So many holiday brews, so little time

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GOOD LORD, it’s Christmastime already. Hope Santa brings me a new bottle opener!

Every year the holiday comes faster. I say this not because I still haven’t paid off my credit card, but because I still haven’t polished off last season’s holiday brews.

If I look around enough in my basement, I’m sure I’ll find a few from the 1900s!

Thankfully, most Christmas beers are hearty and can weather even two or three years’ confinement in the cellar. But at this rate, my heirs will be drinking this stuff 20 years after my tragic demise.

Nearly every brewer, it seems, makes a special beer for the season. RealBeer.Com lists more than 120 winter warmers and Christmas ales, and that doesn’t include the holiday treats at hundreds of brewpubs.

(The list also doesn’t include, I should note, He’brew Miraculous Jewbelation, which tecnically is a Hanukkah beer. Still waiting for the first official Festiva brew. )

And here’s two other newcomers, from River Horse, the Lambertville, N.J., brewery.

The eight-year-old family-run outfit is known primarily for its Special Ale and Hop Hazard, basic hop treats that, while well-regarded, don’t exactly slap you upside the head. This year, the brewery gave itself a kick in the seat, re-designed its packaging and bottled up a pair of Belgian-style ales.

Belgian Frostbite, a dark ale spiced with coriander, is the brewery’s newest seasonal, available, as the label says, between the December solstice and the March equinox. At 8 percent alcohol, it’ll take the sting out of the windchill, but do yourself a favor and pair it with a bowl of chili.

Tripel Horse is a stronger (10 percent alcohol) Belgian-style ale with a bit more spice. It’s the first in a series of more expensive ($35-40 a case), small-batch brews of just 500 cases. As with most American-made Belgian-style ales, it’s the yeast that gives these brews a taste of Flanders. The fermentation leaves these beers with a spicy and tangy sensation in the mouth.

Though both are high in alcohol, these two beers do not feel like huge headbangers.

Jim Bryan, who runs River Horse with his brother Tim, explained, “A lot of times we brew to our own taste. We tend not to like some of the sweeter Belgian ales, so with the Tripel, especially, we were looking to go as high as we could with the alcohol without overpowering the taste of the beer. ” For anyone unfamiliar with the dynamic flavor of abbey-style Belgian beers, these ales are excellent primers.

You’re not going to get rocked with a classic malt bomb like Affligem Noel. But drink two and you’ll think you’re in Antwerp’s Kulminator tavern. Both are a nice step inside from the cold.

About the new design: I’d describe River Horse’s new labels as Post-Modern Periodic Chart. Very stylish and full of odd, DaVinci Code-like symbology.

Bryan said they’re the work of Jennifer Hansen, who designed the old Independence Ale labels.

Shopping list

OK, so what else is filling up my cellar this winter? So far, I’ve laid away about a case and a half of different bottles. Here’s a quick list.

The Brits

  • Young’s Winter Warmer
  • Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale
  • Harvey’s Christmas Ale – Hoppier than standard English Xmas beer, still well-balanced.
  • George Gale Christmas Ale – Fruity, almost wine-like.
  • Sam Adams Holiday Porter, Old Fezziwig Ale and Winter Lager. OK, they’re actually made in New England. But the influence is decidedly London. Sadly, all are available only in a holiday mix case that also includes useless Sam Adams Light.

The Belgians

  • Petrus Winterbeer – Do I taste raisins?
  • Scaldis Noel – A huge (12 percent alcohol) beer in a small bottle.
  • Corsendonk Christmas Ale – A fine, strong ale, often available in large, corked bottles.
  • Stille Nacht – Drink one and it’s “Silent Night. “
  • Delirium Noel – Look for the white bottle with Santa and his drunken reindeer.
  • Affligem Noel -I gotta grab a case of this every year; I just love this beer.

Old standbys

  • Samiclaus – That’s Swiss for Santa Claus; this brew is made each year on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), by Eggenberger in Austria.
  • Wild Goose Snowgoose – Chocolatey and smooth.
  • Anchor Our Special Ale – A different spice every year. This is the 30th anniversary.
  • Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout – A coffee-like stout that’ll cool you off when you’re by the open fire.
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale – The classic American holiday ale, very hoppy.

The locals

  • Weyerbacher Winter Ale – Spicy, but unlike this Easton brewery’s big beers (for example, Merry Monks), it’s quite mild.
  • Stoudts Winter Ale – A German-influenced amber made with rye.
  • St. Nikolaus Bock Bier – A perfectly balanced Munich dark lager. Just excellent.
  • Troegs Mad Elf – A spicy, cherry Belgian-style red ale.
  • Rude Elf’s Revenge – The slyly spelled spiced ale from Bethlehem Brew Works. Last year’s version, called Rudolph’s Reserve, met its demise when lawyers for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer sent a cease and desist letter.

Odds and ends

  • Hitachino Nest New Year Celebration Ale – My bottle says 2004 -it’s already a year old!
  • Three Floyds Alpha Klas Xmas Ale – A “Christmas porter” from the Indiana hopheads.
  • He’Brew Miraculous Jewbelation – Great name, and far stronger (8 percent alcohol) than this brewer’s standard fare.
  • Lost Coast WinterBraun – A brown ale from Eureka, Calif.
  • Allagash Grand Cru – A soft, fruity Belgian-style bottle-conditioned ald from New England.
  • Avery Old Jubliation Ale – The label looks like something out of a Budweiser ad. That’s where the similarity ends.
  • Hirschbrau Neuschwansteiner Wehnachts-Bier – A rare German holiday import.


Today – Holiday beer tasting at Beer Guys beer distributor (Manoa Shopping Center, Havertown). 4-6 p.m. Info: 610-446-5576.

Tuesday – Winter Belgian Beer Dinner at the Drafting Room (900 N. Bethlehem Pike, Spring House). A full dinner featuring four classic Flemish ales. Dinner served: 6:30 p.m. Tix: $49.95. Info: 215-646-6116.

Dec. 10 – Project IPA Celebration at Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery (Rt. 113, Pikeland Village Square, Phoenixville).

Ten different IPAs on tap, including the brewery’s year-long series of single-hop varietals.

No cover. Taps open: Noon. Info: 610-935-4540.

Joe Sixpack, by staff writer Don Russell, was written this week with a year-old bottle of Troegs Mad Elf.


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