During my (way too long) hiatus, I still managed to squeeze in a beer or two. As a matter of fact, I even managed to sprinkle alongside some traditional favorites (hello Delirium Noel, sweet friend) a few new beers, at least to me. I can't emphasize enough: there are so MANY Christmas ales, barleywines, imperial stouts, limited releases, and generally wonderful beers out this time of year, skip the lame-ass wine at your next shindig and pick up an interesting beer. I guarantee you, in a group of ten people, at least one will always dig an off-the-radar beer selection, even if they don't fancy themselves beer nerds.
St. Peter's Cream Stout - This beer has been around forever, but I had actually never had it before. It pours with a rich, thick, cascading head with a load of brown still in the head. Very, very dark body. It had a rich roasted scent with hints of fruit and chocolate. It actually bordered on Raisinets, which of course is not unpleasant. It drinks very smoothly, with a hearty, full body. There are hints of sweet cola in there which go nicely with the most prevalent taste, that of a balanced burnt malt that creates the standard coffee present in most stouts, as well as some fantastic spicy notes. As I drank my pint, I wasn't too enthralled, but SPCS really stuck with me, and I've been finding myself craving another one. It has a quality that most beers would sell their souls for: it makes you want to have another. There is something wonderfully elegant and balanced about it. The burnt flavors all mingling with sweet undertones make it eminently drinkable.
High and Mighty Home for the Holidays Oak-Aged Brown Ale - I was fascinated when I saw this beer on the shelf. For one, proceeds from it go to veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which, around the holidays, is especially important. Two, it is oak-aged. Three, it was a brown ale with 7.2 ABV, which I had never had before. I was excited to taste a "holiday" brown ale, something I never really associated with Christmas, though I'm sure in England it is standard. It pours with a lovely head that manages to retain an orange-brown hue while the body is hazy with a bit of orange and red in the body. It has a buttery biscuit scent that is rather enticing. The body is well-carbonated with a full-flavor that really nicely coats the entire tongue. In there is a sweet bready yeastiness off set by a definite distinct hoppy citrus flavor that might be accentuated by the oak. It has a dry and toasty finish. There is something intriguing in there, though the hops have an odd tang that wore on me.
I took a couple minutes off from the beer and as it warmed, it mellowed a bit and this tang mellowed a bit. A hint of burnt malt, as well as the citrus, began to blend more easily into the whole of the beer, as opposed to being segmented parts. All in all, the beer is for a good cause, but I feel the oak is underused, while the hops are poorly used. It is easy to drink, but it seems to be sacrificing adventurousness to achieve that. I'm not regretful I bought it, since at least a portion of the money goes to the right kind of place, but unlike St. Peter's up top, it isn't keeping me coming back.
Honorable Mention: Abita Christmas Ale. Abita is out of Louisiana and I count every beer I've had from them as some of my favorites. Their Amber, Purple Haze Wheat, Pecan Harvest, and of course the phenomenal Turbodog (buy it, drink it, love it) are all wonderful. This Christmas Ale is no different. They harness some wonderful piney hops in a high but not off-putting quantity for a taste that resembles a Christmas tree. I sip and think of snow, Christmas lights, sweaters, and a nice fireplace. Fresh, clean, and spectacularly crisp, this beer is fantastic on a chilly night. It doesn't pack the high ABV of many holiday beers, but it encompasses a lot of what I love about holiday flavors. It is also a perfect example of a beer you COULD take to, say, a holiday party: it is really easy to drink while still being exciting and different from your standard beers.
Coming soon I'm going to have TWO new interviews with awesome breweries as well as more reviews, some bizarre news from the beer world, and hopefully a celebrity guest . . .