and it is absolutely worth your while to make a Saturday of it.

My personal favorite of the bunch is Monkish Brewing - a wannabe monastary of a brewery that specializes in Belgian-style brews and a mad-scientist-like affinity for the spice pantry (a Dubbel with peppercorn? Why not!)

Their seasonal offering is the inexplicably named Magnificat - a Christmas ale in the traditional sense, with your favorite spices all acounted for- nutmeg, cinnamon, some chocolate. Note, this write-up covers 2013 in particular; I have 2014 waiting for me Christmas Eve. If anything, this means that the spice flavors have been allowed to mellow, but I'll let you know the difference, if any!

Serve this one a bit warmer - the bottle advises 55 degrees or so that you get more of the fruity ale flavors and a hint of tartness at the finish.

As it were, this is everything I want in a Christmas beer.  Rich, smooth, playful and festive, Magnificat is nevertheless an elegant Christmas beer, and one I highly recommend.

2014 Holiday IPA
Triple Black Rye IPA
22 oz bottle, 11%
Black Market Brewing
Temecula, CA

The oddball of the bunch, Black Market eschews your silly notions of the holiday and say, screw it, we're throwing in about 4000 pounds of hops and calling it a yuletide. And I'm ok with it.

Most notable about this drunk uncle of a beer is the positively gorgeous aroma. The grassy, citrusy aromas evoke more summertime than Santa time, and the flavor follows along in kind. It's not toxic bitter, rather an excellent showcase of how different hops can truly have a different array of flavors. Malt balance is practically absent - this is all hops, baby - until the end, when the stout-like dark robust flavors do make an appearance. The alcohol is huge - 11% - but you won't find any booze burn here, which is good. The hops do just fine on their own.

Obviously this is not your average Christmas beer, but for mixing it up and bringing a new Holiday offering to the table, I applaud Black Market. Brew this sucker year round and I'll be pleased.

Hey everyone, thanks for returning to my blog. I look foward to reviving it even more in 2015. Have an excellent holiday and be sure to have one for me. Not that I'll be needing any more, probably. But one more couldn't help...

Merry Christmas/Whatever else you're doing this end of December. See you in 2015!

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