American Craft Beer Classic: Anchor Brewing’s Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

For all the new beers it is fun to try, going back to the classics, American “Craft Beer” Classics if you will, can also be fun. These are beers many folks have probably had, beers that are fairly widely available, and beers that have been in the market for upwards of ten to fifteen years. In other words, beers that have had a significant impact on the American Craft Beer landscape.

Christmastime…although there are more than enough Christmas and Winter specific beers available you could likely go a few years with trying something new every Christmas, the classics are great options too. No beer is more classic with regard to Christmas in America than Anchor’s Our Special Ale / Merry Christmas & Happy New Year beer. This really shouldn’t be a surprise considering Anchor Brewing helped to ignite the “craft beer” and/or “microbrewing” movement over 50 years ago.

Even Santa Claus stands at attention for an iconic beer.

2018 marks the 44th year Anchor has brewed their Christmas beer, having first brewed a version of this beer in 1975. I say “A” version because every year the recipe is slightly different as is the label. Each year a different tree adorns the label and the beer has different tasting notes. I’ve had each vintage for four years in a row according to my untappd check-ins and I know I had a few versions of the beer before joining untappd. In other words, I’ve been having a version of this beer for many years.

Image courtesy of Anchor’s Facebook page

Here’s what Anchor has to say about the 2018 version of Merry Christmas & Happy New Year:

Our annual Christmas Ale is a subtly spiced and sumptuously smooth winter warmer. This year’s brew marks the 44th annual release of this Anchor holiday tradition.

Back in 1975, Anchor released the first holiday beer in America since Prohibition. Year after year, Anchor creates a new, secret recipe with a unique hand drawn label for their Christmas Ale, but the intent with each brew remains the same: joy for the changing seasons and celebration of the newness of life. With a heavily guarded, confidential recipe, Christmas Ale is sold only from early November to mid-January. This highly anticipated seasonal delight is complex and full in flavor, packed with toasty cocoa notes, roasted malts and strong aromas of resinous pine.

Our 2018 Christmas Ale has varying specialty malts, lending rich flavors of brûléed sugars, holiday spices and freshly baked banana bread with a velvety finish. The aromatics are quintessential for the holiday season: nutty candied yams and resinous pine. It pours a nice mahogany brown color with a fluffy, tan head.

As each Christmas Ale recipe evolves, so does its hand drawn packaging, created by long-time Anchor Illustrator Jim Stitt, who has been creating Anchor’s Christmas Ale labels since 1975. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. For the 2018 release, Stitt created a brimming Korean Pine Tree for the label. Native to both North and South Korea, the Korean Pine Tree is a symbol of peace and a reminder of the spirit of the season. It flourishes in the picturesque botanical gardens just north of San Francisco, Anchor’s home base.

A few years back, Anchor Brewing put together this video about their iconic Christmas Beer:

I found this year’s version to be good, but a little thinner than previous years. There was a nice amount of spice throughout the beer, and sweeter finish than I’ve come to expect. For me, the biggest difference was in the color – the beer poured closer to an amber ale whereas I recall the beer in the past being darker, bordering on stout territory. I think the version I enjoyed the most was the 2016 version, the malt, spice, and sweet elements I thought came together almost perfectly and the beer was darker than this year’s. I think when the recipe leans more on the darker roasted malts that produce a beer that is almost knocking on the door of a stout, it works better for me. Not that a beer like this *should* have full stout characteristics at all, but it is almost stout-adjacent in looks.

One thing some people do with this beer is set one or two aside to age and have 3 or 4 years in a row for a gathering or vertical tasting. That’s more common with barrel-aged stouts, but since the recipe for this one changes annually, it would be interesting to see how the beer ages.

The darker 2016 version of the beer, my favorite from the past few years.

My opinions aside, take a look at the beer landscape, especially this time of year. I mean, aside from the continual glut of various sub-styles of IPA, the many stouts, and leftover pumpkin beers on shelves from mid-November through the remainder of the calendar year. Winter Warmers and Christmas Beers are displayed prominently in bottle shops. Bars and breweries have Christmas/Holiday focused pourings/events. The Winter Warmer and Christmas Beer are slightly different if you ask some people, such as the great beer writer Jeff Alworth who examines the styles over at his must-read Beervana blog. The differences can be negligible and subtle in some cases, in others like Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale a highly hopped IPA, the difference can be obvious between “Christmas beer” and Winter Warmer.

