Beer Review: Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea

Name: Victory at Sea
Brewing Company: Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Location: San Diego, California
Style: Imperial Porter with Coffee and Vanilla
ABV: 10%

From the beer’s description on Ballast Point Brewing Company’s Web site:

A big porter crafted to weather any storm.

Our Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Porter is a bold, smooth brew with just the right amount of sweetness. We infused this robust porter with vanilla and San Diego’s own Caffe Calabria coffee beans. The subtle roasted notes and minimal acidity of the cold brewed coffee, balances perfectly with the sweet caramel undertones of the malt, creating a winning combination for your palate.

Ballast Point is one of the largest craft brewers in California, although no longer “independent” since the brewery was acquired by Constellation Brands (who also own Modela Negro, Corona, Funky Buddha in beer and Modavi wine and Svedka Vodka, among others) in 2015. Regardless of that, Ballast Point has been crafting popular and acclaimed beers since 1996. I’ve had a handful of their brews and liked about half of what I’ve had (especially their California Kölsch and Piper Down Scotch Ale) but of everything Ballast Point brews, this beer appeals to me the most.

Porters are one of my favorite styles and I’d wanted to give this well-regarded interpretation of the style a try for a while. I has a little hesitant to commit to full six pack at the price point, but fortunately, my favorite bottle shop (Gary’s in Hillsborough, NJ) sells some single bottles which is how I procured this one. Like most porters, this one pours a deep black and tops off with a slightly tan head. As a dark beer lover, it looks appealing and the aromas of coffee and vanilla are really inviting. The first taste gives off strong vanilla and coffee flavors with ample sweetness. The beer is relatively full bodied and definitely full of flavor. The flavor that lingers the most; however, is the vanilla. Even more than the coffee.

I’ve come to realize that vanilla, for all the suggestions and metaphors for vanilla being plain and boring, is a tough flavor component to pull off successfully. Especially in beer. I’ve had quite a few vanilla porters and stouts and more than one has given a really strong unpleasant aftertaste with few exhibiting a perfectly balanced vanilla component of the beer. Here with Victory at Sea, for my tastebuds, it is a nearly perfect execution of the vanilla. There’s only a slight lingering aftertaste from the vanilla, but the pleasant taste up front far outweighs the lingering at the end and kept my rating at a 4-bottle-cap review for untappd.

The ABV of 10% in this one isn’t too pronounced in the flavor profile. Then again, I took my time drinking the beer as a “dessert” so the alcohol didn’t affect me too much. However, that relatively high ABV should be taken into consideration if you’re having more than one or two of these dark, delicious beers.

At one point in Ballast Point’s brewing history, this beer was available only as a 22oz bomb and on draft, but a year or two ago, the beer became available in 6 packs.. It has since become an extremely popular seasonal favorite and I can see why. There are a few variants, including a barrel aged variant to help celebrate Victory at Sea Day making this an “Event Beer” for Ballast Point and folks who enjoy the beer around the country

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer

Heavy Weight (Level 49)

You like it thick and dark. Your beer! What did you think we were talking about? That’s 245 different beers with the style of Porter or Stout.

Sky’s the Limit (Level 18)

You don’t always intend to go for beers with a double digit ABV, but when you do, you make it count! Cheers to you, but be careful, 10% and up can really pack a punch. That’s 90 different beers with an ABV of 10% and up.

Victory at Sea (Special/One Time Badge)

Prepare the ballast and hoist the sails. You’ve made a date with darkness, so you’re in for a decadent journey through notes of vanilla, roasted cold-brew coffee, and caramel. A bold and rewarding choice you’ve earned the “Victory at Sea Day” badge for your treasure chest!

