Atlanta has somehow become a craft beer mecca with some of the greatest beer bars in the world. This is a tribute to the beers and the bars.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Christmas ales on tap-a retrospective

This was a good year for Christmas ales in Atlanta pubs.  Here's what I tried, roughly in order:

Corsendonk Christmas- One of the classics. Creamy, complex, a little spicy.  I found it at Taco Mac before it showed up in any my standard haunts.

Delerium Noel- This was one of my favorites last year but the flavor profile seems a little flat this year. Still delicious, but not what I remembered. Worth another try, considering I had it right after the St. Bernardus Christmas, which wouldn't be fair to any beer that follows it.

St. Bernardus Christmas- The greatest Christmas ale of them all? It's like a richer, creamier, spicier version of the Corsendonk. Sweet dark fruits are beautifully balanced by the spice and what seems to be more of a hop presence than in most Belgian Christmas ales. Feels like velvet on the tongue and has a long, slightly dry finish. Mmm.

Scaldis Noel- flat, thin, syrupy, and almost undrinkably sweet

Mikkeller To: From:- Very interesting spiced Baltic Porter. Roasted, almost burnt malts, a little clovey, and intense. Not my favorite, but one of the most interesting and worth trying if you like strong, dark ales.

De Ranke Pere Noel- lighter and lower abv than your standard Christmas Ale. A little fruity (pear) without being overly sweet. Hoppier than most Christmas ales with a little spice.

N’Ice Chouffe-One of the more complex tasting of the bunch. Some orange and dark fruit, spicy, and some definite heat from the alcohol. I would probably rank this right behind Bernie Christmas.

Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale- This was on tap various places, but I had it at home in the bottle. Maybe it's different on tap. Appearance was fine. Smell was lacking in much complexity. Taste was where things went way wrong. Did I make a mistake and just start drinking out of my bottle of vanilla extract? I think the only real difference would be that vanilla extract would have more of an alcohol warmth (pure vanilla extract is 35% alcohol). This is one of the worst beers I've ever had. There may have been some flavors besides the vanilla, but I couldn't taste it.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale- An American style Christmas ale, this is a very nice spiced double IPA. Good malt/hop balance and gentle spice. Considerably lower abv than the Belgians.

Sweetwater Festive- A mighty fine ale.  Raisin/dark fruit base that almost gives it the body of a Belgian quad. Light hops and a little sweetness.  That would be an easy beer to drink a few of.

Heavy Seas Winter ESB- delicious, dark, spiced ESB.

Winter Koninck by De Koninck- Les had this one and didn't find it very interesting, but okay. I had a sip and didn't like it. I meant to try it again and figure out what flavor offended me, but I never got around to it. Anyway, not recommended.

Ridgeway Very Bad Elf- as the name implies, was very bad. The fuggles hops were so overwhelming that it was hard to drink (full disclosure-I don't like any beers with strong fuggles hops). Fuggles is good in moderation, but this beer had an odd, cloying bitterness and no balance, which is what I find with all beers that overdo fuggles. I'm not really sure what made this a Christmas ale, though the winter warmers I just drank in London last week were also heavy on fuggles.

Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper 2009- This is now one of my favorite Christmas ales. The main flavor is of chocolate covered raspberry, which tempers the piny simcoe hops. There is a background of spices more traditionally found in a wit (orange peel and coriander). Very smooth, creamy, and a little boozy (Les would say very boozy...she said it just tasted like whiskey) with good carbonation. A beautiful, slightly strange beer that I highly recommend.

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