12 Beers of Christmas 2013 – Day 11 – St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

It’s the home stretch for the 12 Beers of Christmas 2013 beer review series and it’s already 2014. Yeah, I should’ve had this series finished a while ago but… I didn’t. I do hope you all had a safe and happy New Year though.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, Brouwerij St. Bernardus, 10% ABV

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale.

The beer pours out a dark brown color, like mahogany, with a beige colored, long lasting head. The aroma is perfumy, fruity, and malty. The flavor has dark fruit notes (raisins and dates), with a peppery yeast quality, malty, with medium-low hop bitterness. There’s also a noticeable alcohol quality that isn’t boozy but is pleasant. The body is medium-high, the carbonation is high, and the finish is dry.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale in a glass.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale in a glass.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is one of my favorite beers regardless of what time of the year it is. It has a layered and complex malt flavor that has delicious dark fruit quality that is balanced by its soft alcohol quality. For a 10% beer, it’s pretty smooth as well. Man, this is delicious!

Back label of St. Bernardus Christmas Ale.

Back label of St. Bernardus Christmas Ale.

Yeah, I wasn’t able to finish up the review series in 2013. I ended up getting pretty hammered at my brewery holiday party, and hungover the following day, I just couldn’t find it in myself to review a beer. Then New Year’s Eve hit and well… we all just drank, everything. So, here it is, a great beer to start the new year.

Happy New Year!

Posted in Craft Beer, Fun Stuff, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

12 Beers of Christmas 2013 – Day 10 – Delirium Noël

The 12 Beers of Christmas aren’t over yet. It’s only taken me nearly a month to review 12 beers and I’m hoping to get the series done before new year. As with everthing else, life just… happens… and you need to deal with what gets thrown at you. So, mark the end of this day, I’m going back and reviewing a Christmas beer that I’ve enjoyed in the past and hopefully will enjoy again.

Delirium Noël, Huyghe Brewery, 10% ABV

Delirium Noel ready to be unwrapped.

Delirium Noel ready to be unwrapped.

This beer is a reddish brown color, with an beige colored head, with copper/ruby highlights. The aroma is a pleasant combination of slight yeasty spiciness, stonefruit character, some raisin notes, perfumy alcohol quality, light malt aromas. The beer has a fruity character. There’s a dried fruit character, like raisins and prunes, along with a slight peppery spiciness. Hop bitterness is medium-low, hop flavor is earthy. The body is medium, the carbonation is high, the finish is dry.

Delirium Noel in a glass, a great present for me under the tree.

Delirium Noel in a glass, a great present for me under the tree.

This is a tasty beer. The fruity aspect is the dominant character of the beer but that’s not a bad thing. There’s an alcohol quality that noticeable but not boozy. It’s different from the other “noel” beers I’ve had but that’s why I like trying several of them annually.

The bottles from the Delirium line of beers have a very distinctive look. The bottles are painted in a beige/gray color that reminds me of stone. I feel the paint helps to keep the bottles from skunking, at least that’s what I like to think. At the very least, it makes for memorable marketing and definitely beats green bottles.

Posted in Craft Beer, Fun Stuff, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

12 Beers of Christmas 2013 – Day 9 – Bran “Birra Raven”

If you’re familiar at all with the actual 12 Days of Christmas, you’ll know they start on Christmas. This celebration involves lighting a candle on each day, more celebrating, more gift giving, and more feasting. I personally would love to see this tradition make a huge comeback in the United States. It would drive folks crazy trying to have parties, and such, for an additional 12 days after Christmas, but I think any time you have an excuse to party, you should take it.

I’m just about over my cold so I think it’s a great time to get back into the beer reviews. We had a very good Christmas with family and friends, and I’m kinda sad to see the celebrations come to an end. There’s still New Year’s Eve to be celebrated, but that’s more about partying than spending time with family and friends.

Bran “Birra Raven”, Birrificio Montegioco, 8.5% ABV

Unwrapping Bran like a present.

Unwrapping Bran like a present.

This beer is very dark brown, basically black in color, with an tan colored head. The aroma is fruity, light sour quality, slight chocolate, and roast. The flavor is a very balanced between light chocolate, roast, some caramel notes, light fruity quality, low herbacious character, and slight tartness in the finish. Hop bitterness is low. Slight fruity alcohol quality. Body is medium, carbonation is medium, while the finish is on the dry side.

Bran looking good in a glass.

Bran looking good in a glass.