Draught Diversions: A 6 Pack of Beer Blogs/Websites

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

This post could be seen as a “cousin” to my second Draught Diversion post which focused on podcasts. This time around I’m going to highlight a six pack of Beer Web sites/Blogs I visit every day and follow on twitter. Most people on the internets with an interest in craft beer are already visiting Beer Advocate (and the Forums), so I’ll only mention that one right here. The others? Well, let’s take a look. I’ll go through these alphabetically. If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

Brewbound (Twitter: @Brewbound)

Brewbound is probably the top website when it comes to beer news and releases as well as craft beer jobs. Although the Web site is geared more towards “craft brewers with brands sold on- and off-premise, beer distributors, retailers, investors and industry suppliers” there’s still a wealth of interesting information for folks like myself who enjoy the delicious beverage and want to know more about what’s going on in the industry. If you want a job in the beer industry, this is the website you want to visit every day.

On his weekly Craft Beer Cast, Al Gattullo almost always reads a story or two from Brewbound. Simply put, a nearly indispensable news site for craft beer.

Brew Jersey by Chris Casellani (Twitter: @WhyAmINotThere)

Going local for NJ is Brew Jersey, written by Chris Casellani. Brew Jersey is a “sub site” of the Best of NJ web site which promotes fun and interesting things about and to do in NJ. I’ve referenced Brew Jersey in a few of my Draught Diversions Brewery visit posts as resources or “for further reading.” Chris does a fantastic job of providing history of each brewery and a profile of the folks who started the brewery and make the beer. Essentially, each time I read a new installment of the semi-regularly released series, I feel very compelled to visit the brewery about which I just read.

If you are not from New Jersey and you are going to visit New Jersey, this is probably the first web site you’ll want to visit to get an idea of the 70+ (and growing) breweries in the Great Garden State where you’d like to get a flight of a couple of pints.

Craft Beer & Brewing (Twitter: @CraftBeerBrew)

I’ve mentioned John Holl on this blog a few times, he’s one of the pre-eminent beer journalists/writers today. As he’s a New Jersey guy, I naturally gravitate to what he has to say about beer (even if I don’t always agree with him). I’d been following @CraftBeerBrew on twitter for some time, and reading Craft Beer & Brewing for quite a while, too. The professional-level reviews at Craft Beer and Brewing often consist of a panel of reviewers, which are brief yet very informative.

Craft Beer & Brewing also has a great Weekly Podcast.

MyBeerBuzz.com (Twitter: @mybeerbuzz)

One of my favorite Web sites/blogs in the online beer community is MyBeerBuzz.com. Bill Cord is the “Founder, owner, author, graphic designer, CEO, CFO, webmaster, president, mechanic and janitor” for mybeerbuzz and one might guess he doesn’t sleep very much, especially when you learn he also produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show

What makes MyBeerBuzz.com so indispensable? Content, content, content. Strike that. Good content, good content, good content. Bill seems to tirelessly (and joyfully) comb beer news websites for all sorts of beer news and my favorite feature, future beer releases which often included bottle and/or can labels.

Bill is relatively local to me, based in Scranton, PA, so while mybeerbuzz does always feature brews from across the country (and world), it is nice to see some focus on PA breweries. As much as I love my home state of New Jersey, I feel very fortunate that Pennsylvania is a neighboring state since they have such a rich history and variety of excellent breweries.

Porch Drinking (Twitter: @PorchDrinkingCO)

For a really wide look at Craft Beer across America, Porch Drinking is one of the most comprehensive, professional web sites dedicated to that fine adult beverage. There’s a large team of contributors, a pretty wide swath of categories for the content/posts, including great reviews to help you find a good beer, or just read about beer in general.

I started following Porch Drinking about a year ago on twitter and I’ve clicked on the majority of their articles. On the whole, well written, informative, interesting, and professional. Another thing I like about the team of contributors as that there’s a pretty good gender balance, showing again that more than just neck-bearded dude-bros enjoy craft beer and have smart things to say about craft beer.

Stout and Stilettos (Twitter: @StoutsStilettos)

Stouts and Stilettos is a wonderful, fun website that highlights “All things #craftbeer, from the female perspective. Content curated by craft beer-loving ladies.” A nice variety of content from beer reviews to brewery reviews to news, these ladies cover it all. A nice looking web site and good content help to make this a site I return to regulary.

