Recently in Winter Warmer Category

session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This time around, Jay Brooks wants to talk about Holiday Beers:

So for this Session, write about whatever makes you happy, so long as it involves holiday beers.
You got it, Jay! I'll start with some brief answers to his questionnaire, then move right in to the 5 year Anchor Christmas Vertical tasting I held last night.

Do you like the idea of seasonal beers, or loathe them?

I love seasonal beers, but always try to keep some variety in the mix. Fortunately, the incredible breadth of beers available at all times allows for such exploration.

What's your idea of the perfect holiday beer?

That's a tough one, and I enjoy the variety of holiday beers we get. There's your typical winter warmer style, spiced (but not too strongly) and malt-centric, then you've got the make it stronger school of thought that seems to drive some Belgian examples, and then you get the people who just do whatever the hell they want. There's a place for all of these, I think, but what I associate with holiday beer tends to be the winter warmer style, spiced to perfection, with some hefty body to it.

Do have a holiday tradition with beer?

We're about to cover one in more detail (an Anchor Christmas vertical of some sort), but the other is drinking Samichlaus on Christmas Eve whilst wrapping presents. Given the strength of Samichlaus, it's a wonder the wrapping actually achieves its purpose of concealing the gift.

Are holiday beers released too early, or when should they be released?

As with Pumpkin beers showing up early, this is just something I can't get worked up about. That being said, it seems like much less of an issue for Holiday beers.

Do you like holiday beer festivals?

I've sadly never been to one. I not really a huge fan of festivals in general, but a holiday beer festival sounds like it could be fun, given the right circumstances.

Alright, so we get to the main event, a vertical tasting of Anchor's annual holiday beer, Our Special Ale. Every year, I buy a six pack of the stuff, drink some, and reserve the rest for just this sort of occasion. In the past few years, I've been tasting two or three vintages side by side, and it's been fun seeing how they evolve from year to year. This is the first year I've managed to collect 5 different vintages, so I invited some folks over to do a little informal tasting and rating.

Anchor Christmas Vertical 2015

This was not a blind tasting, and we proceeded serially from 2011 up to 2015, each taking 3-4 ounce samples. Due to the social nature of the gathering, I did not take copious notes, but we did all rank the beers and I managed to jot down a few quick thoughts on each vintage. I also took a look back through my previous ratings to see if any patterns emerged.

  • 2011 - Still has a nice spice profile, has held up well, but it's a little thin and definitely showing signs of age. In three previous tastings, this one has consistently been a favorite. This time it fell in the middle of the pack...
  • 2012 - Fuller bodied and less spicy than the 2011, this one seems to have rebounded with age. For the past couple years, it's felt like this vintage was fading, but it held up well.
  • 2013 - This one comes in somewhere between 2011 and 2012, and not in a good way. Spices muddled, clashing with malts. I liked this one when it was fresh, but it has faded considerably each year.
  • 2014 - As I suspected last year, this one has held up very well, nice spice profile with a well balanced and strong malt backbone. This very well may be my favorite vintage of Anchor Christmas ever (though I've only really been doing this since 2010).
  • 2015 - This most recent vintage is quite a departure, feels more stout-like than any previous vintage, with a roasty, smokey kick to the normal fruity, spicy character (this seems very faintly spiced, if at all). I predict this year's vintage will age fabulously.

We only had 3 people rating the beer (I had planned on 5, but two flaked out at the last minute), yet some patterns emerged. 2013 was unanimously the worst of the vertical (average score 1 out of 5, standard deviation of 0!), while 2014 was the clear winner of the night (average score of 4.67 out of 5). Two of us voted it as the best, and one voted it the second best. After a rough couple of years, 2012 rebounded into second place (average score 3.67 out of 5, though it did have the highest standard deviation), and 2011 and 2015 occupied the middle of the pack. For all you statistics nerds, you can check out the details on Google Sheets (I also included my ratings from the blog over time on the sheet).

