Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best Beers of 2008

Inspired by Boak And Bailey (who were themselves inspired by Fuggled), here are, in no particular order, the top ten beers I've tried for the first time in 2008.

1. Rodenbach Foederbier - The sourest Flanders red out there. If you like Rodenbach Grand Cru, you'll love Foederbier. Tasted at Het Waterhuis in Gent.

2. Westvleteren 12 - the Holy Grail. Rich malt and dark fruit. A little hot when I sampled it at In De Vrede outside the abbey but still damn good.

3. Westvleteren Blond - Totally underrated little brother of the 12 and the 8. Crisp, sweet and hoppy at the cafe. Really excellent, at least fresh at the abbey.

4. 2000 Boon Oude Gueze Marriage Parfait - I've had this beer before but this aged bottle from the cellars of the Kulminator was divine.

5. Bell's Double Cream Stout - Huge but smooth, a unique and delicious double stout.

6. Saint Somewhere Saison Athene - Relatively new brewery in Florida. A shockingly tasty and complex saison...from Florida which makes it even more shocking.

7. J.W. Lees Harvest Ale Lagavulin 2001 - I have never been able to get my head around the various incarnations of Harvest Ale but at the 10th anniversary of The Brickstore Pub there was a 7 year old vintage that had been aged in Lagavulin whisky casks. My eyes were opened. Looking forward to trying more Harvest Ale in the future.

8. Sam Adams Longshot Weizenbock - One of the winning homebrews from the Samuel Adams Longshot competition. This was one of the winners and falls under the category of "well crafted in every way".

9. Weyerbacher Heresey - Weyerbacher Old Heathen is one of my favorite imperial stouts and Heresey is that beer aged in oak barrels that were used to make Kentucky bourbon. Typically not a fan of oak aged stouts but this one hit the spot.

10. Mikkeller Stateside IPA - A Danish brewery doing an American style IPA. Juicy, bitter and delicious.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 25: 2003 N'Ice Chouffe

Brewery: Brasserie Achouffe
Style: ???
ABV: 10.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

This is one of my favorite beers and I grab one every winter. The bottle describes this brew as a dark ale brewed with thyme and orange peel. It also says that this beer can be aged up to 5 years. So this is a bottle I've been holding onto for just that long.

Pours a murky dark brown with a frothy tan head. Smells of sweet spice, rich caramel malt, dark fruit and a hint of alcohol.

The first impression is that the beer is very smooth and the flavors are well balanced. Sweet spice, caramel malt, black currant, sweet dark chocolate, a hint of hops and some warming alcohol, all mixing around together and alternately taking the lead. The mouth is not as full as when fresh but it is more drinkable.

What can I say? Did it improve with age? I wouldn't say it's better than when fresh but it turned into something equally as good.

Brasserie Achouffe

Sunday, December 28, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 24: Breckenridge Christmas Ale

Brewery: Breckenridge Brewery
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 7.4%
Date Poured: December 2008

This winter warmer has been brewed by Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado since 1993. This is the first Christmas it has been available to me.

Deep opaque brown with mahogany highlights, thinnish white head, light lacing. Smells of roasty malt, some underlying citrusy hops.

Roasty dark malt, bittersweet chocolate and caramel malt. Just a hint of dark fruit and a light peppery bitterness. Rich but drinkable, very smooth for a beer approaching 8% ABV. Full mouth and a sweet and roasty finish. Lovely stuff.

Breckenridge Brewery

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 23: Abita Christmas Ale 2008

Brewery: Abita Brewing Company
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: ???
Date Poured: December 2008

This is the second year that Louisiana-based Abita Brewing has put out a Christmas Ale. Each year they change the recipe. This year it seems that it is a brown ale.

A crystal clear but lightly reddish copper topped by a dense, creamy tan khaki colored head. Lots of fine lacing down the glass. Lightly fruity caramel malt.