Like Porch Drinking, I find myself clicking on a lot of the articles the @StoutsStilettos account tweets, especially those by Chelsie Markel. They’ve even collaborated with Boneshire Brew Works brewery in Harrisburg, PA for a beer that seems to be squarely in my palette’s wheelhouse: Oatmeal Cookie Stout.

One more for the road…

Though not exclusively about beer, Paste Magazine features quite a bit of quality beer writing, including their lists like the regular blind taste-rankings for styles of beer including the most recent (as of this post here at the Tap Takeover) featuring 103 Christmas/Winter Beers

Beer Review: 21st Amendment’s Fireside Chat

Name: Fireside Chat
Brewing Company: 21st Amendment Brewery
Location: San Francisco, CA
Style: Winter Ale
ABV: 7.9%

From the beer’s description on 21st Amendment’s Web site:

Like FDR’s Depression-era radio addresses, which were like a kick in the butt and a hug at the same time, our Fireside Chat is a subtle twist on the traditional seasonal brew. We begin with a rich, dark, English-style ale and then we improvise with spices until we know we have a beer worth sharing with the nation.

Fireside Chat is our early winter seasonal brew available from October through December in six pack cans and on draft. Brewed like a classic, warming Strong Ale but with a subtle blend of hand-selected spices for just the right festive flair.

I may have had a thing or two to say about Christmas / Winter beers. I’ve also mentioned the great “Craft Your Own 6 Pack” offering at Wegmans supermarkets. Conveniently, there’s a Wegman’s only a few miles from my house. So when I visited a couple of weeks ago in the hopes of grabbing six new beers to try, my goal was to find a few Winter/Christmas beers. Unfortunately, there weren’t many on the shelves of single brews I hadn’t had previously. The exception was this Winter Ale from ’s 21st Amendment in San Francisco, California.

Most Winter Ales are spiced up versions of Brown Ales and that’s pretty much what 21st Amendment has done with Fireside Chat. But that simplicity is what makes the beer such a nice drinking beer.

The beer pours a deep mahogany brown and is topped with a nice frothy head. A little spiciness wafts from the beer, giving a slight hint of what to expect, but nothing too overpowering. The first sip is full of comforting spices and malt. The more I kept drinking the beer, the more I was reminded of Christmas Cookies with all the spices working together.

It wasn’t until after I had the beer I realized exactly what Christmas Cookie the beer reminded me of: Pfeffernüsse, a German spice cookie popular at Christmas. My wife made some homemade Pfeffernüsse that were delicious and had a similar flavor profile to the Fireside Chat. I only added one can of the beer into my Craft-your-own, but this is a winter ale I can see myself picking up again. Well, considering the 7.9% ABV I’m not sure I’d throw back more than 2 or 3 in one sitting despite the relatively high alcohol level not making itself felt.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t remark on the packaging of the beer. Since the beer’s name is an homage to president FDR, the former president appears on the can in a lovely wrap-around image that covers the whole can.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Badge Earned with this Beer:
Winter Wonderland (Level 10)

It’s cold outside – warm up with Winter beers.

Draught Diversions: Man Skirt Brewing

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

No pants, just great beer!

 

This week’s brewery focused post features Manskirt Brewing in Hackettstown, NJ, one of three fine breweries in the Northwestern town in New Jersey. This brewery was part of the 2017 Birthday Brewery Tour and the first one we visited in Hackettstown.  I’d heard/read good things about the brewery over the last couple of years and enjoyed the beers I had from them, so Man Skirt was fairly high on the list of breweries I wanted to visit.