Beers like Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale (a slightly heavier beer and iconic in its own right), Abita’s Christmas Ale, Breckenridge’s Christmas Ale, Souther Tier’s 2XMAS, Schalfly’s Christmas Ale, and Samuel Adams’s Old Fezziwig (which unfortunately is STILL only available in a variety pack), are just a few of the more well-known Christmas-themed beers. I’m not necessarily saying there wouldn’t be Christmas Beers (specifically those leaning on the Winter Warmer variety) without Anchor’s first “Our Special Ale” back in 1975, but the Christmas beer landscape might look a little differently than it looks today.

The 2017 vintage. Though poorly lit, the beer poured darker last year, too.

The recipe isn’t the only thing that changes every year. As I noted above, for each new iteration of the beer, a new label is commissioned featuring a different tree, different font, and a slightly different look. The label always looks like an Anchor Christmas beer on the whole, but the specifics do change. On their Web store (steamgear.com), Anchor sells a poster every year which features all the different labels they’ve produced for the beers over the years.

Although Anchor Brewing has been in some form of operation under that name since 1896, it suffered some difficulties from Prohibition until about 1965 when Fritz Maytag III (yes, he’s part of THAT family) purchased a 51% stake in the company and reinvigorated the brand. That re invigoration is what helped to start the craft beer movement in California, specifically. Given their history, and the iconic beers they’ve produced over the years (Porter and Steam, for example), it seems only logical that Anchor brews arguably the most iconic Christmas/Holiday beer and that “Our Special Ale” has achieved, classic iconic beer status. For me, this beer is always a must have during the holidays. It should be a tradition for you, too.

Draught Diversions: 12 Beers of Christmas (2018 Part 1)

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…

Last year, I did two broad Twelve Beers of Christmas posts, so why not do it again? There are certainly enough choices out there in the Christmas Beer realm to warrant an annual Twelve Beers of Christmas post. I’ll do one six pack today, and another six pack on Thursday.

Krampus – Beach Haus Brewing Company (Belmar, NJ)

How could I not go with a beer named in honor of the legendary Germanic “anti-Santa Claus?” Especially since, being half German, I’ve been hearing stories about Krampus since I was a little kid. I’ve visited Beach Haus a few times, they make good beer and have one of the best locations of any NJ brewery, in downtown Belmar not far from the beach. They’ve been making a Krampus beer for the majority of the time they’ve been brewing beer and I think they’ve tweaked it a bit every year. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to try it yet, but perhaps that will change this Chistmastime. . .

What Beach Haus says about the beer:

Beach Haus® Krampus is a welcome visitor to any holiday home with its blend of spices, fruitiness and malt.

Our most limited of limited releases that is brewed a li’l different each year.

For 2018 we used light brown sugar, raisins and figs to bring out caramelized sugar and dried fruit flavors. Also added to the boil is star anise, clove, cardamom and cinnamon. The spices balance and play nice with the caramelized sugars.

A 9.4% ABV gives this year’s Krampus an extra bite!

Scaldis Noël Brasserie Dubuisson – (Pipaix, Belgium)

If you’ve got a Christmas beer list, you’ve got to include one from Belgium and Scaldis Noël is one that is held in pretty high regard. I haven’t had this one yet, but I’ve been enjoying a different Belgian Christmas beer every year. Like many of the Belgian Christmas Ales, this one is categorized as “Belgian Strong Dark Ale.”

What Brasserie Dubuisson says about the beer:

The Scaldis Noël was introduced in 1991 to respond to consumer demands for the ideal beer to add lustre to their end-of-year celebrations.

The Scaldis Noël is brewed solely from malts, hops, candy sugar and water. It is a filtered, top-fermented beer with an alcohol volume of 12%. The use of caramel malts produces a copper-coloured beer with a full, rounded taste. The Scaldis Noël owes its fruity taste and subtle hop aromas to the well-thought out choice of hops in this brew.

The Scaldis Noël is brewed in limited volumes but has already achieved the status of a classic beer for the end-of-year celebrations.

Rude Elf’s Reserve – Fegley’s Brew Works (Bethlehem, PA)

For a few years, I was grabbing this beer every year at Christmas time. It was initially a bomber (I think 750ml) back about 8 years ago or so and I remember having it when the beer was called Rudolph’s Reserve, which changed for obvious reasons. In recent years, I haven’t seen the beer as regularly or as widely so I haven’t had it SJU (Since Joining Untappd) but I’ve been hoping to find it again. The beer is very similar to Tröegs’ iconic Mad Elf from a stylistic perspective of the beer (and the name).

