With the holidays just passing, nearly everyone I know had to make a list or two beforehand. No doubt we’ve all heard people caroling about conscientious St. Nicholas and his carefully checked list. Most likely, there were grocery lists for the family feast and gift lists for shopping excursions. Now, we carry on and make New Year’s lists with all the resolutions we hope to achieve.
The list for great fall/winter beers is endless as more craft brewers play and experiment with the traditional brewing methods. I usually find that I am hardly disappointed during the cooler seasons, as they tend to include a lot of dark, heavy stouts and porters, spiced ales—or unusual concoctions with sweet, mouth-watering ingredients, such as chocolate, gingerbread, raisins or espresso. So, in honor of yet another holiday season come and gone, and to follow the daily custom of Rob Fleming, I feel it’s time to make another “Top Five.”
Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale
For the season, ales typically aren’t heavy in hops, with some exceptions such as Rogue’s Santa’s Private Reserve (also, Sierra Nevada’s Celebration is a fine winter beer fully and unabashedly comprised of hops). When it comes to Highland Brewery (Asheville, NC), they know to always include a nice balance in their beers, whether it’s their Kashmir IPA or their Black Mocha Stout. Pulling a Cold Mountain Ale to the mouth and inhaling its creamy aroma will ready drinkers for hints of vanilla, spice and dark berries. While drinking, the beer’s body feels very thin; yet, it is packed with flavor, and like a typical Highland beer, it finishes with a hop punch.
(Mmmm, perhaps I should make a Top Five list for “North Carolina Beers That Have Yet to Disappoint Me.”
Gouden Carolus Noel
Hailing from Mechelen, Belgium, the Brouwerij Het Anker brewery has been around since 1471 and has produced nearly 20 different beers. For the holiday season, the brewery shares the Gouden Carolus Noel, a strong dark ale (about 10.5 percent ABV) that has a swirl of different aromas and tastes—mint spices, malts, brown sugar, clove, caramel, slight citrus, etc. The potpourri of ingredients is a bit alarming at first, but going down is smooth, and the flavors linger on the tongue afterward. Essentially, Gouden Carolus Noel is a complex brew that would be a supreme choice to go along with dessert—cookies, cake, bread—whatever sweets are in the oven!
Front Street Brewery’s
Tiny Tim’s Christmas Porter
Porters are popular for my palate, so that’s a natural plus, but the lush mocha and roasted French vanilla coffee beans in Front St. Brewery’s Tiny Tim’s Christmas Ale steals my heart. In a way, it reminds me greatly of the brewery’s delicious Sinful Stout, particularly with its sweetness and appropriate pairings for dessert. However, Tiny Tim’s Christmas Porter goes down easier. It’s not overflowing with sugary, cavity-inducing saccharine but moreso a smooth coffee rush. Unlike the Sinful Stout, I can have more than just one pint of the porter (and I definitely did). For the sweet-toothed and lightweights, beware of Tiny Tim, because the dark, delicious tastes can be deceptive, hiding the taste of the 8 percent ABV.
Another strong dark ale (10 percent ABV) from another legendary Belgium brewery—Brouwerij Huyghe (born 1654 in Brussels) is responsible for Delirium, one of the most popular (and rightfully so) Belgian beers. Lucky for me, I was able to acquire a 2010 bottle of Delirium Noel, a fantastic, tawny blend of yeasts, dark cherries, candied sugar, light hops and spices. When slowly drinking this ale, it almost felt like drinking a light port but with moderate spices incorporated. It would certainly go well with sweets, but I feel it could be enjoyed and paired with other foods also.
Diverse and open, this ale is definitely a keeper. Be on the lookout for some vintage bottles of it!
After some time and thinking, I was expecting the number one Christmas beer to be German or Belgian. The brewery Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg from Vorchdorf, Austria triumphs overall with the Samichlaus, a remarkable doppelbock that possesses strong, spiced flavors of apples, raisins, caramel, cinnamon, roasted malt and tiny hints of chocolate. With a doppelbock, it’s expected to contain some rich sweetness, but this goes beyond. It must be said that this is an intense beer. Apart from it being 14 percent ABV, there is an intense sugar surge upon every swig. Perhaps it is the type of beer to indulge in once rather than ordering multiples in a night. This beer is to be nursed, relished and drunk at a moderate pace, not chugged like a watery domestic. Allow the wild assortment of flavors to burst and flow in the mouth. It is filling and warm to the belly.
Runners-up: Bison Gingerbread Ale, Brooklyn Winter Ale and Black Chocolate Stout, Scaldis Noel, Southern Tier Imperial Mokah and Crème Brulee Milk Stout.