Although Joe Fisher had the name “Manskirt” in 2008 when he was homebrewing, the doors opened in 2015 in what is an old bank (United Jersey and People’s Bank of New Jersey), which actually makes for a great gathering space. Joe launched a kickstarter to help open the brewery and in the two years since opening, they’ve built a nice reputation for tasty beer. Hackettstown has a pretty active Main Street and the former bank, which Manskirt calls home, is a prominent, hard-to-miss building along the strip. As a former bank, that would make sense (and cents to torture you all with a horrible pun).

But, converting an old bank to a production brewery took a significant amount of work. Joe kept the flavor of the bank since it is such an iconic building in Hackettstown having been in existence for nearly one-hundred years including the vault’s survival during a major fire in Downtown in the 1940s.

All that history is fine and dandy, but when it comes to a brewery, the most important element is the liquid. With a couple of core beers, including the fantastic Great Porter, Joe Fisher has something good going. I’d had that tasty porter prior to visiting the brewery (I think at Garden State Brewfest 2016), so I went for a few different beers in my flight. The first of those beers was another of Manskirt’s launch/flagship beers, Better than Pants, a tasty English Bitter. I haven’t had too many English Bitters so I can’t speak to how it represents the style, but I liked it very much and could think of far worse beers to have sitting in my refrigerator on a regular basis.

The bar top continues the “bank” theme with pennies under a glass top.

Rounding out the flight choices from the eight beers on tap was a tart Berliner Weisse dubbed Once, Twice, Weisse that hit the style notes well but could have maybe benefited from a fruit/sweet syrup addition. Since it was the beginning of November, their Oktoberfest was still on tap, which is nice representation of the classic German lager. Rounding out the flight was a very interesting and potent Saison, Cracked the Code. At 8.2% the ABV is a little higher than most Saisons. The addition of cracked peppercorns complement the yeast and other components quite nicely for a good early fall beer.

At the aforementioned Garden State Brewfest, I had two other beers from then brand new Manskirt: pleaTed wheaT a tasty hefeweizen brewed in collaboration with Linden, NJ’s Two Ton Brewing and Luftweizen Weizenbock. I think they still brew the pleaTed wheaT in the summer, I’m not too sure about the Weizenbock.

As I said, the brewery space is really good for gatherings, there’s ample room at the bar and some long tables setup allowing for quite a few people to enjoy their beer together. In fact, on the day I visited, I happened to run into a couple of friends from a past job who also part of the Brews and Board Games group that meets monthly at Lone Eagle Brewing. Truth be told, Brandon helped me to join the group at Lone Eagle. Man Skirt has plenty of events at their brewery, including a monthly trivia night and regular Yoga and Beer nights, which seems to be a thing many breweries are doing now.

From what I’ve gathered on social media (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), owner/brewer Joe Fisher is exactly the type of guy who should own a micro/craft/independent brewery in NJ. I’ve remarked previously how great the NJ Craft Beer community is, in terms of helping each other grow, looking out for the community as a whole, and the great collaborations. Joe seems to have as much passion for the community as he does for making his delicious beer. He’s brewed a couple of collaboration beers with other NJ Brewers and enthusiastically posts about beer from other NJ Breweries like Ramstein and Lone Eagle Brewing.

Man Skirt has been canning some of their beers, primarily two of the flagship beers (The Great Porter and Better than Pants) which are stored in the old bank vault. The brewery is well worth visiting as the staff are affable and welcoming and at least on the day I was there, the patrons were genial and friendly, giving the brewery a wonderful atmosphere. Of the five breweries we visited that day, I think I enjoyed the atmosphere at Man Skirt the most. I’d visit more regularly if it was just a bit closer and will probably head up to Hackettstown to check out what new brews Joe has on tap at some point in the future.

Sources and additional reading:

Best of NJ: Brew Jersey (August 2017)
I DRINK GOOD BEER blog (June 2016)
New Jersey Isn’t Boring (June 2016)
The Daily Record (October 2015)

Beer Review: Double Nickel Brewing Company Pilsner

Name: Double Nickel Pilsner
Brewing Company: Double Nickel Brewing Company
Location: Pennsauken, NJ
Style: Pilsner – German
ABV: 5.6%

Proper glassware

From the beer’s description on the side of the can:

A classically styled clean and crisp option for the lite beer drinker and beer geek alike. Our modern take on a traditional German pilsner is golden in color and perfectly balanced.