This is an interesting beer that I’m liking more and more with every sip. There’s a lot of stuff going on, like dark roasted malt flavors, fruity notes, slight alcohol, and even slight tartness, but no one particular thing stands out. That’s what’s cool. Each sip yields a new discovery without one particular thing taking over. I want to keep drinking more to see what I’m able to pick out next.

To be certain, I’m not even sure if this was a true “Christmas beer”. I picked it up because the packaging had winter-like elements to it. I also picked it up as I haven’t had very many Italian beers before and I’m curious to see what the Italian craft beer tradition is all about.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Craft Beer, Fun Stuff, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Homebrew Session: 2013 BetterBeerBlog Christmas Ale – Mocha Milk Stout

It’s Christmas Eve Day, and if you’ve been following along, I’ve missed several days worth of posts for the current 12 Beers of Christmas review series. I do have a good reason though; I came down with a cold that pretty much ruined my ability to taste well, or at least as well as I’m able. So instead of drinking while sick, and possibly providing a horrible description of what could be fantastic beers, I decided to take a few days off to get well. My younger self would’ve just powered through, but with age comes wisdom, or so I’ve been told.

The final packaged bottles. Hand drawn labels this year.

The final packaged bottles. Hand drawn labels this year.

Instead of a review, I will be sharing my recipe for my homebrewed Mocha Milk Stout. Every year, I brew up a milk stout. It’s a style I first fell in love with when I visited Left Hand Brewing Company during a trip to GABF. I traditionally brew this beer during late fall so that I can give bottles away as Christmas presents to friends and family. I design my own labels, print them out, and affix them to the bottles as a personal touch. I think it makes for a much more memorable gift than anything I can purchase at the store and it’s a way to share my love of beer with those I love.

Ingredients

Ingredients for my Mocha Milk Stout.

Ingredients for my Mocha Milk Stout.

Malt:

  • 8 lbs – pale 2-row malt
  • 1 lbs – Bamburg Munich (5.1 – 6.9L)
  • 1 lbs – Simpson Crystal 80 (75 – 85L)
  • .5 lbs – Simpson Chocolate (375 – 450L)
  • .5 lbs – Simpson Roast (500 – 600L)
  • 1 lbs – Flaked Barley

Hops:

  • 1 oz – Hallertau-Perle (6.8%)
  • 1 oz – Kent Golding (7.1%)

Yeast:

  • 1 vial – British Ale Yeast (WLP005)

Adjuncts:

  • 1 lbs – Lactose powder
  • 8 oz – Whole roasted coffee bean
  • 2 pods -Whole Madagascar vanilla beans
  • ~4 oz – Cacao nibs

Process

Measuring out the cacao nibs.

Measuring out the cacao nibs.

  1. Heat up strike water to 160° F.
  2. Place all grains into mash tun.
  3. Once water reaches 160° F, mix in thoroughly with grains. Let mash for 60 minutes.
  4. While grains are mashing, heat sparge water to 170° F.
  5. After grains are all done mashing, vorloff wort until relatively clear.
  6. Collect 6 gallons of wort, use 170° F sparge water to rinse grains until desired amount is collected.
  7. Bring wort to a boil.
  8. Add in 1 oz of Hallertau-Perle and boil for 60 minutes.
  9. After 40 minutes of boiling, add wort chiller to the kettle to sterilize it.
  10. After 45 minutes of boiling, add in 1 lbs lactose powder.
  11. After 6o minutes of boiling, turn off the heat and add in 1 oz of Kent Golding hops.
  12. Chill work to ~5° F – 70° F.
  13. Pitch yeast, aerate, let ferment.
  14. After primary fermentation (8 days in my case), I carefully racked the beer into an empty keg.
  15. Add in 8 oz of whole bean roasted coffee to the keg and let the beer “cold steep” on the beans. I left the beer to cold steep for 7 days. (The coffee beans were from a good friend of mine who roasts his own coffee. He roasts his beans to a “city roast”, a little past the first crack.)
  16. Remove the coffee from the beer.
  17. Add in 2 whole Madagascar vanilla beans to the beer. (I purchased the vanilla beans from Whole Foods. I chopped them up into quarters, stuffed them into tea bags, and threw them into the keg.) Let the beans sit in the beer for 7 days.
  18. Remove the vanilla beans from the beer.
  19. Add in ~ 4 oz of cacao nibs to the beer. (It was a little over 4 oz actually. I used what was left over from a bag I had previously purchased, also from Whole Foods.) Let sit for 7 days.
  20. Remove the cacao nibs from the beer.
  21. Pour priming sugar solution into the bottling bucket. (I used 2/3 cup of table sugar dissolved into 2 cups of water.)
  22. Rack the finished beer into the bottle bucket onto the priming sugar solution.
  23. Fill up your bottles, cap them, let them sit for at least 2 weeks to carbonate.