After this, one of us poured the remainder of each bottle into some unlabeled cups, so the other two could do a blind tasting. One of us completely failed, and I actually got them all right. Go me. I will say, as the beer had warmed and carbonation had mellowed, vintages from 2011 to 2014 became much, much more similar. 2015's unique character still stood out though, and I was pretty clear on 2013, but the rest felt like a toss up...

Finally, we poured all the remaining beer left into one glass. Cooooveeee! It smelled great, but by this point, there was no carbonation left. Also, there was only, like, an ounce or two of the blend. Still, this may be something worth trying more formally next year. Blending contest? I think that could be a lot of fun. Of course, my supplies of previous vintages are now dwindling. This was my last 2011, for instance. And I only have one 2012 left! Then again, 4-5 years does seem to be the ceiling on aging these beers. Spices fade over time, and while these are hearty beers, they don't seem to take age as well as, say, a higher ABV, darker beer. It's still a lot of fun, though, and while it's generally what's in the bottle that counts, I enjoy the romantic notions of associating these beers with Christmas, and the unique label artwork just puts me in the mood of the season. Have a great holiday season everyone, and may it be filled with tasty beer!

Update: It appears we've attracted the attention of Anchor's VP of Production, one Scott Ungermann, who had a few comments:

First - you are correct - the beers don't really age well past 3-4 years, so we recommend not laying them down much past that. Second - correct again - this year was a departure in that we felt less was more on the spice front, so we toned the spices down a bit as we upped the roasted malt to go darker & heavier... We agree that it will age nicely with this combo. Look for more of the same next year - maybe even a higher ABV & some more hops!

We are actually selling vertical 6-packs of '12, '13 & '14 in our taproom store this year for the first time this year so that people can try them alongside our 2015 Special Ale for anyone who wants to try this at home.

The notion of going further afield and maybe even playing with higher ABV and moar hops is tantalizing indeed! Very much looking forward to doing another vertical in 2016!

Miscellaneous Holiday Beer Roundup

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Once upon a blog, I used to really hit the holiday beers hard. And yeah, I wrote about a few of them recently, but this year, I kinda reserved all these beers for the actual holiday itself. Alas, it seems silly to be writing about some of this stuff after the holiday has passed, so I'll just lump it all together and call it a season. First up, a beer I should have drank on December 23:

Manayunk Festivus 2014

Manayunk Festivus 2014 - Man, I haven't been to the Manayunk brewpub in probably a decade. It's not a place I've ever been particularly in love with, but when you live near there, it's convenient. Now they've started canning and distributing, and I have to admit, this holiday beer for the rest of us (or uh, you) makes me want to put up my aluminum pole, air some grievances, and conduct some feats of strength. But how's the beer? Pours a deep dark brown with dark amber highlights and a finger of white head. Smells very unique, lots of brown sugar, plums, raisins, and some sort of spice that I cannot place (apparently: cardamom!) but which is definitely familiar. Taste is less intense than the nose implies, but it's decent, a fruit and spice come through well in the middle and finish. Mouthfeel is on the lighter end of medium bodied, well carbed, a little bit of dry spice. Overall, an interesting and unique change of pace for the style, thus fitting for this singular holiday. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/24/14. 2014 Vintage.

