Friday, December 24, 2010

O Christmas Ale, O Christmas Ale: How Tasty Are Thy Ingredients

Wassail Ale at the Blue Tractor.

So, from 9pm tonight to 9pm tomorrow night (Christmas), Caesar has decreed no alcohol sales, which means you also need to get your beer purchasing on even as you finish up all that last-minute shopping. The question, then, naturally arises: Who has the best Christmas beer on tap right now? Let's take a look.

Pouring at Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery, 207 E. Washington, is the Wassail Ale, brewer Tim Schmidt's Yuletide take on an English-style brown, or mild. It was brewed, according to Tim, with cinnamon, raw and crystallized ginger, juniper berries, star anise, and orange peel. The grain bill included pale, caramel, brown, and roasted malts, and the whole concoction was lightly hopped with Fuggles.

The result: a sessionable (4% ABV) ale that pours brown and opaque, emits a malty aroma, tastes predominantly malty and nutty, but finishes with a mild fruity acidity over the lingering maltiness.  My taste buds definitely picked up on the ginger and orange peel, but the juniper and anise flavors were so subtle I lost them in the brew's strong maltiness.  Very drinkable.

White Christmas White Ale at Grizzly Peak.
As he does each year, brewer Duncan Williams has produced his White Christmas White Ale, now on tap at Grizzly Peak, 120 W. Washington. It's a stronger, slightly more hopped-up (30 IBU) version of a Belgian wit, or white ale, a kind of wheat brew traditionally spiced with orange peel and coriander.  As one would expect, it pours a hazy whitish-gold, looking similar to a blonde, and has a very floral and malty nose. The body is medium-heavy and divulges a strong fruity taste with a spicy, yeasty finish. I really like wits, so I enjoy this beer, but at 6.8% ABV, it's one to be careful with.

Noel de Calabaza at Jolly Pumpkin.

Likewise, brewer Ron Jeffries's perennial favorite, Noel de Calabaza Special Ale, on tap at Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery, 311 S. Main, is of "winter warmer" strength at 9% ABV. Like all Ron's beers, it's barrel aged with that funky sourness you either love or not, depending on your tastes. Me? I love. 

Noel pours a dark mahogany color with a medium body and carbonation. The nose is overwhelmingly sour and tart smelling. The Brettanomyces did their work, with a sour, funky taste forward, leading into a kind of fruity bitterness, layered with notes of figs, raisins, and plums. It finishes with a lingering sourness and, though the many other flavors of this complex ale mask it pretty well, a taste of warming alcohol. An awesome beer.

So who has the best Christmas beer in town? Well, that's pretty subjective depending on your mood and taste, but in my opinion, you can't go too wrong with any of these three. You can get all of them to go from their respective locations, though unfortunately Jolly Pumpkin won't do growler fills of Noel (they sell bottles, however).

And if you're not in the mood for ginger, orange peels, plums, or any other Christmassy beer ingredients, don't forget Wolverine State Brewing, 2019 W. Stadium, is open until 4 p.m. today selling growlers of their beer for half off.

Whatever you choose to drink, have a warm, safe, and joyous Christmas!

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