Specifics

  • Original Gravity – 1.060
  • Final Gravity – 1.022
  • Alcohol by Volume ~ 3.1%
  • Fermentation Temp ~ 74° F

Notes

Mocha Milk Stout goes well with gift wrapping duties.

Mocha Milk Stout goes well with gift wrapping duties.

Mocha Milk Stout pours out nearly black, with a tan colored head. The aroma is predominantly coffee, but there’s also hints of vanilla, chocolate, deep roasted malt, and a touch of caramel. The flavor has a dominating coffee character, with a blend of vanilla, chocolate, roast, and light caramel. The hop bitterness is low, while hop flavor is obscured by the malt and adjuncts. The body is medium-low, with light/medium-low carbonation.

In many ways, I am pleased with how this beer turned out. I had intended it to be a milk stout with strong cafe mocha character and that’s what I got. It’s velvety body and compelling aromas are matched by its robust flavors. I almost feel like I’m drinking a cafe mocha, if cafe mocha were a beer. So, if that’s what you’re in to, then you’re going to be really thrilled to get this from me as a present this year.

That said, I could easily say the adjuncts in the beer, coffee, chocolate, and vanilla, (especially the coffee) are almost too dominant and don’t let the base beer shine through. As the beer warms, the coffee flavors and aroma take hold and threaten not to let go. If I were to brew this beer again, I’d probably let the beer sit on the coffee beans for only 3-4 days. As it were, I got hella busy and forgot to take them out until it was too late. I would also add in more 2-row malt to up the final ABV to approximately 4.5% – 5% ABV. For all my criticisms go, it’s not a bad effort.

Last Call

It’s Christmas Eve. If you’ve made it this far, I thank you. I also implore you to put down your phone/iPad/computer and go spend time with those you care about. Let’s unplug from the interwebz, if even for a while, and enjoy each other’s company IRL.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Posted in Craft Beer, Homebrew, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

12 Beers of Christmas – Day 8 – Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout

Boston Beer Company, brewers of the Samuel Adams line of beers, is the largest craft brewer in the nation. Despite their immense size (in relation to most other craft breweries), they churn out a wide variety of beers. I’m impressed with how much leeway their brew crew is given to develop new products. They’re not always home runs, but you can’t score if you don’t take a swing.

On the 8th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout, Boston Beer Company, 9.0% ABV

Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout.

Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout.

Merry Maker is a very dark colored beer, essentially black, with a brown colored head. The aroma is predominantly of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and some cinnamon. I also pick up some roastiness from the malts. The flavor is of roasted malts, slight chocolate, and nutmeg, cloves, and some ginger. Hop bitterness is medium-low/medium, not much discernable hop flavor. The body is medium-full, carbonation is high, finish is on the dry side. As the beer warms up, the alcohol character shows a bit more.

Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout in a glass.

Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout in a glass.

I like the idea behind the beer, take something the Holidays are known for, and use it in a beer. It makes a lot of sense and is very festive. On the other hand, this beer remimnds me why I don’t enjoy spices in my beers. More often than not, I find breweries that develop spiced beers tend to overuse the spices. Some people go nuts for that sort of thing, I’m a little less enthusiastic.

Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout, back label.

Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout, back label.

I’ve thought about why I don’t really like these spices (nutmeg, clove, et cetera) and it’s because I don’t really use them in any of my own cooking, nor do I actively go searching for foods with them. Many of food products that feature these ingredients tend to be desserts or other baked goods, and I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

Don’t call me a spiced ale Scrooge though, as there is one spiced ale I’ve had in the past that I’ve really enjoyed. I thought it had a great balance between spices and beer. It also tasted a lot more like gingerbread than this one.

But just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean you should for forgo it. Pick up a bottle and make up your own mind.

Happy Holidays!

 

Posted in Craft Beer, Fun Stuff, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

12 Beers of Christmas – Day 7 – Fantome de Noel

I was suspicious of this beer when I first picked it up. Not because of who the brewery was but because it was packaged in a green bottle. I, for the life of me, can’t understand why breweries still use green bottles. They’re horrible for beers, yet their presence in the market persists. At least it’s a Christmas-y color.

On the 7th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Fantome de Noel, Brasserie Fantome, 10% ABV

Fantome Noel in the bottle.

Fantome Noel in the bottle.