Samichlaus Barrique

Samichlaus Barrique 2013 - Every Christmas Eve, I break open some vintage of Samichlaus as last minute wrapping fuel. Given the 14% ABV, it's amazing that I don't cut off a limb in a scissor mishap or label the presents wrong or something. I have vintages of this dating back to 2009, and of my experiments with aging, these have been among the best. This year, though, I took a flier on the Barrique variant, which is the standard Samichlaus (what with its already long 10 month conditioning stage) aged in German wine barrels (apparently Chardonnay) for an additional 5 weeks. I wasn't quite sure how well this would work, but it turns out to be a really good idea. Pours a clear dark amber color with a bit of big bubbled head that quickly subsides. Smells of dark fruits, sticky sugar, and of course, booze. The taste is rich and sweet up front, lots of dark, vinous fruit flavors pepper the middle, and the booze hits pretty hard in the finish. The barrel character is not super strong, but I feel like it does take some of the bite out of the booze considering the young vintage (which is usually quite hot at this stage) and it contributes to a more well rounded mouthfeel. Speaking of which, this is rich, more carbonated than I remember from Samichlaus, but still very sticky, with a heaping helping of booze. Again, I feel like the barrel character maybe contributes a bit to the richness of the mouthfeel, though it's not a huge impact. In general, it feels like the barrel aging smooths out some of the sharp edges of young Samichlaus. B+ but I'm wondering if age will treat this even better than the standard stuff.

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/24/14. 2013 Vintage.

HaandBryggeriet Nissefar

HaandBryggeriet Nissefar - We're big fans of these Norwegians here at Kaedrin, and this beer, not particularly exciting on paper (a 7% Old Ale?), turns out to be possibly my favorite holiday beer of the year. Named after the Nisse, one of the many European precursors/contemporaries/versions of Santa Claus. A gift giver, but much more gnome-like in appearance. The beer itself pours a deep, dark brown with the barest hint of amber in the highlights and half a finger of light tan head. Smells faintly of dark fruit (plums and raisins), brown sugar, caramel, and maybe even some unidentifiable spice. Taste has a hearty malt backbone, some dark malts, dark chocolate, brown sugar, with more fruity notes emerging in the finish, which also throws up some bittering hops to dry things out a bit. Mouthfeel is on the lower end of full bodied, substantial but not a monster, with a very well matched, tight carbonation, and while I wouldn't call this "dry", it does veer in that direction towards the finish. Easier to drink than a sipping beer, but not really a chugger either, they've found a fine middle ground here. Overall, this is my kinda winter beer! Complex, well balanced, tasty. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/25/14. Batch: 611. Total Bottles: 2280.

Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal Imperial Stout

Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal Imperial Stout - Narwhals are Christmassy, right? How about barrel aged Narwhals? Alright that's pushing it, I guess, but this was my nightcap on Christmas night, and it was a nice one. Perhaps not quite the surprise that BA Bigfoot was, but it's a solid BA stout. I didn't really take extensive notes, but this was a pretty good, but standard take on the barrel aged imperial stout: dark color, tan head that quickly disappeared, nice barrel character with bourbon, vanilla and oak in both the nose and the taste, mellowing out some of the stronger roast character of the base stout, and leaving this with a nice caramel and chocolate character that worked very well. Perhaps not a top tier BA stout, but close. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 12/24/14.

And there you have it. We shall move on to regular fare soon enough, but I'm already thinking about taking a break again this year, like I did last year. That will probably be a few months away at this point because I have some great beer incoming, so stay tuned.

Anchor Christmas Triple Feature

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Every year, I grab a sixer of Anchor's Our Special Ale, their Christmas/New Year's beer. I drink one or two, and reserve the rest for vertical tastings in the future. This marks the second year in a row where I've managed to save 3 years worth of beers for comparison, and the fifth year I've been drinking these beers. I also have a lone 2011 bottle that I'm reserving for a larger vertical at some point in the unspecified future (for the record, 2011 hase been my favorite vintage so far, though granted, I've only really been following since 2010...) On the other hand according to Anchor's brewer Bob, I might be hitting the sweet spot right now anyway:

I prefer years one through three myself, depending on the hop and spice profile of the original vintage. Obviously, if there is more hop and spice to begin with, there will be more carryover from year-to-year as the product ages, but by year five they all pretty much taste the same. Not necessarily bad, but not very interesting either.

I did a ten-year vertical tasting of our Christmas Ales once and found that by year seven, they really all did taste the same - and frankly, not very good.

I don't believe you Bob! In actuality, I do believe that, but I still want to see for myself. In the meantime, I'll follow Bob's advice and just look at the last three vintages to see what's up.