Crisp and light faint caramel malt, some herbal English-style hops. Light and crisp in the mouth with a very clean finish.

That's about it. A light, mildly refreshing ale in a style I'm not that crazy about to begin with. Not bad I suppose, just not much here.

Abita Brewing

Monday, December 22, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 22: 1997 Samuel Adams Triple Bock

Brewery: Boston Beer Company
Style: Triple Bock (???)

ABV: 17.5%

Date Poured: December 2008

Samuel Adams Triple Bock was brewed in three vintages: 1994, 1995 and 1997. Even though it hasn't been brewed for over ten years, the cobalt blue bottles are still sporadically found on liquor store shelves. This was probably the first real "extreme" beer. It was brewed with maple syrup and aged for some months in oak whiskey barrels. At the time, it was considered to be the strongest beer in the world. This bottle is a 1997 vintage and was purchased about five years ago and has been int he cellar even since.

Dark brown in the glass with no head at all but nice "legs" like a port or sherry would have. Lots of oaky, whiskey components in the aroma. A hint of molasses and vanilla. Strong and sweet.

Rich malt, dark fruit and a scorching alcohol flavor. Very, very sweet. Distinct whiskey flavor. Oak and vanilla. A hint of the maple syrup in the aftertaste as well as a nice alcohol burn. Very sticky after the heat subsides.

This is a sipper, treat it like a cognac instead of a beer. I only drink this about three ounces at a time. I still like it though. I like what the age has done to it and I like the overall flavors this beer is delivering. Good stuff.

Samuel Adams

Sunday, December 21, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 21: 2006 Avec les Bons Voeux

Brewery: Brasserie Dupont
Style: Saison
ABV: 9.5%
Date Poured: December 2008

Avec les Bons Voeux is no longer a winter seasonal but was for years before Dupont decided to make this "big daddy" of a saison a year-round offering. This one has been in the cellar for two years.

This one pours a hazy bright gold with a fair white head that leaves some modest lacing. Quite lemony in the nose, some sweet spice and maybe a hint of orange zest. Significant herbal hop presence still in this beer. Sweet pale malt up front but dries out quick. A distinct flavor of juniper berries comes through again and again. The mouth is full bodied but dry. Lovely bitterness in the finish.

Over the fresh beer, the big change it goes through over two years is the body has thinned a bit and some caramel and molasses flavors evident in the younger beer have all but disappeared. A much more crisp and dry beer now but it's still pretty amazing stuff. A classic.

Brasserie Dupont

Saturday, December 20, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08: Day 20: 't Smisje Sleedorn

Brewery: Brouwerij de Regenboog
Style: ????
ABV: 6.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

Another beer from De Regenboog, another brought back from my recent trip to Belgium. I'm not sure if it's a winter seasonal but the festive sled with the cartoon dog leads me to believe so.

It's a murky coppery-brown with no head to speak of. A tart berry aroma wafts from the glass, (this ale is supposedly brewed with some sort of berry) some brett funk smells too.

Quite tart. Who am I kidding? It's pretty sour, lots of acetic acid and barnyard funk. The berry/cherry sourness flits in and out too. Surprisingly, the finish is relatively clean, just a hint of vinegary sourness and then it's gone. The mouth is light but lots of flavor.

It's unique. Not sure I love it but it is different.

Friday, December 19, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 19: Allagash Grand Cru

Brewery: Allagash Brewing Company
Style: ???

ABV: 7.2%

Date Poured: December 2008

When I lived in Maine, this was probably my favorite winter seasonal. Unlike most Maine breweries that specialized in English style brews, Allagash was unique in that they dealt in Belgian styles. Back then, it was their White, Dubbel, Tripel and this one...the Grand Cru. Allagash recently began distribution in Georgia making me a happy man.

Orangey brown with a dense and creamy tan head that lingers forever and leaves sheeting lace. Aromas of biscuity malt and sweet peppery spices.

