Holiday and Winter Beers

Jolly Pumpkin / Nøgne-Ø / Stone Special Holiday Ale

Jolly Pumpkin / Nøgne-Ø / Stone Special Holiday Ale

Most people reading this will probably know that I’m a big fan of good beer. I especially like darker beers which are usually a bit heavier and (sometimes but not always) have more alcohol, which tends to warm you up a bit, so beer companies brew and sell them in the colder winter months. I always look forward to these months when I can go to the liquor store and pick up some good dark seasonal beers. The fact that most of these beers are only available for a few months out of the year makes them that much more special.

Last night I picked up a bottle of the collaboration brew of Jolly Pumpkin, Nøgne-Ø and Stone Brewing Companies, the Special Holiday Ale. Although I’m not too familiar with the other two breweries, this is the first time I can remember stone making a special holiday ale, so I was excited to this. The label said that it was brewed with “Chestnuts, Juniper Berry, White Sage and Caraway Seed.” I wasn’t fooling myself into thinking that my palate is refined enough to notice all those spices, but I did feel like I could smell and taste the sage. The beer was nice and hoppy as I’ve come to expect from Stone. Good, not great, and while I did enjoy it, I probably won’t have it again because there are plenty more holiday brews I want to try.

I’m really hoping I’ll be able to find the Telegraph Brewing Co’s Winter Ale. I don’t think I’ve ever had any of their beers, but their Winter Ale is brewed with cinnamon and sweet ancho chilies among other things.

I’m also hoping to make it down to the PB Ale House to try their new St. Sideburn Holiday Ale, I met the brew master a few weeks ago and he’s a really great guy, and I tasted about a half dozen of their beers and they were all good.

One of my favorite winter beers has always been Butte Creek Brewing Company’s Winter Ale. I’ll admit, it was the label that drew it to me in the first place, but it’s a delicious beer in it’s own right that kept me drinking it. Many of their beers are organic, but I don’t think the Winter Ale was. I haven’t seen it in a few years, and their website is being redesigned, so hopefully this beer isn’t gone for good.

Another local brewery, Alesmith has been producing their Yulesmith Holiday Ale twice a year (once at Christmas and once at the Fourth of July). The winter version is an imperial red ale, which I’ve somehow never managed to try. I’ve had plenty other Alesmith beers and have liked everything I’ve tried, so I’m going to make it a point to try it this year.

When I heard about it a few weeks ago, I was really excited to try Alpine Beer Company‘s Ichabod Ale. It’s brewed with pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg, but since it’s from Alpine Beer Co. I’m sure it’s not too sweet, but a good quality beer. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make it out to the brewery and it seems nearly impossible to find their beers in town. I’m still hoping to be able to find it before it’s all gone.

Sierra Nevada is a brewery that needs no introduction. At the liquor store yesterday I saw both of my favorites from them. Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale is a good strong barleywine. I like barleywine’s and this one is a little on the lower end of the alcohol content, which makes it a bit more enjoyable most of the time. The other Sierra Nevada brew I really like is their Celebration Ale. The last time I had it was a couple years ago and if I remember right it was brewed with cranberries and it was really good and not too sweet.

Alaskan Brewing Company makes two great dark beers in the winter time. Their Winter Ale is brewed with spruce tips which stand out. It’s a good, not too strong, not too dark beer. The Smoked Porter on the other hand is dark. Dark and smokey. It’s made with smoked malts and unpasteurized. The first taste is so smokey and so delicious, but doesn’t come on too strong at all.

As for my favorite beer (not just winter beer, although it happens to be one), it’s back to Stone Brewing Company. Their Imperial Russian Stout is top notch. It’s dark, heavy and full, bitter and too strong for some people, but I love it. Stone releases it every year around February for March, and you can usually find it for a month or two before it’s all gone. I was looking through the beers I’ve been storing for the last few years and found a 2006 and two 2007 bottles of this. I’m excited to do a little taste-test comparison between the two years. Sadly I didn’t manage to save any of the ’08 this year.

This Friday marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition. In celebration is the 12th annual Strong Ale Festival at Pizza Port Carlsbad Friday and Saturday. Tasters of 75 beers will be available, it’s sure to be a good time. More info is on their website.

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