Anchor Christmas 2014

Anchor Our Special Ale 2014 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a dark brown color with a finger or two of fluffly, light tan head that leaves tons of lacing as I drink. Smells of mulling spices, cinnamon, ginger, maybe a little clove. Taste has a strong malt backbone, almost more like a brown ale than previous years, and those spices are more subtle and well matched as well. As it warms, that toasty, nutty brown ale character comes out a little more, as do the spices. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and well carbonated, with the spice taking hold in the finish. Overall, solid beer, not going to bowl you over, but well crafted and balanced. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2013 (Anchor Christmas) - Similar appearance, but a more amber hue to it, with beautiful highlights when held up to light (those are not present in the 2014). Spices more prominent in the nose. It feels like the ginger has taken over here, but the standard retinue of mulling spices are around somewhere. Taste is not quite as deep as the 2014, less of a malt presence, spices again more prominent, with the ginger standing out more here than I remember from last year. Mouthfeel is lighter bodied than 2014. Overall, it's fine, but I like the 2014 better! B-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Anchor Christmas) - Very similar to the 2013. Amber highlights, more prominent mulling spice in the nose and taste, though it's clear that the age is tempering that spice a bit too. The spice seems to have fared better here than the 2013, and retains a certain complexity, but again, age is clearly having an impact here. I suspect the reason the spices feel more prominent in the 2013 and 2012 vintages is that the malt backbone is lighter, which means that the spice stands out more. Once again, I'm left with the 2014 as the best of this lot, but this 2012 is pulling in at number 2 (so age has treated this better than the 2013)... B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/20/14.

Overall, I still think the 2011 has been the best vintage I've tried so far, but 2014 took the honors tonight. I also suspect that it will age better than other recent vintages. Next year, I will technically be able to do a 5 year vertical, but I may want to wait a year or two before going too crazy (I should be able to do a 4 year vertical next year and still have enough 2012 to last another year or two). Per Bob, after 5 years, things apparently get samey, but who wants to believe that guy?! Happy Holidays everyone, see you next week!

December Beer Club

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For reasons outside of my control, I was unable to attend the November Beer Club. I am, myself, doubting my commitment to Sparkle Motion, but I managed to pull it together and attend this month's beer club. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which is not optional). This month, we hit up our favorite local pizza joint (and a regular delivery option here at Kaedrin HQ), America's Pie. Most attendies partook in the off-menu Pizza Pocket Pie option, a delightful deep-fried stromboli-like concoction that I have certainly devoured on occasion. Oh yeah, and we had beer too:

December Beer Club
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some completely unreliable thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply, if you disagree, you're probably right and I am wrong. It has long been established that I am totally the worst. Stop harping on it, ok? In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose - Salty and sweet, with lots of that tart blood orange character making itself known. Not a mind-blower, but very nice nonetheless, would make a great summer beer. Decent way to start the night though! B+
  • SoChesCo Marianne IPA - A homebrewed IPA from one of our regular attendees, this is part of pair of IPAs brewed as one batch, then split in secondary. This one is straight up IPA. The other was does with fresh chopped ginger (it would be titled Ginger IPA, get it?) As IPAs go, this is pretty standard stuff, clearly using Chinook somewhere in the recipe. Very nice! B+
  • Kaedrin Christmas Ale (2011) - My homebrewed Christmas Ale... from 3 years ago! It's holding up reasonably well. Much of the spice character has faded away, but the base was robust enough to make for a decent light drinking option. When fresh, this was probably right up there with my favorite batches of homebrew. After 3 years, it's definitely degraded a bit, but it's still worth drinking. B
  • Maredsous 8 - Brune - Pretty standard Belgian Dubbel stuff, though this seems much more raisiny than I remember. B
  • Spring House The Martians Kidnap Santa! Egg Nog Stout - Wonderful nose, milk stout with a heaping helping of vanilla and a light spice. The taste doesn't quite live up to that, though it's certainly fine. Definitely worth trying. B+
  • Jack-O-Traveler Shandy - I'm not much of a shandy kinda guy, but this is bad even for a shandy. Something about the Pumpkin mixed with the lemon just doesn't work. As noted at the table, it kinda tastes like Lysol. I'm feeling particularly ungenerous at the moment, so we'll go full F
  • Earth Eagle Puca - A pumpkin porter, this had a fabulous, spicy nose, though like the Spring House beer above, the taste just didn't hold up to the nose. It's certainly a fine beer though, and worth trying if you like that sorta dark pumpkin option. B
  • Shiner Bock - Tastes like Texas! Obviously nothing special, but it still holds a nostalgic value with me. B
  • ShawneeCraft Frambozenbier - Despite yesterday's disappointing, mildly infected Bourbon Barrel Porter, I shared this beer with everyone, and they seemed to love it, just like I did. B+
  • Hardywood Gingerbread Stout - I've heard many things about this sucker, and now that Hardywood is distributing up here, I'm starting to see these things show up more often. Alas, I have to admit that amongst the typical Pumpkin/Holiday spices, Ginger is probably my least favorite, so this was good, but not quite the mind-blower I'd been lead to believe. (Oddly, I love gingerbread cookies and gingersnaps, but I guess this just had the wrong proportions). I'm sure I could easily drink an entire bottle of the stuff, but I'm glad I got to try it in this tasting atmosphere. Now, the Bourbon Barrel version of this beer is another matter entirely! That's something I really want to try. B
  • Victory Earth & Flame - A collaboration with a tiny local brewery called Earth+Bread brewery, this is a smoked Scotch ale aged in Bourbon Barrels. The smoke is pretty well muted by the Bourbon Barrels, leading to a nice fruity, bourbony character. Not quite top tier (and not quite at the level of Otto in Oak, another BBA smoked Victory beer). Something I'd definitely like to revisit in more detail. B+
  • Vicarus Winter 2013 - This is great up front, Belgian Strong Dark, highly carbonated and very dry up front, with some raisiny character apparent in the finish (which is not as dry as the initial taste would have you believe). That being said, I can't help but feel that this would probably have been better if it were fresher. Still quite decent B
  • Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout - Holy coffee, Batman! My ambivalence to coffee in beer is legendary, though I've grown to appreciate some of the more subtle varieties that have a lot of other things going on. This one is almost pure coffee grounds, which I imagine folks who love coffee would be really into, but which doesn't translate well to me personally. B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014) - The latest incarnation is as good as ever, and if anything, it's not as hot as the past couple years (it's actually "only" 13.8% ABV this year, apparently an artifact of a cool spring and summer). The great satan of AB/Inbev or not, I love this beer. A
And that's all for now. Already looking forward to January.

February Beer Club


Tonight was beer club, a gathering of beer minded individuals from my work who get together about once a month at a local BYOB for good company and libations. As per usual, a good turnout, with a good representation from the core team, but also some very welcome new faces. About half of us are, at this point, avid homebrewers, so discussion veered into a rather nerdy realm from time to time, but that's all good, and there was also a nice contingent of non-beer drinking peeps who were bemused by our nerdery, but steered the discussion other ways as well. Good times had by all.

February Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, initial thoughts on each beer are captured below. As you might guess, conditions here are not ideal, nor did I always drink a full portion, so take this with a gigantic grain of salt if you dare. Or not. I am pretty awesome, so I'm sure these inchoate notes are all you'll really need. In order of drinking (not necessarily in order pictured):