Fantome de Noel pours out a cloudy, reddish-brown/caramel-ish color with a beige colored head. The aroma has a sour quality that seems to be a combination of lactic and acetic notes. There’s also a fruity quality to the aroma, along with a slight musty character, almost like blue cheese. The beer has a fruity flavor but also has an assertive tartness that renders my teeth squeaky while the malt flavor has a slight caramel quality. Hop bitterness is low, hop flavor is earthy, perhaps musty, and cheese-like. This beer is medium bodied and has an effervescent carbonation.

Fantome Noel in a glass.

Fantome Noel in a glass.

There’s a lot going on in this beer, a lot, and my description above is woefully inadequate. I’m finding this beer to be equal parts fruity, tart, and musty. It reminds me of a Flanders Red style but not as savory or as sour. In some ways, it also reminds me of biere de gardes as it seems to have an aged quality to it. The label on the back says there’s a “spicy” quality to the beer as well as implying the use of “winter spruce”. I’m not picking up either.

Fantome Noel back label.

Fantome Noel back label.

The one thing that does surprise me though is how easy drinking the beer is. This is a 10% ABV beer and it doesn’t have any of the boozy character some of the other “Noel” beers I’ve already reviewed. In some ways, it drinks like a soda.

This is an example of how you can’t judge a book by its cover. Just because the bottle says, “Noel” on the label doesn’t necessarily mean it will be close to, or even in the same ballpark, as other “Noel” beers. That said, it’s a very interesting beer that I’m glad I was able to try this season.

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Craft Beer, Fun Stuff, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

12 Beers of Christmas 2013 – Day 6 – 6 Geese-a-Laying from The Bruery

I’m not sure when it became du jour for breweries to plan annual releases measured in years but they’re certainly fun. The next beer I’m reviewing is the halfway milestone for this brewery’s holiday beer series. I’ve been buying 2 bottles of each release so that I can enjoy them when the series is finished but that’s still quite a ways away.

On the 6th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

6 Geese-a-Laying, The Bruery, 11.5% ABV

The label of 6 Geese-a-Laying.

The label of 6 Geese-a-Laying.

6 Geese-a-Laying pours out a cloudy, reddish brown with a beige/tan colored head. The aroma has a noticeable alcohol character, almost boozy. The flavor of the beer is very fruity, slightly figgy, with a light unripe grape tartness. The malt flavor has some caramel-like character, light toast, and very slight roast. The hop bitterness is low/medium-low. The finish has a boozy alcohol quality that is reminiscent of the Noel beers I’ve been tasting lately.

6 Geese--a-Laying in a glass.

6 Geese–a-Laying in a glass.

The label of 6-Geese-a-Laying says this is a Belgian style dark ale brewed with cape Gooseberries. Having never tried Gooseberries before, I can’t say if this beer is ripe with them or not. The label also says that this beer was meant to be aged and consumed with the last beer in the series, 12 Drummers Drumming. I agree. At 11.5% ABV, this beer has quite the alcoholic punch. It’s good in little sips here and there but I find it difficult to consume an entire bottle solo. Definitely a beer to share. I personally think the beer is on the young side and could use some months, if not years, to mellow out.

The back label of 6 Geese-a-Laying.

The back label of 6 Geese-a-Laying.

There’s another series from another brewery that also follows the “12 Days of Christmas” format. I haven’t seen any of those bottles in the shelves lately and I’m a little bummed by it. I thought that was an interesting series that had a greater variety of beers. Maybe I’ll drive around next week and see if I can’t find it.

I do enjoy the inclusion of “12 Day of Christmas” themed ingredients The Bruery uses to craft these beers though. It shows creativity and a willingness to step outside of the brewer’s pantry that you don’t see too often.

Feliz Navidad!

Posted in Craft Beer, Fun Stuff, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

12 Beers of Christmas 2013 – Day 5 – Sleigh’r Dark Doüble Alt

Nearly halfway there and I’m bringing the 12 Beers of Christmas reviews back to the good ol’ U.S. of A. While the warm summer months invite crisp and hoppy beers, the colder winter months bring out the maltier side of brewers. Darker ales tend to dominate the holiday beer landscape and the next entry falls right into this trend.

On the 5th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Sleigh’r Dark Double Alt Ale, Ninkasi Brewing Company, 7.2% ABV

Sleigh'r in a bottle.

Sleigh’r in a bottle.

This ale pours out a clear, dark brown color with a beige colored head. The aroma has a deep toasted character with a soft roasty note. The flavor is malty with caramel, deep toast, and a slight roast note in the finish. Despite the malty quality, there’s an assertive, yet balanced, hop bitterness. I can also pick up slight alcohol notes but it seems to be appropriate to the beverage and malt based. The body is medium-full/full, and the carbonation is spritzy.