Flavor is dominated by a caramel, biscuity malt with peppery spices underneath. Pretty sweet. Yeasty and spicy, pepper, coriander and cinnamon. Thick and sticky mouthfeel, finish is sticky too. Spicy aftertaste.

Lovely balance of the various flavors. Just as good as I remembered.

Allagash Brewing

Thursday, December 18, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 18: 't Smisje Kerst

Brewery: Brouwerij de Regenboog
ABV: 11.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

Another Christmas beer brought back from my recent Belgium trip and yet another beer from Brouwerij de Regenboog. This one is bottled in a green glass stubby with a red bottlecap. Very festive!

It's a luminous reddish-copper with a thinnish ivory head. Smells of lightly fruity malt with significant floral, noble hops aromas. Faint spice.

Huge fruity sweetness, ripe cherries and black currant, hints of pear with a distinct coriander flavor underneath. Very sweet with a touch of alcohol flavor in the finish. It says it's an 11% ABV beer but you'd never know it. I would've guessed it was a beer that was 2/3 that strong. Sticky sweet finish and spicy aftertaste.

Delicious beer and very drinkable! I'd get it again.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 17: Rabid Duck Imperial Stout

Brewery: Duck Rabbit Brewery
Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

Duck Rabbit is a small craft brewery located in Farmville, North Carolina. Rabid Duck is their winter seasonal and they only recently began to distribute in Atlanta.

Pours dark as night with a thin brown head. Rich malty and creamy in the nose with significant alcohol and dark fruit notes.

Wow. Malty and rich in the mouth. Oaky with a light roastiness. Very, very sweet dark malt. Bitter chocoalte and creamy mocha. Very bold and intense. Enormous body in the mouth, full and sticky. A roasty finish and aftertaste.

A little brewery that is doing big things. Go get some.

Duck Rabbit Brewery

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 16: Red Brick Winter Ale

Brewery: Atlanta Brewing Company
Style: Belgian Dubbel
ABV: 8.2%
Date Poured: December 2008

Until this year, ABC's Winter Brew was a porter. But this year, it's a new style: a big 8.2% ABV dark belgian ale. The closest thing I can describe it as is a dubbel...but let's get drinking.

Deep reddish brown in the glass with nary a head, just wispy bits of foam. Nose is full of candi sugar, herbal hops and big fusel alcohol aromas. Hints of banana, believe it or not.

Fruity and caramel malt, slight sweet astringency from candi sugar or something of the like. Plum and blackcurrant. Very sticky in the mouth, only the driness from the alcohol keeps it from being cloying. It's hot, lots of alcohol. Long sticky aftertaste.

Perhaps a bit young and hot but interesting nonetheless. Maybe a bit of age will settle it down.

Atlanta Brewing

Monday, December 15, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 15: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.8%
Date Poured: December 2008

Yet another yearly tradition at Christmas is Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. This is the first Christmas beer I can remember drinking. I tried an aged bottle last year and decided that this beer was defintely best when fresh! So here's a fresh bottle for 2008.

Orange body topped by a creamy khaki head with lots of fine lacing on the glass. Grapefruit and orange rind in the nose.

Bitter but juicy citrus flavors, more grapefruit and orange rind. Lightly sweet with a clean finish. A long citrusy hop finish.

Good as ever.

Sierra Nevada Brewing

Sunday, December 14, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 14: Boucanier Christmas Ale

Brewery: Brouwerij Van Steenberge
Style: Belgian Strong Pale
ABV: 9.5%
Date Poured: December 2008

I don't know much about this one except that it is brewed by Van Stennberge in Ertvelde, Belgium, about a half hour north of Gent. This is yet another of the Christmas beer I brought back from Belgium.

It pours a fairly clear orangey-copper with an enormous fluffy white head. Smells of very fruity, very spicy pale malt. Spiced apple and cidery aromas. Ripe pear and even ripe banana. Peppery, gingery aromas too.

