Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Beer Week, Part Three: A Belgian Christmas

No one knows quite how to do the holiday season quite like the Belgians, do they? A cold country that's used to serving complex, warm beers, saving up what they have for one big month. Americans shouldn't even compete, right?

With the kinds of lush offerings that Belgium offers, that was once a rational mindset. But this year, at least one U.S. brewery produced an extraordinary Belgian-style offering. And so, it seemed worth a little comparison shopping to test its merit.

The American beer of note is Grand Teton Brewing's Coming Home 2011 Holiday Ale. A medium-bodied but thick-tasting golden ale reeking of cotton candy and orange, it is one of the most accessible and yet enjoyable European-style holiday offerings to come out of a U.S. brewery in recent memory. It has a soft feel, and its 9% ABV weight warms you considerably. And it is infinitely drinkable.

Paired against two notable Belgian holiday offerings, it stands the test.

Affligem's Noel Christmas Ale (pictured above) went over less well with the Fearless Tasting Crew. An amber-brown offering that sits somewhere between a Belgian double and triple, it presents a licorice-heavy front taste that sweetens with warming but still leaves an anise presence in your mouth after it's gone. It's interesting and, in some ways more simplistic than the multi-layered Coming Home, but it doesn't make you refreshed and warmed in quite the same way.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, a Belgian abbey ale with a sweet, rich amber body was far more enticing. With candied sugar and tastes of dark fruit such as plum and blackberry, it almost seemed to be made for a holiday associated with sugar-plum ferries dancing in your head. The mouthfeel is not overwhelming, but it carries a deep, burgeoning richness.

Still, Grand Teton's effort just struck one note more original, more pleasing, more for a holiday celebration. And both the Idaho-based brewery and American beer drinkers should rejoice in that.

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