Pilsners – one of the classic and most widespread styles of beer the world around. Popularly brewed in Czechoslovakia and Germany, as well as America, the style was popularized by a certain brewery based in Milwaukee. As a result, the style may have fallen slightly out of favor in some circles, though the style has gained some more respect in recent years starting with the landmark American interpretation from Victory Brewing: Prima Pils. That said, beer journalist and expert John Holl (among others) has said the mark of a good brewer is if that brewery can produce a good pilsner.

Which, of course, leads to the subject of this post. Double Nickel Brewing in Pennsauken has been part of the growth, some might say boom (or boon), of Craft Beer in New Jersey over the last few years. They brew straightforward, classic styles including this wonderful pilsner I recently tried.

Out of the can, the beer pours a lovely straw-golden yellow and when poured properly into a Pilsner glass, emits a perfect, frothy head. The beer fills the glass more hazy than I would expect for a pilsner, but still, it presents just as a pilsner should. There isn’t too strong of an aroma with this brew, but the underlying hops are definitely present.

The beer tastes, note for note, exactly like you’d expect a pilsner to taste minus the mass-produced elements from the Big Beer makers. There’s a little bit of citrus overtone throughout, too. The hops aren’t overpowering at all, but are present as an integral element of the beer. Balanced, crisp, refreshing.

Double Nickel’s Pilsner is an extremely approachable beer, especially for folks who just want their Budweisers and Miller Lites and are wary of of “that snooty craft beer the hipsters are drinking.” What makes the beer so good is how the beer hits all the notes a classic pilsner should hit and is just simply a delicious beer. While approachable to non-craft beer drinkers, this pilsner will also please seasoned craft beer drinkers who’ve been enjoying Victory’s Prima Pils, Two Roads’s Ol’Factory Pilsner, or Tröegs’ Sunshine Pils. Double Nickel Brewing has made a beer that easily sits in the fridge with those American Craft interpretations of the classic German style.

Although the brewery is just over two years old, they are already changing the labels on their core line-up of beers. The new label for the Pilsner is below (courtesy of reddit).

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Badge Earned:

Crisp as Day (Level 8)

bdg_pilsner_lg

Light and crisp, a Pilsner is all you need to make your day great. Though, perhaps another one would make it even better.

Draught Diversions: 6 Beers of Christmas Future (2017)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

So here we are with part two of my Twelve Beers of Christmas duology. Why twelve beers? Well, that’s fairly obvious since beer comes in six-packs and many, many breweries will distribute 12-pack variety packs featuring multiple seasonal brews like Samuel Adams, Dogfish Head, Saranac,  and Sierra Nevada to name the most prominent ones. Whereas the previous Christmas 2017 Beer post shone the light on beers I’ve had and enjoyed during past Winters and Christmases, today’s post features a half dozen Christmas/Holiday/Winter beers I’d like to try in the future, as in this year for at least a few of those beers. I suppose the fairest way to highlight these beers is alphabetical by beer name, so here goes…

Belgian Freeze (River Horse Brewing, Ewing Township, NJ)
A brewery I haven’t written about very often, especially considering how much I enjoy the majority of the brewery’s portfolio coupled with having visited the brewery is New Jersey’s own River Horse Brewing. River Horse is one of the original New Jersey Craft breweries (they started in 1995 and were reinvigorated in 2007). The one beer from the Ewing Township brewery I’ve highlighted on the Tap Takeover is their Summer Blonde (my favorite summer ale). The “sister” or complementary seasonal offering to that is, Belgian Freeze which is considered a Belgian Dark Ale. This is a beer that’s always around bottle shops, but for whatever reason I never picked up a six pack or even a single in the mixed six packs at Wegman’s. I’ve liked nearly every beer from River Horse, so a beer that plays to the Belgian styles I’ve been drawn to more recently should be a beer I enjoy.