Again, spiced apples and cidery in the mouth. A distinct alcohol flavor, some herbal, almost juniper flavors help balance the sweetness. Peppery spice, a bright fruitiness, touch of lemon. bready, lots going on in here. Sweet and fruity aftertaste and finish. Nicely done.

Brouwerij Van Steenberge

Saturday, December 13, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 13: St. Bernardus Christmas

Brewery: Brouwerij St. Bernard
Style: Abbey Ale
ABV: 10.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

In my humble opinion, St. Bernardus does nothing but make great beers. Every style they make is superb. I'm hoping their Christmas beer meets the same standards.

Murky brown in the glass with just a hint of a wispy brown head. Licorice and dark fruit aromas and mulling spices.

Rich dark fruit and bready dark malt. Some warming alcohol and anise. Very thick and malty, lots of black currant and ripe plum, More licorice in the finish and aftertaste. Yummy!

Great stuff. I need to get some more.

Brouwerij St. Bernard

Friday, December 12, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 12: 2007 Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig

Brewer: Boston Beer Company
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 5.6%
Date Poured: December 2008

Old Fezziwig is another beer that I manage to pick up every Christmas season but the fruity and caramel notes always made me wonder how it would age. It's not a great candidate at only 5.6% ABV but I put a bottle away last Christmas to see what would happen anyway.

Pours reddish brown with a thin tan head and sheeting lace. Smells of fruity caramel malt. There's still the fruity and caramel malt in the mouth but there's clear signs of oxidation and toffee. The oxidation really overwhelms the other flavors, it's a mess now.

Nut fresh this is a really great beer. It's fruity and malty and finishes with sweet spice. It's very well balanced and a great Christmas beer. Don't let my failed experiment put you off.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 11: De Dolle Stille Nacht

Brewery: De Dolle Brouwers
Style: ????
ABV: 12.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

This bottle of beer is NOT from my trip to Belgium but it is brewed in Essen, Belgium, 45 minutes north of Antwerp, right near the Dutch border.

Murky orangey copper in the glass topped with a frothy khaki head. Rich fruity malt, sour apples and pears, hint of plum. Spicy and sweet.

This ale packs a wallop. Huge pale malt flavors, big fruitiness with the spiced apple and pear again. Incredibly sweet, the candy sugar is very apparent. Sweet buttery caramel and hints of vanilla and toffee. All of this is permeated by a distinct booziness that warms and kicks. It's not harsh but you know it's there. Very sweet finish but the alcohol helps to dry that out a bit. Fantastic flavors but very, very strong and rough around the edges.

I've got another bottle. Maybe I'll crack it open for the 25 Beers of Christmas '09...or '10.

De Dolle Brouwers

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

25 Beers fo Christmas '08, Day 10: Sweetwater Festive Ale

Brewery: Sweetwater Brewing Company
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 8.6%
Date Poured: December 2008

I tried to drink this beer for the 25 Beers of Christmas '07 but the old flip top container had failed and the beer was spoiled. Fresh, this beer has an overbearing spiciness that I do not enjoy at all. The solution? Try a capped bottle that has been aged for a year and hope that the spice has calmed down.

It's a deep, nearly opaque, brown with a thinnish tan head. Fruity sweet malt with sweet spices.

Fruity, sweet dark malt. Lots of sweet spice, clove, cinnamon and ginger. Quite sweet and quite a lot of spice. Lightly roasty and sweet in the finish.

The spice, even after a year, is heavy handed and all the flavors are a bit haphazard. I've given it a real chance but this beer is just not for me.

Sweetwater Brewing Company

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 9: Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale

Brewery: Samuel Smith Old Brewery
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

I tried Samuel Smith's Winter Warmer about five years ago and was less than impressed. It didn't seem as big and robust as I thought an ale calling itself a winter warmer should be. I decided to retry it this year thinking that a more mature palate may lead me to a new appreciation of this ale.

Pours a bright copper with a thin ivory head. Fine spiderweb lacing is left on the glass. Floral British hops in the nose, lightly fruity malt and lightly metallic too.

