12 Beers of Christmas 2015

The 12 beers of 2015 have been selected. I do have others in the fridge for non-editorial consumption. How can you have Christmas without Sound Brewery’s Entendez Nöel, or Iron Horse Brewery’s Mocha Death? There will be a bit of travel for Christmas/winter ales on tap as well. Winter beer festivals in Portland and Seattle will be included. Winter is a great time of year to be a craft beer lover.

The tasting, reviewing and reveling starts December 1 and a new bottle top gets popped every other day. For you math majors, that means the last one gets opened on December 23.  I went a little overboard on Ridgeway Brewing, in South Oxfordshire, run by Peter Scholey former head brewer at Brakspear. They have great names for their beers. Some say they taste pretty good. We’ll see.

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We don’t do the Ten Best, or Must Drink Before You Die lists here. In fact we don’t really rate beers very often. We adopt the philosophy that you are entitled to your opinion and your tastes – as am I. Some people like cauliflower. I think those people should be put in padded cells.

But we do try a lot of good beer and tell you what we think. We go to a lot of great breweries and pubs and tell you what the experience is like. Come back. Often. See what got popped and what we thought about it.

12/1 – On the FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Cozy Sweater – Iron Horse Brewing – Ellensburg, WA, USA
Milk / Sweet Stout – 4.50% ABV  :  Rate Beer = 78 – Beer Advocate = 81

“Here we’ve taken a dark and chocolatey beer foundation and added a few twists. The addition of lactose has the benefit of adding a smooth and round mouthfeel, plus a touch of sweetness. On top of what could already be considered a revelation in a bottle, we decided to throw in a hint of vanilla, because who doesn’t appreciate overdoing it? This beer rolls off the line just waiting to complete your winter day like nothing other than a sweater from your Aunt Milly could.”

HTBN Comment: If there is one beer I look forward to every winter it is the release of Cozy Sweater. Great complement to the Irish Death/Mocha Death genre. This year’s offering was worth the wait. I’d say the reviewers were a little presumptuous, and I’d give it a much higher rating – so I will.

Also, HTBN went to the Holiday Ale Festival in Portland, OR – Click here for the brews I tasted there.

12/3 – On the SECOND DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Lump of Coal – Ridgeway Brewing – South Oxfordshire, UK

Stout – 8% ABV – Rate Beer = 61 – Beer Advocate = 79

“This 8% bittersweet chocolate stout is the best you could hope for in these dark times. Actually, come to think of it, considering how bad you’ve been, this little coal-black gem is more than you deserve for Christmas this year.”

HTBN Comment: The reviewers did not like this. I thought it was a decent stout. I was disappointed that it was JUST a stout. Granted at 8% ABV it is a bit higher in alcohol that your everyday stout. I was hoping for something a little more festive. Wonder what the third day of Christmas will bring.

12/5  – On the THIRD DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Washington Brewers’ Guild Winter Fest – Seattle, WA

57 brewers with 2-4 different brews – something for every palate

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HTBN Comments: Good festival. Dark inside. Was good lighting but somebody decided mood lighting was better. NOT. Got bad pictures and cannot help publicize this event. Nod goes to Portland’s Holiday Ale Festival for best NW winter beer festival.

Nice shot glass though.

Favorites included two from Port Townsend Brewery. Now that is a “must see” brewery. Base camp for the Strange Brewfest coming up Jan 29-30.

12/7  – On the FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Winter Ale – Bellevue Brewing Company – Bellevue, WA

Red Ale – Imperial/Double – 8.2% ABV  :  Rate Beer = NA – Beer Advocate = NA

“Balanced hop complexity, wispy tropical notes in harmony with full-flavored malt and a delicate caramel finish.”

HTBN Comment: This is a solid winter ale, nice warm kick with a very drinkable balance, even though it does rate out at 72 IBU.

