If you are at all like me you have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. Whereas most of those who celebrate Christmas love to get together with their families, sharing the season and exchanging gifts, my oddball family is not one that I, nor any of you, would enjoy spending your time. Festivus is sounding better and better to me every year. However, I do so love the underlying message of Christmas, you know, love, peace and having good will toward all. For me the getting together with the family part can only be achieved with imbibing in copious amounts of fortified brew. My Christmas spirit comes in a bottle. If you are of a kindred spirit with me OR you are a non-celebrator who just can't wait for all of this to be over you are in luck, because the Christmas ales will help you get past this agitation in a delicious haze. Here is our top 5 list of liquefied Christmas spirits to help us get through the season.
5. Affligem Noel (9% ABV)- Affligem is brewed in the Belgian village of Opwijk (not misspelled, just odd) in the Benedictine Afflegim Abbey founded in June of 1062. Even though the brewery has the name of the abbey, the beer is actually made by Heineken, but don't be influenced by their typical swill, this is fine beer indeed. The style is a Belgian strong ale like a dubbel. Dark and rich with aroma of dark fruits, brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves. You will find it sweet, with nutmeg and other spices. It is a bit sweeter than most of this style but will put a silly grin on your face that will get you through the day.
4. Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome (6% ABV) - Let me start by stating that Samuel Smith's brewery does not make a bad beer. Every beer that they make is spot on and you can be assured that whichever beer of theirs you choose you will not be disappointed. The great thing about the Winter Welcome is that it is made to appeal to a wide range of beer lovers and while it will probably not be the greatest beer that you open at your get together, it will appeal to the broadest range of drinkers. The broad malt base is balanced by Fuggle and Golding hops, giving the brew a wonderful complexity. There are not much in the way of spices that you usually associate with a Christmas ale, but the complex character will make for a good session drink and will pair well with almost any food.
3. La Chouffe N'Ice (10% ABV) - How could be ignore our friends from Brasserie d'Achouffe? It is a good thing that we don't have to, because this ale is a dandy brew. At 10% it won't take long to get you into a warm, fuzzy haze where you can tune out the mayhem around you. The strong dark ale is unfiltered and allowed to re-ferment in the bottles which will give you lots of floating goodies to admire while you thank everyone again for the new underwear. It is very well balanced sweetness, malts, thyme and curacao used to hide the alcohol burn. Superb and gorgeous in the glass.
2. Scaldis Noel (12% ABV) - What? You're not interested in the peace and love crap and want to get wasted? This beer will have you snarling at your in-laws and tripping over wrapping debris in no time. "Created in 1769 by Joseph Leroy, the maternal grandfather of current manager Hugues Dubuisson, the Brasserie Dubuisson is the oldest brewery in Wallonia and is still situated on the same spot. Eight generations of brewers have succeeded each other in a direct line and the Brasserie Dubuisson is today still 100% independent." This brew is a bit more aggressive and stronger than your typical Christmas ale. The copper colored brew smells of caramel, malts and peach. Taste the huge malts, the brown sugar, the dark fruits, the yeast, the spices and the anise. Marvel at the warming sensation in your mid-section shortly after you begin drinking. The alcohol is not hidden and you will definitely notice it as your sip, but that is not a bad thing. Lovely, lovely beer.
1. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (10% ABV) - Absolutely the finest Christmas ale available and in my opinion one of the top 10 best beers being produced anywhere. I find it difficult to describe this beer so I will let the brewers describe it for you ... "St.Bernardus Christmas Ale is a dark seasonal brewed in the classic 'Quadrupel' style of Belgium's best Abbey Ales. (10,0 % ABV) Similar to all the beers from our brewery, it greets the drinker with the signature aroma of the St.Bernardus house yeast strain (in use since 1946! Rivaling the complexity of the St.Bernardus Abt 12, St.Bernardus Christmas Ale offers a spicy, mint-like flavor profile exuding the tastes of warming alcohol, fermented molasses, apricots, licorice and marzipan that are highlighted by the perfect balance of brewing sugars. The perfect companion to enjoy a (cold?) winter evening, with or without the company of your friends!" I have spent many Christmas' marveling at the magnificence of this beer and am never without a bottle or 2 on my aging rack and in the refrigerator. Stunning.
Cheers and have a wonderful whatever it is that you celebrate.