  • Heavy Seas Gold Ale - A pretty basic Blonde Ale, comparable to most macro slop, but a step above such extremes. B-
  • Kaedrôme Saison - This is drinking well, though it still has not carbonated as well as I'd have liked. I don't know if this is because the yeast is just so old and overstressed or if it's because it's been so cold lately and my cellar is just so cold that it's taking the beer a while to condition. Whatever the case, the flavors are at the right place, and there is enough carbonation to make it drinkable, it's just that I wish there were more. B
  • New Belgium Lips Of Faith - Coconut Curry Hefeweizen - Holy curry, Batman! At first, the curry seemed to overpower everything else, but as I drank and as it warmed (we had some of this later in the evening as well), the coconut and hefeweizen notes came out a bit more. Its a very interesting, weird beer, but I don't think it's quite the right combination of flavors for beer. C+
  • Stone Matt's Burning Rosids - I think you all know how much I love me some saisons, even weird, incoherent takes on the style, but this one seemed to be filled with a sorta burnt rubber band aid flavor that overpowered everything else. Perhaps not totally undrinkable, but I'm really, really happy I only tried a smallish sample of the stuff. D
  • Green Jack Rippa - I've seen this around and been curious about an "English Triple" beer, and it was an interesting beer, though it came off as being incredibly boozy, which is a bit odd for an 8.5% beer. To be sure, that's not a whimpy ABV, but it's also not something I'd expect to be quite so powerfully boozy. It had a nice malt backbone too, but not enough to stand up to the booze. C+
  • Ken's Homebrewed ESB - A light take on the style, though perhaps it just seemed that way because we had this after the boozy bomb previously mentioned. Still, very easy drinking stuff, malt forward but quaffable. B
  • Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale - Now, this beer club group occasionally visits an authentic (at least, to us Yanks, it seems so) British pub called The Whip Tavern. They have this rather spectacular dessert called Sticky Toffee Pudding, so hopes were somewhat high for this beer. To be sure, I was tempering my expectations by the fact that a lot of English ales, even stuff like this that is flavored with adjuncts, come off with hints of diacetyl, but in this case, my fears were unfounded. It's nowhere near as good as the actual dessert, but it had a really nice toffee/caramel character that worked really well for the beer. B
  • Chimay Tripel (White) - A beer I've obviously had many times before, and it's just as good as ever, though I seem to have veered away from a lot of the Belgian styles that initially hooked me on good beer. Still, this is a nice one. I'd probably downgrade to a B+, but it's still very nice.
  • Starr Hill Psycho Kilter - A nice take on the Scotch Ale style, certainly not a top tier effort, but a nice, malt forward, relatively low carbed beer that doesn't quite bely its relatively high 9.3% strength. B
  • Kaedrin Bomb and Grapnel (Bourbon Oaked Version) - This is the version of my RIS homebrew that was aged on bourbon soaked oak cubes. In this version, the charred oak really comes through strong. Not a ton of bourbon, though it is there. The charred oak is pretty strong at this point, which makes me think that perhaps I should have soaked the oak cubes in bourbon for longer than the 1-2 weeks I employed. Still, this turned out well, though the blended version seems to be the best version. B+
  • Lost Abbey The Angel's Share (Bourbon Barrel Aged) - A beer I've had and reviewed before. It is still pretty fantastic stuff. A-
  • Deschutes Jubelale - Another beer I've had a few times this year, and it's a nice winter warmer style beer, malt forward with lots of spice, quite enjoyable (and surprisingly did not suffer from a no doubt beleaguered palate at this point in the night). B
And that just about covers it. Already looking forward to the March beer club, where I'll be able to share some Fat Weekend IPA...

Anchor Christmas Triple Feature

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Every year, I buy a six pack of Anchor's Our Special Ale, their Christmas beer, but I never drink all of them. I always reserve 3 or 4 bottles to try in the following years. This year marks the first time I managed to wrangle bottles from three separate vintages in one tasting. And if I keep the tradition going, I might be able to swing four varieties one year. Oh sure, the recipe changes each year (along with the label and the tree depicted on such), so it's not a true "vertical", but it's an interesting and fun experience anyway, amirite? Of course I am. I'm awesome. So let's get this party started:

Anchor Christmas Vertical
(Click for larger version)