What Fegley’s says about this beer:

A BELGIAN STYLE HOLIDAY ALE WITH ATTITUDE! –  After being harassed by elves in the toy workshop and the reindeer in the stables, Rudy found his true calling in Santa’s brew house. Keeping his edge and focusing his talents, this elf created a spicy holiday brew that became a Christmas legend of its own.

HISTORY OF THE RUDE ELF’S RESERVE –  This fabulous holiday ale was first developed and brewed in 1999 at the Bethlehem Brew Works under original head brewer (and co-owner) Jeff Fegley. The Fegley family thought it was appropriate to create a spiced beer to help us celebrate in the City.

TASTING NOTES –  Pours a deep chestnut ruby with a creamy tan head. The aroma is sweet with harmonic spices led by clove, then cinnamon and nutmeg. The rich body has a fine carbonation that smooths and hides the high ABV, wrapping up oh, so much holiday spice. Finishes very dry, leaving a lingering gingerbread cookie note.

Gnoel de Abbey – The Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA)

The Lost Abbey is one of the California breweries whose beers I’ve not had the opportunity to try yet. Their beers are well-regarded and often of the big variety – Imperial Stouts, Quads, etc. This is their take on a Winter Warmer and with hints of coffee and spice (a “Holiday Brown Ale,” as The Lost Abbey’s web site references it ) I’d really like to get my hands on a bottle.

What The Lost Abbey says about the beer:

The Lost Abbey’s newest seasonal, Gnoel de Abbey is a winter warmer brewed to be lighter in body while maintaining nuanced notes of oak.

TASTE Beginning with aromas of freshly brewed espresso, Gnoel has hints of cocoa, vanilla and holiday spice, finishing with a crisp coffee bitterness.

Christmas BOMB! – Prairie Artisan Ales (Tulsa, OK)

Image courtesy of Prairie Artisan Ales’s Facebook page

Prairie’s beer have only recently begun appearing here in NJ (as far as I know), and their beers are of the big stout variety, including the Bomb! Beers. I like most of the spices in this one, especially when beers have chocolate and chili in them. This could be an interesting beer to share, although it seems they are only sold in single 12oz bottles about $9 per bottle.

What Prairie says about the beer:


The Bomb! that we all know and love, with the addition of Christmas spices – cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Here’s the standard Bomb! Bomb! is an imperial stout aged on coffee, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chili peppers. The peppers add just the right amount of heat to complement the intense coffee and chocolate flavors.

Winter Cheers Victory Brewing Company (Downington, PA)

Victory decided to do some counter-programming with their Christmas beer. Typically, and as the other beers on this list will support, Christmas beers are a bit darker and weighty. With Winter Cheers, Victory has been producing a tasty, spicier Hefeweizen every year at Christmas time as a tasty alternative to those darker beers. It has been a couple of years since I had one, but I remember enjoying it quite a bit.

What Victory says about the beer:

Winter weather may drive us indoors but cannot dampen our spirits when hearth, home and hops meet in jubilation. Hoisted high in its golden glory, Winter Cheers lives up to its name, fueling festive times and chasing winter’s chill. Glowing and glimmering, frothy and shimmering, our celebratory wheat ale features luscious fruity and spicy notes, making it a perfect brew to brighten spirits even on the deepest of nights.

Check back here on Thursday for another half-dozen beers to seek out this Christmas!

Draught Diversions: December 2017 Beer Pours

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…

With December, the Winter Ales and Stouts are filling the shelves. Many filled my glasses and comprise a majority of the new beers I enjoyed this December.

As has been tradition with my wife and I the last decade or so, on the first Saturday of December, we tag our Christmas Tree at a local farm with our friends and celebrate with brunch and adult beverages. This year, my friend had a Six Point variety pack, including Resin, their Double IPA and Sweet Action their blonde. I’ve come to realize I’m just not a fan of much of Six Point’s output. Later in the week, at a work dinner, I had a fine New Jersey brew: Philoso-Rapper, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale from Departed Soles out of Jersey City, NJ.

