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The season of beer: holiday edition.

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'Tis the Season. That's right, it's that joyous time of year when those of discerning palates enjoy the gift that quality breweries offer the world every Christmas season: Christmas Ales and Winter Warmers. Mmmm. Winter Warmers tend to be English Ales (or at least in English style) indicative of sweet malty flavor and body typically balanced with low hop bitterness yet often with pronounced hop character. Varying levels of spice exist, from very little to quite robust. Christmas Ales come in a variety of styles, from IPAs to Belgian Dark Ales, so tasting one should by no means make you think you've properly sampled the holiday seasonal. These jewels are largely only available between November and January, so be discerning yet generous in your selection during the next few months. For those of you unfamiliar with his holiday gifting, let me direct you to three offerings (I pulled these reviews off of Beer Advocate, as I have not recorded my own tastings but largely agree with the following):

Affligem Noel

Appearance: Thick displacent mahogany color with semi-glowing dark orange edges. Excellently thick, firm, and creamy light tan yogurt topping that stays and stays. Exquisite capping on this, I could barely bring myself to spoil the appearance by any movement let only sip from this astounding looking nectur. But push on I shall...

Smell: Aroma of softly sweet caramel covered apples and pears, actually, seemingly more plummy and dusted with chocolate, but that dark red apple and pear keeps bubbling up from underneath keeping a dullish tropical nuance thats quite nice with a mildness thats very acceptable to the nose.

Taste: Taste has a very nice softness to its character with some diverse tropical fruityness of tamer darkened orange, solid plum, medium date, hinting raisin, notes of apple and pear united into a chocolate and caramel brigade of brownie-like features. Yum! The softness of the melding flavors are intiguingly delicious and well balanced. Nothing supersedes the other, soon as you have enough fruit the chocolate/caramel kicks in and then the other way around when it gets to the finish. Slow and softer yet yeast softens the finish with a light drying. Yeilding and slowly giving in to, eventually, just a wonderment of fresh, soft flavors.

Mouthfeel: Feel is about medium with one excellent softness across the palate. By far the overwhelming character of this that really sparks a very high enjoyment level.

Anchor Christmas Ale

Appearance: Deep mahogany, tinted with ruby and clear around the edges. Too dark to tell if there's much carbonation or not, and still too conscious of my beer-geekiness to blatantly hold the glass up high and give it the thorough visual exam. Suffice to say, there's a rich and creamy half-finger of dense ivory head, trailing and lightly sticking with soapy lace.

Smell: Served at a perfect temperature, loads of spice and toasted malts rise from the glass. Smells spot-on like gingerbread, a bounty of nutmeg, ginger and molasses, with a rooty anise/licorice. Nothing too sweet or 'fake' about this spicing either; it's rich but restrained all at once. Fleeting orange and an earthy/peaty finish. I could smell this for a long, long time.

Taste: Hard to top that nice aroma, still this has a wonderfully dark roasted caramel malt structure, draped with light citrus and sprinkled with spices. Towards the end of the glass, warming causes some intriguing tart fruitiness to open up and a zesty ginger begins to take shape. Only enough hops to provide some malt-balancing bittering.

Mouthfeel: Creamy carbonation and medium mouthfeel. Dark roasts stay sugary and linger a while in the mouth, a little tingly spice. Modest amount of malt stickiness in the finish.

Drinkability: A fine ale, warm and delicious, with a remarkably low ABV for a 'Winter Warmer'. A savory sipper and certainly one easy to have seconds (or thirds) of. Anchor has a winner with this year's version; I'll be sure to get more in bottles and (I hope) more at the Taproom. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year indeed...

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Appearance: Amber chestnut hued brew with a mild chill haze that does not seem out of place. Fluffy froth foams up to a thick rocky head that subsides to a sticky lace that leaves trails all the way down the glass.

Smell: Coarse hop aroma with fresh herbs, citrus and a touch of spiciness in the nose. Fruitiness is deep with in the hops but is still noticeable, big on the hop aroma.

Taste: Stable medium to full body with a creamy smoothness, moderate carbonation that is at a perfect level. Flavour explosions of fresh hop invade the palate with a bitter sweet oil flavour. Malt flavour flexes hard to be noticed, suggestions of a nutty whole grain breadiness and a vague hint of caramel. Hop bitterness is not huge but is still strong and intriguing. Malt sweetness makes more of a presence when the brew warms up a touch though hops still have a strong hold on the taste buds. Esters are there but are held to a light fruity alcohol. Flowery hop flavours as well as citric show further how complex the hop profile is. Soft and rounded maltiness remains an underlying flavour but does fine to hold this beer together.

Notes: Hop smacking good, if you dig hops then you’ll be satisfied. The softness of Cascade hops really shows off in this stellar brew, this should be on you must have list every holiday season.

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