Sunday, December 22, 2013

The 12 Beers of Christmas, 2013 version

Digging one's way through the best Christmas-seasonal beers in Colorado and elsewhere has never been so easy. Between festivals like American Craft Beer Radio's Holiday Beer Bash and the excellent recent Denver Beer Festivus, as well as the profusion of seasonal taps scattered around local beer bars, the joy of the season is everywhere.

Therefore, it feels only appropriate this year to laud not just a few but a full 12 days worth of holiday beers .... which you can enjoy in the next three days if you're really ambitious. And in the theme of the song, these range from 1 to 12, with 12 being the best - because then you can get 12 of them for Christmas instead of lousy beer of that style in a pear tree.

First Day: Avery Old Jubilation Ale
Roasted and almost sweet, with a firm but not overbearing amount of hoppy back bitterness, this continues its run as one of the season's complex ales.

Second Day: Lagunitas Brown Shugga'
Part barleywine and part experimental sugar hop bomb (yes, really), it's floral and sweet and something unique.

Third Day: Upslope Christmas Ale
The kings of the seasonal offering have conjured a spiced Belgian dubbel that has hints of sugar, cinnamon and a whole lot of flavor.

Fourth Day: Left Hand Widdershins Oak Aged Barleywine Ale
One of the smoothest barleywines in memory, its mix of dark-fruit malt flavors, subtle hopping and surprising alcohol (10.7% ABV) make this the perfect beer to bring to a family gathering where you need a little extra pep to keep your smile up.

Fifth Day: Bull and Bush Yule Fuel
Cinnamon chips, honey and ginger combine to create a beer that might tend to the sweet side but still possesses a piney freshness.

Sixth Day: Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper
Year in, year out it's a Christmas-time champ - a Russian imperial stout so dark it's impervious to light but oddly smooth, with just a hint of chocolate in its malt.

Seventh Day: Wit's End Ugly Sweater
An English brown ale fermented with Belgian yeast and laced with roasted pumpkin seeds and palm sugar, this combines ingredients in the same way that  '80s sweater knitters fused bright colors. But the result is both dark and intriguing and something you want to wear (inside your stomach) again.

Eighth Day: Lone Tree Brewing Gingerbread Old Ale
How do you stand out from the crowd of seasonal ginger beers? Re-use the yeast employed in making your chili pepper ale, adding just enough spiced light heat to the backtaste to scream that you have something different.

Ninth Day: Great Divide Hibernation Ale
This old ale is always well made. But this year's version just felt fresher, with its roasted malt and hazy chocolate flavors appearing as if a whole new taste in your mouth.

Tenth Day: The Bruery Six-Geese-a-Laying
The sixth annual version of this genre-defining seasonal series - a Belgian-style dark ale with gooseberries - is sweet, chewy and mildly tart. It's a great drink, though maybe not as jaw-dropping as 2012's 5 Golden Rings.

Eleventh Day: Crooked Stave Cranberry and Spice Vieille Saison
Just as tart as you'd expect from the sour masters but also surprisingly universal in its appeal, this latest of Vieille iterations may be the best yet.

Twelfth Day: Copper Kettle Snowed In
The blow-your-mind best beer of the 2013 holiday season is an imperial oatmeal stout aged six months in bourbon barrels with chocolate and coffee. It's a big roasted flavor profile in a thick but not overdone body that may be the perfect beer for cold winter days. It's exceptional. And the only complaint was that the Denver brewery's release was far too limited.

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