Holiday Ale (Two Roads Brewing, Stratford, Connecticut)
As readers of this blog may be aware, Two Roads is one of my favorite breweries. As all the posts at the link to the left where I at least mention Two Roads demonstrates. They are a relatively new brewery, only about 5 years old (starting in 2012), and I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve had from them. I’ve yet to try their Holiday Ale, the style Two Roads went with for their holiday offering is a very obscure style and I can only recall trying one in the style previously: Biere de Garde. This beer, according to Two Roads, is a Biere de Noel, a holiday take on the French style of beer. France is not a country that comes to mind when I think of beer and brewing traditions, but the fine folks at Two Roads are experts on all styles so I expect this will be a tasty, malty brew.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep (Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY)
Ommegang brews mostly in Belgian styles, but seeing something slightly askew from their typical line of brews can be welcome. Such is the case with Lovely, Dark, and Deep, an Oatmeal Stout listed on their Web site as a “Winter Ale.” Outside of the Game of Thrones Take the Black Stout, I don’t recall Ommegang making many (or any) stouts. Makes sense since there is no true Belgian Stout style, just a “Dark Ale.” That said, I remember seeing this last year and passing on it, but I think I’ll go for a six at some point this year. I really like oatmeal stouts (in fact, River Horse’s Oatmeal Milk Stout is one of my favorite stouts) so this one seems like a no-brainer for me.

Santa’s Private Reserve (Rogue Brewery, Newport, Oregon)
This seminal Christmas beer from Rogue seems to have changed up the recipe in 2017. In past years, I recall this being an Imperial Read, which makes sense considering Santa’s attire. I don’t typically gravitate to Red Ales, their hop profile isn’t to my usual liking. I may have even had an earlier version of Santas’s Private Reserve years ago, but I can’t recall. This year; however, Rogue lists the beer Belgian Strong Ale with Cherries & Raspberries which sounds wonderful. This beer is available only in 22oz bombs and probably on draft.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Brewery St Bernard, Watou, Belgium)
Having tried Delirium Noël / Christmas for the first time last year, I think I need to try one of the other Belgian Christmas classics. Going through my untappd account feed, people seem to hold St. Bernardus Christmas Ale in just as high regard, in terms of Belgian Christmas beers. I even saw some comments to the effect that if folks like Delirium Noël, then they should try St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. This one is even darker than Delirium and is listed on Beer Advocate as a Quad at 10% ABV. I had and really enjoyed St. Bernardus Prior 8 earlier in the year, which is a classic Belgian Dubbel so I expect the Christmas Ale would sit well with me, too.

10 Lords a Leaping (The Bruery, Placentia, California)
The Bruery
is a very high-end Craft Brewer out of California who only seems to distribute their beer in 750ml bottles and on draft. They’ve been working a long game, in terms of brewing projects – The Twelve Beers of Christmas. When I got deeper into the Craft Beer world a couple of years ago, I discovered this line of beers with the eighth installment, 8 Maids-a-Milking which I loved. I may have enjoyed the 2016 installment 9 Ladies Dancing even more. I’m really, really looking forward to the 2017 installment and tenth beer 10 Lords a Leaping which they call a dark wit and includes, appropriately enough, 10 different spices. I can’t say I’ve had any dark witbiers, but this sounds delicious. FWIW, untappd lists it as a “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.”

So there you have it. 6 beers I hope to try this Christmas and Winter Season. Don’t know if I’ll get to all of them (hopefully a couple of the 12 oz bottles are available at my local Wegmans so I can “craft my own six pack“), but I expect to have at least a few of them.