This ale is crisp in the mouth. Lightly fruity malt with just a hint of caramel. Herbal hops. Finish is quite crisp and clean with the herbal hops lingering in the aftertaste.

It still strikes me as lacking when it comes to a winter warmer. Perhaps its just my expectations as an American who came of drinking age with the "microbrew" revolutuion in full swing. But I have a better appreciation for this ale than I did five years ago.

Monday, December 8, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 8: Anchor OSA 2008

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Company
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: ?
Date Poured: December 2008

Anchor's "Our Special Ale" is a yearly tradition for me and here is the latest edition. The recipe is different each year and the brewery has been releasing it every Christmas season since 1975 making it one of the oldest (if not the oldest) winter seasonal beers brewed in the U.S.

It's dark. A nearly opaque brown, with a dense, creamy tan head. The nose is piney and sweet dark malt with hints of mocha and dark chocolate.

Very piney in the mouth. The hops are bittersweet with the underpinnings of some roasty porter-like malt. Did I mention it's piney? Roasty and sweet in the finish. The piney hops dominate the aftertaste and the mouth is lightly sticky.

A good one yet again but with Anchor OSA, that's the norm.

Anchor Brewing

Sunday, December 7, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 7: 't Gaverhopke Kerstbier

Brewery: Brouwerij 't Gaverhopke
ABV: 8%
Date Poured: December 2008

Pours murky chestnut with a thin tan head. Lots of alcohol in the aroma, fruity and lightly sour, a bit of funk.

This is a weird one. The alcohol I thought I smelled is nowhere to be found in the flavor. Lightly tart and fruity with a light funk. There's the distinct vinegary taste of lactic acid. Thinnish body, crisp and tart. Berries and sweet spice with a cidery finish.

This is different to be sure. A bit of oud bruin, a bit of lambic and a little Flanders red thrown in for good measure. I can't say I love it but I would love to know how they brew it. Worth a look.

't Gaverhopke

Saturday, December 6, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 6: Great Divide Hibernation Ale

Brewer: Great Divide Brewing Company
Style: Old Ale

ABV: 8%
Date Poured: December 2008

Great Divide brews in Denver, CO and Hibernation has been their winter seasonal since 1995. They brew it in July, age it until October when it is bottles and is only available from November 1st to December 15th. Sounds like Christmas to me.

The body is crystal clear reddish-copper with a thin and lingering khaki colored head. The aroma is full of pinewood and toffee mixed with earthy spice.

There's a distinct chocolate flavor that permeates this beer, kind of a mix of very dark chocolate and cocoa. Lightly roasty with a hint of smoke. But a lot of toffee and fruity, oaky malt in here as well. A woody mouthfeel, if that makes any sense. A bit like having the reed of a saxophone in your mouth. Lingering sweetness and herbal hoppiness in the finish.

Really extraordinary beer. Get some if you can.

Great Divide

Friday, December 5, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 5: Boelens Kerstbier

Brewery: Brouwerij Boelens
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 8.5%
Date Poured: December 2008

Brouwerij Boelens is a microbrewery located about halfway between Antwerp and Gent. Another beer I brought back from my recent trip to Belgium.

It pours a deep reddish chestnut with a frothy tan head, malty and yeasty with fruity apple and pear. Somewhat boozy.

In the mouth, it's surprisingly smooth and the booziness is barely noticeable. Bready and fruity malt, caramel and spiced apple. The body is not at full as you would expect but finishes with a nice sweetness. Light, sweet spice in the aftertaste.
This beer drinks easy but that 8.5% ABV sneaks up on you for sure! Good stuff.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 4: Spanish Peaks Winter Warmer

Brewery: Spanish Peaks
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.3%
Date Poured: December 2008

It's a deep chestnut in the glass with a thinnish but dense and creamy khaki head. Leaves sheeting lace. There's a nutty, malty aroma intertwined with a biting herbal hop smell.

