Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Beer Week, Part Four: Nowhere Near Style

There isn't an official style for "Christmas Ale." But if there was, there are several beers that it would not include - some of which should feel very proud to be outside the lines.

First among them is Jolly Pumpkin's Noel de Calabaza Special Ale, a beer that combines so many different flavors that trying to tie any description to it would do it injustice. But know this: This might be the most appealing beer yet produce by the Michigan brewer of barrel-aged ales.

Noel, like most Jolly Pumpkin beers, has a wild-yeast sour flavor to it. But this version backs it with a malt body that lays down such a solid cushion to the tart character that it evens out the bite and spreads it across the entire palate. This really is an extraordinary beer, one that defies any expectations of a Christmas beer - like most of what comes out of the brewery - but manages to be extremely pleasing despite the complex body.

Gift of the Magi, Lost Abbey's Christmas offering, serves up Brettanomyces, but not in as palatable an offering. This one is equally style-breaking, but more sharply alcoholic. And its fairly translucent amber body gives way to a sharp ale that presents itself more as a melange of flavors than as a coherent taste profile, leaving it too open to interpretation to make it an easily enjoyable package.

Then there's Breckenridge Christmas Ale, a beer that very well could have gone into the first part of this series as a dark, wonderful ale. But it has such a cult following that you feel it really ought to stand out somewhere else. This is a beer that blends malt darkness with just a touch of hops to make one of the most balanced beers of the year. It is dark, yet it is special. And that's how a beer goes beyond any particular labels.

This is day four of a five-part series examining the beers of this holiday season. Merry Christmas and happy new beer!

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