Well well well. Merry Christmas. Not "Happy Holidays". Keep in mind I am half Jewish by birth and all atheist by choice. Merry Christmas.
Christmas/Chanukah/winter bring with them some awfully yummy beers, in particular imperials and other high alcohol beers that get you drunker faster, so you can get on with the busy task of finding your family funny instead of terrifying. Even though posting has been sporadic lately, I have been steadily trying new beers and will, over the next couple days, give a somewhat concise rundown and review of every last one of them. There's still time to pick up these seasonal beers, though often they are in incredibly limited batches. So go out, buy beer, get warm.
Southampton Imperial Porter - Southampton comes from upstate New York, and are VERY well regarded. I've never been TOO enthused with their beers, but usually there is a refinement to them that makes them intriguing, if not always my favorite. Their Imperial Porter delivers like crazy though, and I have to give it to them for executing a very difficult style with, dare I say . . . aplomb? The difficulty with porter is that it falls into such a narrow window. In theory, it is a bit lighter and or/not as thick as a stout. But, when does it become simply a dark ale? So it should have some heft to it. Hard as hell, take my word for it. This one pours wonderfully with a thick head that holds abundant brown. The head maintains fantastically over a really dark opaque brown body. It drinks marvelously smooth, and the flavor brilliantly couples a sweet toffee with a richly burnt malt. The sweet upfront has a nice breadiness and even a hint of raspberry. A creaminess reveals as you drink and it warms a bit. Toward the finish, the burnt side reveals a hint of smokiness and charred wood. There is almost zero hop flavor, and if there is one knock I have, it is that this beer is almost TOO drinkable. Small qualm, indeed.
Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout - Clocking in at 9.5 ABV and 75 IBUs, Great Divide Yeti wallows in all its Imperial-ness and Stout-itude. I'm gonna catch some heat for this one because Great Divide is so well-respected, but I really couldn't get into this beer at all. It pours with a thick, huge head bearing the color of chocolate milk. The aroma holds cocoa powder and dark chocolate with hint of fruit. In flavor, it skews way bitter (no surprise given the IBUs) especially in the finish. The mouthfeel is thick and almost syrupy. A chocolate flavor coats the tongue while the hops usher in a massive bitter finish with a hint of vanilla and almond. Frankly, the abundant hops don't integrate particularly well with the other more delicate notes and this diminishes the returns as you drink. Whatever intrigue there is in the beginning around the size of the flavors dissipates into a boozy wash of unfulfilled promise.
Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale - Rogue operates out of Oregon, and make some of the most well-respected, sought-after and flat-out copied beers in craft brewing today. They have an incredible knack for integrating tricky ingredients and high alcohol contents without overwhelming the, well, deliciousness of the beer. Santa's Private Reserve is wonderfully named. It makes me think that Santa has some stash of booze on a top shelf where the elves can't reach it. If this is what he is storing, he is most certainly onto something. The aroma balances hops with vanilla, cream, donuts, and warm bread. An acceptable head sits atop a nice amber/red body which definitely evoked Christmas colors for me. The flavor couples a pretty standard hoppy/malty balance with wonderfully exposed hints of caramel, pine, iced tea with lemon, and something like cinnamon or nutmeg. The smooth, light carbonation lets a robust warmth sink in and the flavors make themselves apparent without intruding. So smooth, so balanced, so easy to drink. It is flavorful and downright delicious. Hide it from your elves.