Anchor Our Special Ale 2013 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a deep, dark brown color, maybe the faintest of hints of amber when held to the light, and about a finger of off white head. Smells full of those standard mulling spices, cinnamon and clove seem very prominent, but some other usual suspects seem to be hanging around as well. Taste follows the nose, lots of spice up front, with the sweet malt backbone filling in the middle, and the spices return for the finish, which also has a light, almost dry bitterness (nothing like an IPA or anything, but this isn't super sweet either). Mouthfeel is smooth with a spicy snap, well carbonated, and a relatively dry finish. Overall, it's another rock solid entry in the longstanding series... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/7/12.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a very dark brown color, almost no amber even when held to light, with a finger of dense, creamy looking head. Smells oddly muted, typical spices are there, but not as prominent as it was fresh (or as the other vintages). Taste is similarly faded when it comes to the spices, but the malt picks up a little slack, keeping it interesting enough. As it warms, I'm getting a little more of the uncommon spices (anise?) Mouthfeel is smooth, well carbonated, a little thinner than 2013, but still medium bodied. Overall, it's decent, but not as good as it was fresh last year, nor as good as the other vintages I had tonight... B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/7/12.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2011 (Anchor Christmas) - Moar dark brown beer here, finger of off white head. This nose seems to have held up better than the 2012, lots of spice, and maybe even a nice sugary component. Indeed, I think this nose is just as good if not better than the fresh 2013 juice. Taste also held up well, plenty of spices, and they're more harmonious here than in 2012 or probably even 2013. Mouthfeel is smooth and crisp, medium bodied, highly drinkable. Overall, this has held up remarkably well. It's not a religious experience or anything, but it's still really good, and definitely my favorite of the night. Go figure. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/7/12.

So there you have it. You see? I don't drink barrel aged face melters every day... Though, um, I did have one later this night, which we'll get to next week. See you then.

December Beer Club


In 2009, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men and women promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the West Chester underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as drinkers of craft beer. If you have a problem... if no one else can help... and if you can find them a local BYOB in which to meet... maybe you can hire... The Beer Club Team.

Well, that didn't work as well as it did in my head, but I'm going to leave it there as a reminder to myself that my stupid references aren't as funny as I think. Take that, self! What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folks from my work. We meet up once a month at a local BYOB and sample all sorts of beers. Decent turnout tonight, and some great beers too:

Beer Club
(Click for larger version)

Half remembered thoughts on each beer are below. For posterity, you understand. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order depicted above:

  • Harpoon UFO White - I could have sworn we've had this at beer club before, but I can't find any reference to it... Holy coriander, Batman! Very powerfully spiced for a simple wheat beer, but it made for a nice, bland start to the evening. B
  • Kaedrin Saison - Man, this thing is drinking perfect right now! Huge carbonation, spicy, crisp, and dry. Great with food, and I'm really disappointed that I only have a couple bottles of this left. This may end up being one of my better beers of all time. B+ or A- material here.
  • Kaedrôme Saison - Alas, this has not quite carbonated itself so well just yet. Disappointing. I had one last week, and it seemed like it was doing well, but nope, tonight's was lower carbonated than the last one I had. Weird. I'll give it a few more weeks before opening another (it seems that the regular saison is peaking right now, after several months) and leave it at that for now...
  • Ken's Homebrewed Winter Warmer - Very solid example of the style, very well spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, it came out really smooth and almost creamy, with that spicy kick. I really enjoyed this, even more than the other Winter Warmer/Holiday beers of the night. B+
  • Sly Fox Christmas Ale - Another winter warmer, and one I look forward to every year. Alas, they change up the recipe every year, and I have to admit, I'm not in love with this year's version. It's fine, to be sure, but not as good as previous years (or Ken's homebrew!) B-
  • Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale - It's amazing how little repetition there is in beer club. I can probably count on one hand the number of times that someone has brought a beer that's been at beer club before... This one was just at beer club back in September, which wouldn't be that bad except that no one really likes this beer! It's so thin and the bourbon barrel treatment doesn't really come through in any meaningful way (it's got some of that bourbon flavor, but it feels watered down and just flat). It's not a hideous abomination, but it's not particularly good either. C
  • Trappistes Rochefort 6 - A classic that I've already reviewed, and a welcome relief from the previous beer!
  • Affligem Noël - This was one of my favorite beers when I started the blog... but I didn't respond quite so well this time around. Not sure if it's just the context of beer club and a beleaguered palate, or if this really isn't as good as I remember. The balance is certainly off here, a little boozy, not enough malt and spice to counteract that. It's certainly not bad at all, and I do still really enjoy it, but perhaps not as much as I originally did... Let's call it a B or B+ now.
  • Southern Tier Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale - A late arrival, this perhaps should have been opened earlier in the night... but even then, I suspect this would underwhelm. C+
  • Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad - Dana and I shop at the same beer store. She shared hers, I greedily drank mine by myself. As I rated on Monday, B+
  • Stone Suede Imperial Porter - It's a fine porter, light roast, some complexity from those weird flower and jasmine adjuncts, but ultimately this is a beer that doesn't really float my boat. It's fine, I could probably take one down on my own, but I'm glad I was trying it in a tasting setting... B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout - Another Dana special, I'm really glad she brought this... mostly because it's just awesome beer (that I've reviewed before). Still an A
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout - And this one was my contribution for the night. I had this last year and loved it, but it had aged for a few months before I cracked it open. This year, I had one fresh and thought I absolutely had to share this. I don't particularly love coffee, and this thing is a huge coffee bomb. It's amazing how much the coffee fades in the beer after a few months (I know the coffee is different every year, so maybe that's a factor this year too, but it's still dominated by coffee, to the point where I can barely get the bourbon barrel out of this, though it is there). Since some members of beer club are big coffee fans, I thought I should share it while it's fresh. It did not disappoint.
  • Fort Collins 1900 Amber Lager - I will refrain from talking much about this because after the Bourbon County, this was basically like water. A simple palate cleanser. That being said, it does not seem like my kinda thing...
And that wraps up yet another successful beer club. Already looking forward to ringing in the new year with beer club...

Though this Texas brewery has only been open since 2004, it has roots dating back to 1847. William Rahr was one of many German immigrants who brought their love of beer to the new world. After he, uh, fell into a brew kettle and died, his sons carried on the tradition for a while, renaming the brewery William Rahr's Sons Co. I'm not really sure what happened to that brewery (to hazard a guess: prohibition), but Rahr's malt business has continuously operated since 1847 and supplies a large portion of the brewing industry. I don't think that has anything to do with the new Texas operation, but it's always neat to find old-school U.S. brewing institutions.

Anywho, this is a Winter Warmer style beer aged in bourbon barrels for 10 weeks. A short stay, to be sure, but then, Winter Warmers probably can't stand up to super-long durations like a gigantic stout or barleywine, so maybe that's for the best. Let's find out, shall we?

Rahr and Sons Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer

Rahr & Sons Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer - Pours a very dark brown color with off white head. Smells of chalky malts, not quite roasty, but dark malts, along with some spice, as befits the Winter Warmer style. Not really detecting much in the way of Bourbon Barrel action in the nose though. Taste is sweet with lots of common winter mulling spices, ginger, cinnamon, and the like. The bourbon comes out in the taste, a little boozy, with those roasted malts coming through in the finish. Not quite as harmonious as I'd like, but it's decent. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, spicy, a little chalky, medium bodied. Overall, a solid brew, not mindblowing and it could use a little more balance, but I'm glad I got to try some. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 5/24/13. Bottled Winter 2012.

I've got another big Rahr & Sons brew in the cellar right now, though I'm not sure when I'll break that sucker out... perhaps the next beer club!


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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Winter Warmer category.

Wheatwine is the previous category.

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