I stopped at Flounder and picked up a growler of Delta House Stout, their tasty interpretation of a Milk Stout, to bring to a gaming session. At that same session I had some Viking Blood mead, also quite good. I need to explore the world of mead more thoroughly. One of the pleasant surprises of the month was a solid Pilsner from Industrial Arts Brewing, Metric, which was part of a recent Wegman’s Craft Your Own 6 Pack.

I dove fully into the Christmas/Winter Ales having this year’s version of Anchor’s Anchor’s Christmas Ale beer and Rogue’s Santa’s Private Reserve. Anchor’s was good, but I enjoyed previous recipes/iterations more, the 2017 batch was stronger on some spices that didn’t quite work for me. Rogue’s revamped Santa beer, on the other hand, I found to be excellent. A sweet cherry Dark Strong Ale, the beer was perfect as a dessert beer and reminded me of Ommegang’s Rosetta, but without the sourness. Also from my 6 Beers of Christmas Future (2017) was  Two Roads’ Holiday Ale one of the more unique holiday / Christmas beers I’ve had. There’s an interesting malt/sweetness to the beer that really sets it apart.

The Thursday before Christmas was the monthly Brews and Board Games at Lone Eagle. This brewery continues to impress me with how the beer has been getting better and more consistent over the past year. First up was their Abbey Road Dubbel, a fantastic interpretation of the classic Belgian style. The second beer I had was one of their staple brews, 007 Golden Rye Pale Ale, the first Rye beer I’ve had in a while and the first one I can remember enjoying this much. I think I need to reassess this style, particularly the German interpretation known as Roggenbier.

Abbey Road Dubbel on the left, 007 Golden Rye on the right

Finally, Christmas arrived. Well, Christmas Eve, which is when we get together with my side of the family. Christmas Day is spent with the In-laws. Fortunately, I’m not the only person who enjoys craft beer either day, so for years I’ve been bringing special beers to share on both days. I started off sharing possibly the best beer I’ve had all year with my dad, Goose Island’s 2017 Bourbon County Brand Stout. As I have the past few years, I brought a local growler to share with everybody, in this case it was Demented Brewing’s Gluttony and incredible coffee stout that is perfectly balanced. Just as good (if not better) than Firestone Walker’s Mocha Merlin. Unsurprisingly, the growler did not survive the night. My dad also brought out a bomb of Founders Doom the IPA entry in their Barrel Aged series. This is one of the best, smoothest, most balanced IPAs I’ve ever had.

On Christmas Day, I had the Corsendonk Christmas Ale my folks gave to me as a gift the night before. I can taste why this is such popular, traditional beer around Christmas Time. This is a very solid interpretation of a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. The other Christmas beers I brought was 10 Lords a Leaping from the Bruery. This beer tasted like the best parts of a Witbier and a stout amalgamated into one beer with lots of spice complexities.

The final week of 2017 brought still more beers. I had a bottle of Chimay Blue, the Belgian Trappist brewery’s Strong Dark Ale which is a wonderful World Class ale. As I said in my Tuesday review, one of my team members at work got me a 4-pack of Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood as well as their fantastic IPA. Spellbound’s IPA had the perfect balance of hops and malt. I continued my trek through Flying Fish’s Exit Series with Exit 7 Pork Roll Porter at Hub City Brewhouse, a local tap house in New Brunswick, NJ. Unlike another pork infused beer from a NJ brewery I had earlier in the week, Flying Fish’s beer was really well balanced with the right amount of spice and flavor from the pork roll. The other beer was a fantastic Belgian Brown ale from Leffe.

Lastly, New Year’s Eve for the last beers of 2017. The last few years, my wife and have been going to our friend’s house and just about everybody brings their own beer, but everybody winds up sharing. In addition to a six-pack of Victory’s Prima Pils, I’d been holding a Chocolate Bock from Samuel Adams for a couple of weeks and figured New Year’s Eve the right time to have it. I’ve had the beer in the past, but not in a very long time, long before joining untappd. It was as good as I remembered it. I also had a Wet Dream from Evil Twin Brewing, a brown ale with coffee and Flower Child IPA, a well balanced brew from Cambridge Brewing Company.

So there you have it. The “new to me” December 2017 beers. If I’m calling out the best, the top would definitely be Spellbound’s Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood, Founders’ Barrel-Aged IPA Doom and Demented Brewing’s Coffee Stout Gluttony. I’m excluding Bourbon County Brand Stout since I’ve had a previous year’s version.

Coming next week, my top 12 new to me beers of 2017.

 

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: 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.