Beer - A sampling of Christmas ales

It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it

As promised, here is a sampling of Christmas ales and other winter seasonals from overseas that will brighten any holiday table.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 10% ABV), Brouwerij St. Bernardus, Watou, Belgium. Everything a special holiday beer should be: complex, potent, and enjoyable to the last sip. Pours cloudy brown with a big rocky head that dissipates into a clingy mess. Sweet, toasted malts dominate the aroma, along with typical Belgian yeast aromas of brown bread, clove, and nutmeg. A parade of sweet flavors manifest themselves with each taste: caramel and toffee lead the procession followed by raisins and dates. A fairly assertive piney hop flavor, along with spices and a tannic tartness moves in to counter the malts. Full-bodied with a lively, round carbonation and a slick finish that will have you diving back in like a fat man at a pie-eating contest.

Bad Elf Winter Ale (English IPA, 6% ABV),Ridgeway Brewing, South Stoke, UK. Ridgeway produces several humorously named winter beers. I was unable to locate the Santa’s Butt Porter, but this is the best-regarded of the Bad Elf series. I’d like to get a taste of the Insanely Bad Elf Barley Wine at 11.5% ABV, but if you are looking for something that will stand up to the rich flavors of a holiday meal without being a meal in itself, this straight-forward English IPA is a fine choice. It pours a bright yellow-gold with a slight chill haze and minimal head. Spicy and floral hops ride over a moderate biscuity malt sweetness. A fizzy, puckery mouthfeel and a bright finish make it a perfect companion to a gut-busting feast.

Delirium Noel (Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 10% ABV), Brouwerij Huyghe, Melle, Belgium. The procession of pink elephants in Santa caps on the label gives you an idea of what you are in for from this seasonal special from the brewers of the excellent Delirium series. A bottle of this just might drown out your mother's nagging about how worthless you are. Amber-gold with a rich, yeasty, caramel flavor, notes of whiskey and cherry, and a mild, spicy hop bitterness.

Samichlaus Bier (Doppelbock, 14% ABV),Brewery Castle Eggenberg, Eggenberg, Austria. Brewed once a year on December 6 by the oldest family-owned brewery in Austria and aged for 10 months, this is one of the strongest beers that you can buy legally in Georgia and the strongest lager beer in the world. This year's vintage was brewed in 2006 and can be enjoyed for years to come with proper cellaring. Although brewed only with malt, hops, and yeast according to the German Purity Law of 1516, this brandy-like dessert beer is thick with the essence of green apple, apricot, and fig. A hint of cinnamon and a bracing tartness give it a clean finish. Enjoy it in front of the fireplace with someone you love.

Twelve Days (English Strong Ale, 5.5% ABV), Hook Norton Brewery Company, Ltd., Banbury, UK. Certainly not strong by American standards, this is nevertheless a satisfying ale with a floral hop aroma, a bit of spice, and a mild, malty sweetness with fruit and nut flavors dominating. The delicate balance is upset by too much burnt sugar harshness and a thin mouthfeel, however.

Last Minute Beer Event Department
On Friday, November 30 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. join Athens’ Dynamic Beer Duo Owen Ogletree and Kerri Allen at 5th Earl Market in Decatur for a tasting of gourmet cheeses paired with Dogfish Head Ales. Five courses of cheese will be served with five rare Dogfish Head drafts like Punkin Ale and Chateau Jiahu for just $20. Contact Brian or David at 404-377-5477 or email brian at 5thearlmarket.com.

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