Draught Diversions: 6 Beers of Christmas Past & Present (2017)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Just like Thanksgiving, Christmas is a time for gathering with family and enjoying a hearty meal. I’ve written about Christmas beers on my other blog in the past, so I’ll touch on some over here at The Tap Takeover. Many breweries brew Winter Ales (darker, maltier beers that often have some kind of cinnamon/nutmeg spic component) while still others brew Christmas Ales, specifically. Today’s post of half-dozen beers, I’ll touch on six I try to have every Christmas/Winter along listing a few I’ve enjoyed. I’ll do another post focusing on Christmas/Winter beers I’m hoping to try this year.

I’ve mentioned Great Lakes Brewing company in past Draught Diversions in the past for their variety of beers. One of their big seasonal brews (maybe their most prominent) is the Christmas Ale which I’ve been enjoying every Christmas for the past few years. I felt like I hit jackpot a couple of years back when a local growler filling station had a keg of this. Where many winter ales have cinnamon as a prominent spice, Great Lakes adds honey to balance the spice for a beer that is great to enjoy while trimming the Christmas Tree, wrapping presents, or gathering with friends on cold winter nights.

One of the best beers in Samuel Adams/Boston Beer’s annual line up is the classic Christmas / Winter Ale, Old Fezziwig Ale. With cinnamon and ginger playing together in the rich malt, Fezziwig is a beer people have been begging Jim Koch to release in six packs for years. Alas, the beer is available annually in the Winter Classics variety pack along with stalwarts Boston Lager and Winter Lager and usually some kind of bock, most often a Chocolate Bock. More than any beer in the Samuel Adams lineup, I really wish they hadn’t changed the label for this beer and kept our top-hatted friend (pictured above) on the label rather than just the “icon” of a top hat.

I’ve found myself writing about Tröegs in a lot of these posts, for good reason. The independent brewing brothers craft wonderful beers and a highlight every year is the Belgian Strong Dark Ale brewed with Honey and Cherries known the world ‘round as Mad Elf. This is one of the beers that helped to put Tröegs on the map years ago. Every year around Christmas, somebody at one of the many parties I’m at (family and friends alike) has at least a six pack of this one to share. One year, one of my uncles brought the giant 101 ml bottle to Christmas Eve and we all had to finish it. That isn’t a complaint, but I think I appreciate the beer now more than I have in the past.

As long as I can remember drinking and enjoying beer, Harpoon Winter Warmer has been around and I’ve been enjoying at least a six pack every holiday season. This one is similar to Old Fezziwig, though not quite as malty. One year, around Christmas time, we had a anniversary party for my in-laws. When stocking up on the liquor for the party, the liquor store mischarged me for Winter Warmer, I paid the six-pack price for the whole case. In any event, there’s a lot of nostalgia for me around this beer. This is one case of a label change I do like.

A classic Belgian Christmas beer I had for the first time on Christmas Day 2016, but one that I’ll be sure to have this year and in the future is Delirium Noël / Christmas.  Huyghe Brewery in Belgium, which brews most of the beers under the Delirium brand is immediately recognizable from its pink elephant mascot. The Christmas beer is a Strong Dark Belgian Ale  brewed for the first time in 2000 from what I can tell on their Web site. This is beer is filled with spices and hints of stone fruits like plums and cherries, which mixes so wonderfully with the Belgian yeasts. This was one of the most flavorful Christmas beers I had when I first tried it Christmas 2016. Either that or I was so accustomed to the American beers and Delirium Noël / Christmas with its stark Belgian character gave me something different that I immediately considered a favorite.

Last, and certainly not least, is the granddaddy of all American Christmas beers, Anchor’s Merry Christmas & Happy New Year beer. The first holiday beer in Craft Brewing, Anchor first brewed a version of this beer in 1975, a year after I was born, so this one is almost as old as me. I think I’ve had about 6 or 7 versions of the beer, either in six packs or grabbing a bottle at the Wegman’s near me in their “Craft Your Own Six Pack.” I enjoyed last year’s so much, I’ll have to get a six pack this year.

On my next post (this Thursday) I’ll ponder six Christmas / Winter beers I hope to try this year or early next year.