Nothing expresses the magic and spirit of Christmas better than real Christmas Ales…well except for, of course, the Baby Jesus in the manger. I like to imagine that the Three Wise men traveling night and day from afar, were bringing more than just gold, frankincense and myrrh. Perhaps a wee bit of merry ale?
I don’t know about you, but the Holiday beer Season brings me incredible (nearly giddy) joy. I’ll be receiving gifts of seasonal beer! There will be many tastings, re-tastings, shopping for my beer-loving family and friends, and more tastings, and so on… YA BEER!...or YA BIERE! But at the very least, Christmas (Nӧel) Biere will be on my ‘must have’ list each and every year. It would not be a totally joyous Christmas without at least a couple Belgian/French Nӧels at our table and/or in front of the tree or fireplace.
Dull tan-to hazy mahogany-colored (Unfiltered), foamy beige heads, yeasty and fruity aromas are hallmarks of the style (mostly from the Strong Dark Ale family of beer). Full bodied, rich sweet maltiness, balancing resinous and earthy background hops, herbal, mildly citrusy and tart, plus warming alcohol are all common characteristics. The ABV ranges from between 6.5% and a staggering 12%. Fruit, berries, citrus zest, and spruce can be found among the many wild and zany sub-styles found within the functional and dysfunctional, yet tasty family of Belgian/French Nӧels.
From the lands of origin
Delirium Nӧel – Brouwerji Huyge – Melle, Belgium – 10% ABV
25 oz. faux ceramic bottle with pink elephants pulling Santa’s sleigh on the label. Served in a Delirium goblet.
It pours a dark teak/mahogany color with a solid two finger tan head and some sticky, webby lacing.
Smells of dark candied fruits blend well with resinous and citrusy hops, dry malts, doughy, yeasty bread and white rum.
The full malt body has a husky, raw taste to it at first gulp. Tastes of candied fruits, peppery spices, citrus zest, banana, yeast and white rum zig and zag throughout. It sweetens a bit as it warms.
The body is full, but just shy of cloying. The spritzy effervescence fades fast.
Bush Nӧel – Brasserie Dubuisson Freres – Leuze-Pipaix, Belgium - 12% ABV
Cute little bottle! I let it sit for 10 minutes. Served in a Westvlereten Goblet.
It pours a shiny burnt orangey amber color with a sudsy, foamy beige head and some trailing and sliding lace. A big sweet malty aroma is noticed instantly. A fruit soaked in rum bouquet is quite noticeable and lasting. Flavors of caramel malt and fruitcake with extra orange zest come to mind. A dose of over-ripe banana, candied sugar and taste of lemony bitterness mingle with peppery spices and cloves. A hint of piney esters along with the sweet and warming alcohol punch of dark rum. The mildly astringent camphor taste is present throughout.
La Choulette De Nӧel – Brasserie La Choulette – Hordain, France – 7% ABV
75cl dark green corked bottle. Freshness date etched on bottom of label.
This Biere de Garde pours a deep ruby-hued mahogany color with a slow fading beige head and some sticky patchy lacing.
A big sweet malty aroma is upfront and fairly long lasting. A curious smell of leather mingles with a whiff of fruit cocktail. A faint smell of dried hops lingers throughout, as does the smell of tobacco.
Tastes of sweet honey and caramel coat the hearty barley body. Flavors, supported on a taste of brown bread, ranging from figs, orange zest, spruce, grapefruit and pears are all very distinct. Light rummy alcohol is noticeable throughout.
This brew was the hands down favorite at our Christmas Eve beer tasting in 2009.
Infinium - Samuel Adams and Weihenstephaner Breweries
Biere de Champagne (Biere Brut)
Brewed in Boston, MA 10.3% abv
50 ml dark brown bottle. Best before July 2011.
Served in an Orval goblet.
Pours a very clean tea-colored amber with slow fading fine effervescent white bubbles and some patchy and trailing lacing.
The initial aroma reminds me of an oaky Chardonnay with light smells of light-roasted malt and some citrusy hop notes.
This unique brew has a very tart fruity white grape at first taste. A slightly sweet malty taste slides through and gains ground as it warms. The hop profile is fairly simple with a little lemony citrus and a slightly resinous back-of-the-throat flavor. A taste of salt is present throughout. An ice wine-like taste provides an unusual, though agreeable alcoholic kick.
The extra bubbly effect fades within minutes of pouring
Champagne is not high on my list of favorite alcoholic beverages, though, it's the perfect drink to enjoy with friends and family on certain occasions.
This is just the beer for special times such as Christmas and New Year’s.
Enjoy with fine aged cheeses or, perhaps fruity, tart sherbet.
Winter Shredder - Cisco Brewers – Nantucket, Massachusetts – ABV (?) around 6.5%???
Ok, I’m taking liberties here. This beer hadn’t hit the shelves when I reported on Winter Warmers, so I’m adding Winter Shredder here. It does have the natural spices and tartness though…
12 oz. brown bottle. No freshness date.
It pours a ruby-hued dark amber color with a fast-fading off-white, with bits of patchy lacing.
A raw malty smell jumps out at first pour. A whiff of mashed berries and nutmeg follow close behind. Citrusy and sprucy hops peak through and last throughout. A mild perfume alcohol is present.
Tastes of sweet malt, tart citrus zest and pine, berries and spices mix and mingle. The alcohol is noticeable throughout, but nicely in the background.
This could very well be the East Coast's answer to Anchor's Christmas Ale.
Next week; The Twelve Beers of Christmas (that aren’t necessarily Christmas Beers)
Joyeux Nӧel, Merry Christmas and/or Happy Chanukah!!!