DRAFT PICKS: A perfect time to explore seasonal brews
Just as at Thanksgiving time, the Christmas holiday offers an exceptional opportunity to explore and taste some fine seasonal brews.
Many craft breweries make an honest effort to turn out an inspiring holiday beer and some of the seasonals being brewed around the state and country are really artistic.
There are a lot of wonderful offerings already on the shelves, and some that will soon decorate market end-caps around the area.
Despite the fact that it is so astonishingly and consistently cold outside, it still is a great time of year to taste the surprising variety of beer coming out of breweries throughout the state and nation.
This is a great time to purchase the mix-and-match brews. A standard six-pack somewhat limits your ability to range far afield.
If the selection is overwhelming (as is often the case when I shop at larger retailers downstate), just ask the folks behind the counter. In my experience, they not only will steer you in the right direction, but they also may well become buddies and fellow explorers.
Let me offer a few suggestions (and these are not reviews, but rather a guide to help you start your holiday searching).
First, let’s look at some Michigan brews for the holidays:
- Bell’s Christmas Ale is a completely acceptable holiday beer. Don’t expect lots of cinnamon and spices. This is simply a good hearty ale without all the tinsel. No frills holiday ale. Well recommended.
- Short’s Brewery up in Bellaire is supposedly set to release a brew called Juicy Tree. The label is very Christmas-esque and they describe this brew as “ ... an experimental India Pale Ale made with blue spruce tips, juniper berries and cranberries. Big aromatics of piney evergreen and sweet berries tingle the senses.” I’m looking forward to a sip.
And further afield:
- 12 Dogs Of Christmas Ale — The folks at Thirsty Dog Brewing in Akron, Ohio, are always turning out good, exciting stuff.
- The Great Northern Brewing’s Snow Ghost Winter Lager - I love the Montana brewing scene. This lager has a good dose of hops, but isn’t lacking in malty balance either.
- Cold Mountain Winter Ale, Highland Brewing, Asheville, N.C. — I was introduced to Highland Brewing a while back. Asheville is one of the big beer communities in the U.S. This Winter Ale explains why! Yummy.
- Abita Christmas Ale — I’m not a huge fan of this Louisiana brewery, but they have done a great job with this seasonal ale. A great job, indeed!
- Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale - Boston Brewing consistently turns out good beers. This ale really is a welcome addition. They are also turning out a Holiday Porter that isn’t spicy as one might expect, but good hefty porters really do express the holiday well, in my opinion.
- Accumulation White IPA — New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo., is one of those breweries that it is simply hard to not like. Good stuff all year round. And now, an exceptionally tasty winter offering, (with a great label!).
- Widmer Brrr Seasonal Ale, Widmer Brothers Brewery — Look. I don’t want to seem too partial to the west coast, but ... the folks in Portland, Ore., are brewing some wicked good beers. If you can get hold of this one, DO SO.
There are a lot of really, Really, REALLY good winter ales and lagers on the shelves right now. They’re often very seasonal, so if you see something interesting, don’t hesitate.
Grab a bottle or two and tuck it away for an evening in front of a roaring fire.
Founders Brewing Company
Well, teammates. It’s not often I wax poetic about a brew.
Sure. There are those I love more, and those I love less. I have my “Favorites” list, and I have my “Standards” list.
I try to be as descriptive as possible in my reviews in order to help you make wise choices — at least what I consider to be wise choices.
But ... I don’t wax poetic too often, and I have never doubled up on a review ... until now.
I recently was awarded a bottle of the 2013 edition of Founders KBS. I’m pretty sure I reviewed this some time back, but I can’t ignore it today. This is possibly one of the most “hyped” beers produced in the U.S. in some time. It deserves every accolade and honor it receives.
KBS is simply wonderful.
NOW — a caveat. If you do not have at least a passing appreciation for stout ales, leave this for those who do! There is an extremely limited supply still on the market. Extremely limited. (Mine was from private stock.) KBS pours black, Black, BLACK. It has a very nice, creamy, dark beige head that actually persists for a good decent while.
The first whiff lifts heady scents of quality coffee, deep dark chocolate, a touch of cherry and a hefty blast of bourbon aroma.
I wish they made a candle that smelled like this!
The KBS aroma is simply enchanting. The sweetness of the bourbon aging is strikingly evident at first wash. The coffee immediately kicks in toning down and exceptionally balancing the bourbon quality.
KBS is smooth, balanced, gently nuanced through and through.
O.M.G. This is wonderful. Just jam-packed with flavor without the usual background hints of maltiness or other brewing ingredients. A little touch of roasted quality, but the flavors that lead are the flavors that finish.
Look. I sipped this brew after a freezing stint working in my garage trying to get a plow hooked up to the garden tractor. I was numb when I came in the house. I took a hot shower, bundled up warm and fleecy, and plopped myself down in front of the fireplace ... with my KBS.
It was the stuff of beer dreams.
Heavy Seas Yule Tide (2013)
Heavy Seas Beer
This was picked for me down in the Big City.
Yule Tide held a lot of promise. I’m a huge ginger fan. This red ale claims to be brewed with ginger.
Yule Tide pours a really inviting ruby red — drifting a bit to the deep coppery side of things in color. There is quite a bit of foam and the head sticks around a good while leaving touches of lacing for the duration.
At first sniff, there are definite hints of a seasonal rum drink, a good degree of spiciness (but not necessarily ginger) and a touch of brown sugar or even molasses aroma in the background.
At first wash, there is a somewhat non-descript sense of earth tones — kind of a woodsy feel to the mix. But then the winter seasonal blend moves well forward and begins to dominate. It’s possible to taste the ginger (although I would have liked the ginger to be a touch more assertive). There is an almost buttered rum quality I remember from an old Watkins blend of Christmas drink.
Yule Tide really is quite festive with different hints and tones popping in and out such as the molasses we noted in scenting and vanilla that wasn’t really noticed earlier on in the process.
I would easily consider this a “winter warmer.” Being aged in rum barrels certainly makes the taste that much more reminiscent of the best holiday brews.
I bet this could be well used as a mulled ale.
Gosh, there are a lot of good brews out there this holiday season.
You simply must do some exploring.