The first sip delivers lots more hops than I expected. Spicy, herbal hops balanced by a nutty sweet malt. Sticky finish but a relatively light mouthfeel.

Be forewarned...if you're looking for a big, bold winter warmer, you won't find it here. But it is well-balanced and an easy drinker. As long as you're not expecting it to hit you over the head, it's well worth checking out.

Spanish Peaks Brewing Company

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 3: Gordon Xmas

Brewery: John Martin SA
Style: Belgian Scotch Style Ale
ABV: 8.8%
Date Poured: December 2008

The John Martin brewery is based in Belgium and, among other things, brews some Scotch-style ales under the Gordon label. This Christmas beer seems to be in the same vein. As you may have guessed, another beer I picked up in Belgium this October.

It's dark brown in the glass with auburn highlights and topped by a frothy tan head. A malty nose, sweet spices and a faint smokiness.

Rich, raisiny fruitiness blended in with sweet spices, clove and cinnamon perhaps. More dark fruit lurking below and an understated earthy smokiness or toastiness in the body. There's a faint metallic quality in the finish and the fruitiness leaves a stickiness in the mouth. The earthy roastiness lingers in the aftertaste.

It's 8.8% ABV but you'd never know it. Very smooth and complex at the same time. Nice ale.

John Martin

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 2: Rogue Santa's Private Reserve

Brewery: Rogue Ales Brewery
Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 6.0%

Date Poured: December 2008

Rogue Ales Brewery is based in Oregon and Santa's Private Reserve is one of those beers I try to get at least one bottle of every Christmas season. It's not your typical winter beer but it has yet to disappoint.

Pours a slightly reddish copper with a dense ivory head with thick lacing on the glass. Big hops smack you in the nose, citrusy and sweet. (Being Rogue, there's not much of a surprise that there is a big hop presence in this beer!)

Some caramel malt imparted but mostly just overwhelming piney hops with finishings of grapefruit. Long lingering hops in the finish and aftertaste.

If you like your amber ales hoppy, this is your beer. Tasty and refreshing. A nice change of pace from the parade of big malty beers that dominate the winter season.

Rogue Ales Brewery

Monday, December 1, 2008

And So It Begins...

Today starts the 25 Beers of Christmas, the second annual edition. For the next 25 days, I will be posting notes on various Christmas beers, winter seasonals and treats from my cellar. (For another feature similiar to this, check out The Brew Site where Jon will be doing his 4th annual Beer Advent Calendar. We only had two beers overlap last year...)

As a result, there won't be much on the site except the 25 beers of Christmas for the rest of the month. I still have to finish writing up my Belgium trip (still Brugge, Gent and Brussels to go!) and I had hoped that would be done before now. But what can you do?

Happy Holidays!

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 1: De Koninck Winter Koninck

Brewery: De Koninck
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.5% Date
Poured: December 2008

One of the several bottles of Christmas or "Kerst" beers I brought back from Belgium. De Koninck is a brewery right in the middle of Antwerp and their standard De Koninck ale is the most popular beer in town. This beer is described as a deep amber ale. It also reads "Best by 6/12/2007". Oops.

Kind of an amber brown in the glass with a thin ivory head. Some floaties in the beer, doesn't look like yeast but more like coagulated protein. Not so appetizing! Fruity maltiness and an earthy, yeasty aroma. Prunes and baked apples with just a hint of oakiness.

Earthy and spicy in the mouth, a bitterness in the finish. Cinnamon and clove is prominent and a sweetness that hints at candy sugar used in the brewing process. More candy sugar in the finish, a mild bitterness accompanies the sweetness in the finish. Man, a lot of spice in this ale! Fruity, sweet and spicy pretty much sums it up.

You can taste a bit of oxidation and the unappetizing floaters demonstrate that this ale is past its prime but still not bad. Someday I hope to have a fresh taste.

Brouwerij De Koninck