Sleigh'r from Ninkasi.

Sleigh’r from Ninkasi.

Sleighr is a very good example of an alt bier. When I think of “alt”, I usually think in the terms of “alternative” but that’s not what it means. In this case, “alt” is German for “old”, and alt biers are throwbacks to a German ale brewing tradition. Alt biers are primarily known for being malty with enough hop bitterness to balance and Sleighr fits this description exactly!

As I pen this post, I’m watching the Great Christmas Light Fight. These folks really love Christmas. I thought I liked Christmas, but compared to these families, I have a passing summer crush. People express their holiday spirits differently. Some folks light up their homes, others review Christmas beers (or brew up Christmas beers).

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Craft Beer, Fun Stuff, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

12 Beers of Christmas 2013 – Day 4 – Affligem Noël Christmas Ale

Ah… another “Noel” beer. It’s not the first on the list and it won’t be the last. I just love these beers for a variety of reasons but the main one is that they taste good. On the surface, they tend to be dark, Belgian ales, but the brewery to brewery differences make trying several of them fun.

On the 4th day of Christmas, my true love gave me…

Noël Christmas Ale, Brouwerij Affligem, 9% ABV

Affligem Noel Christmas Ale from Brouwerij Affligem.

Affligem Noel Christmas Ale from Brouwerij Affligem.

This holiday ale pours out a dark, brown with reddish hues and a beige colored head. The aroma is a combination of sweet dried fruit, like figs and raisins, a bit of light caramel, and hints of gingerbread. There’s also a soft, perfumy alcohol character that is pleasant. The flavor is malty, like toasted bread, there’s also slight caramel notes, and a fig-like fruit character. I’m picking up a noticeable alcohol character in the finish as well. Hop bitterness is low/medium-low. This is a medium-full bodied beer that, as contradictory as this is going to sound, is a little thin in the finish. The carbonation is prickly on my lips.

Noel Christmas Ale sure looks pretty in that glass.

Noel Christmas Ale sure looks pretty in that glass.

When I think of the holidays, I think about enjoying beers like this. Noël Christmas Ale has a malt character that is layered, complex, and opens up as the beer is allowed to warm up a bit. While I find that this beer is “malty”, I’m finding that it’s really a great balance between the malt flavors and yeast character the results in a wonderful beer. The other thing I like about this ale is that the label says it’s “brewed with spices”, yet none of the spices really jump out at me. If anything, the spice character is restrained and allows the beer to still be the star of the show. The ale also tastes like it used some sort of sugar to up the alcohol content, but that’s typical for Belgian ales.

Back label of the Afffligem Noel Christmas Ale.

Back label of the Afffligem Noel Christmas Ale.

I’m a little late with this blog post. I think was inevitable that I would falter as I haven’t been blogging in a while. It was a challenge juggling everything that went on this weekend, especially with the tech issues, but I’m finally back at full speed. If anything, I looked forward to penning this post as it was a way for me to switch gears creatively and enjoy a fine beer.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Craft Beer, Fun Stuff, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

12 Beers of Christmas 2013 – Day 3 – Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider

Yes, I know I’m calling this the 12 Beers of Christmas but I think there’s room for cider. Mulled cider is a holiday tradition in many households, and as a cider maker myself, I thought I’d switch things up a bit by including a cider in this year’s tasting.

On the 3rd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Organic J.K.’s Cuvee Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider, Almar Orchards, 6.9% ABV

Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider in a glass.

Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider in a glass.

This hard cider pours out a slightly hazy gold color with a short-lived, white colored head. The aroma is fruity, with apple-pie like spices, and funky tartness that dissipates as it warms up. The cider tastes like apple pie but with a soft tart finish. This is a medium bodied cider with a balanced finish, slightly dry but mouthwatering at the same time.

J.K.'s Cuvee Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider.

J.K.’s Cuvee Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider.

I’ve often criticized pumpkin beers in the past because of the excessive use of spices. I can often be heard saying, “I like my pumpkin pie on a plate, not in a pint”, and that’s true. This spiced cider reminds me a lot of apple pie, but I think it goes well. The tartness in the finish helps to balance out the spice character, as well as the moderate sweetness in the beverage. I am more forgiving of the spices in cider because it’s a fairly straightforward drink and, in this instance, the spices add complexity to the cider.

The back label of Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider.

The back label of Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider.

Overall, I think this is a very tasty beverage that can appeal to some craft beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers alike. In fact, I just might be tempted to brew up my own next year.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Cider, Fun Stuff, Reviews, Seasonal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment