Saturday, December 23, 2017
One of the cultural misconceptions of the 12 Days of Christmas is that it represents the 12 days leading into Christmas. Actually, the 12 days of Christmas in classical tradition actually begins on Dec. 25. And that seems unusually appropriate this year in the beer-drinking world.
After a season in which a number of retailers reported getting some of the gem Christmas beers late in the cycle and some breweries held off their winter-seasonal releases until December (what a concept), it only feels right to extend your drinking of these beers past the actual holiday. And while I don't want to do the full 12 beers of Christmas thing, there are enough notable offerings this year to leave you trying something new every night until the clock actually strikes 2018.
9) Strange Craft Beer Gingerbread Man
This annual offering is just as inviting as it sounds - both sweet and a little bit spicy, with a bready, almost cookie-like quality. Its only drawback is that it finishes a little too clean for a beer whose attributes you are hoping will linger.
8) Ratio Beerworks Reservoir
This old ale almost flies under the radar in the RiNo brewery's increasingly impressive portfolio. But with both roasty and nutty characteristics, it is both smooth and full - and as solid a winter seasonal as you'll find for the cold weather.
7) La Grivoise de Noel
"The Naughty Noel," a Belgian strong dark ale brewed by Canadian beer maker Le Trou Du Diable,
lives up to its billing with a slightly boozy Belgian candi sugar feel to its body, allowing it to warm you and loosen up family gatherings.
6) Diebolt Joyeux Noel
Another in the line of French- and Belgian-style treats for the season, this dark biere de garde ramps up the winter genre with its fuller-bodied undercurrents, but not so much that it takes away from the straight-up dark and roasted feel that makes it approachable even with its 8.2 percent ABV.
5) Odell Isolation Ale
There are classics out there that, for whatever reason, fall off your radar as so many more options come onto the market. But drinking Isolation again this year was a true rediscovery of a beer this is smooth, roasty and simultaneously aggressive and mellow in the approach to the alcohol in its body. This isn't a "wow" beer; it's just a damn good beer that's great for the season.
4) Bristol Winter Warlock
Similarly, this annual tradition is neither high-octane nor steeped in complexity. But one of Colorado's year-in-year-out Christmastime classics is so spot-on in its all-malt, non-bitter body that you are drawn to it like it's a throwback that delivers everything you want in a beer but more simply. The medium-bodied offering is the very definition of the fireside sipper.
3) The Bruery 10 Lords-A-Leaping
This dark imperial wit ale brewed with 10 spices is a hell of a lot of things at once, producing an extremely complex portrait that is best enjoyed with people willing to discuss it. The cinnamon, clove and allspice are the headliners in this mix, though the coriander may be the piece de resistance, allowing the beer to exit with a spicy kick. Put aside a whole evening for this one.
2) Great Divide Barrel-Aged Hibernation Ale
The Denver brewery's 22-year-old old ale recipe is a winner by itself. But put it into whiskey barrels for a year, and it finds a delicate, unsubtle balance between the huge, malty sweetness of the original beer and a sweet-tinged, fairly boozy touch of the barrel. This may not scream "Christmas beer" like some others on this list, yet the sweet but not overwhelming nature of this malt bomb leaves it far too fascinating to ignore.
1) Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper
It's almost hard to describe what is so enjoyable about this 9.9 percent ABV Imperial Stout, perfect for sharing with friends even in its new 12-ounce packaging. But the heart of its pull lies in the fact that you can taste coffee, cocoa and roasted malts in this body and somehow not taste the alcohol that should be burning up your taste buds. Made with a masterful hand, this is big enjoyment presented in a way that nearly everyone will like. And it's exactly why you wait throughout the year for beers meant specifically to warm up the winter.