12/9  – On the FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Winter Wheat – Anchor Steam Brewing – San Francisco, CA

Dunkelweizen – 7% ABV  :  Rate Beer = 93 – Beer Advocate = 86

“We’ve been making wheat beers since the summer of 1984. They’ve all been golden summer refreshers instead of dark winter warmers – until now. Anchor Winter Wheat is made with a unique blend of malted barley and five wheats from Belgium, Germany, the Midwest, and a family farm just 75 miles away, where we get our soft red winter wheat. Sown in November and harvested in June, it is used in artisanal flatbreads, cakes and pastries. In 1848, California farmers forsook their amber grain for golden fortune. By 1878, California wheat was back big-time, winning gold at the Paris International Exposition. There was even a wheat beer brewery in North Beach, one mile from our first home. Today, the robust flavor, malty complexity, enticing aroma, ebony color, and thick creamy head of Anchor Winter Wheat reflect this delicious heritage. Cheers!”

HTBN Comment: The RB and BA reviewers must not have had many West Coast winter beers is all I can say. It’s a good beer. Much better after it warmed up. But not what I have come to expect this time of year in a Dunkelweizen.

12/11  – On the SIXTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Wonderland Winter Lager – Silver City Brewing – Silverdale, WA

Weizenbock –  7.00% ABV : Rate Beer = Not Listed – Beer Advocate = NA

“Frightful weather is no match for Wonderland. A blend of five different malts lend a deep rich color and mild roast character refined by five weeks of lagering at near freezing temperature.”

HTBN Comment: Delightfully full-bodied and flavorful. A true winter warmer. Loved it.

12/13  – On the SEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Festivus – Black Raven Brewing – Redmond, WA

Herbed/Spiced Beer –  7.9% ABV : Rate Beer = NA – Beer Advocate = NA

“Festivus is an easy to drink, brilliant copper holiday ale with layers of cranberries, orange and spice that should wrap you in the warmth of a snowed in winter hearth”

HTBN Comment: Hoppy, mildly fruity, a bit on the sour side. It’s a fruit cake without the toasty bready taste. Umm, the reviews were a bit all over the place. None spoke too highly of this brew. Some said it was cloudy (mine was clear). Some said it had no head. Others said it had a nice head. Mine was fine. One guy said it was good but not worth a $14 pour. My 22 oz bomber cost $5.99.

If you are looking for a different take on the malty, spirit aged heavies out there, this is a nice IPA-ish winter beer that you might just like.

12/15  – On the EIGHTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Eight Maids-A-Milkin’ –  The Breury – Placentia, California

Imperial Stout -11.3% ABV : Rate Beer = 94 – Beer Advocate = 86

“8 Maids-a-Milking is the 8th beer in our “12 Days of Christmas” series, and we’d be udderly crazy to release anything but a milk stout. So we made an imperial milk stout to stand up to whatever Old Man Winter throws our way from now through 2019 with the final release of our series. 8 Maids-a-Milking is brewed with lactose, which is commonly referred to as milk sugar. It’s the only type of sugar that is unfermentable by yeast, which adds more perceptible creaminess and sweetness to the finished beer. This mouthfeel and sweetness is complemented by robust layers of milk chocolate, subtle spice accents from our house Belgian yeast and roasty, cafe elements indicative of our take on the style. Celebrate the seasons with the best of both worlds: enjoy some now, and lay a few down for up to 4 years to be enjoyed upon the release of 12 Drummers Drumming.”

HTBN Comment : This one is a definite “let it warm” brew best enjoyed in a brandy snifter. Served cold, the alcohol opaques the subtle mixes of flavors and you are left with a kind of sour, bitter unsweetened chocolate kind of roasted malt taste. At room temperature, the flavors pop and the alcohol is diminished and makes for a nice sipping brew by the fireplace with friends.

12/17  – On the NINTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Hoppy Holidays – Schooner EXACT – Seattle, WA

Winter Warmer – 7.5% ABV : Rate Beer = 87 – Beer Advocate = 85

“A rich, malty beer with an assertive but balance hop character. This beer greets you with hints of chocolate and dark fruits on the nose. Flavors of rich dark malts with chocolate undertones play over your tongue and finish with a prevalent, earthy hop finish.”

HTBN Comment: Delicious beer for any season but a definite BUY THIS from HTBN for the holidays.  Favorite holiday beer so far.  Lives up to the description and then some. I liked it so much from the bomber, I went down to the brewery and had it fresh from the tap. So good.

While I was out that way, I stopped in at the new Seapine Brewery on Utah St (about a quarter mile north of Schooner EXACT) and had the Monk’s Meal. That is a very nice beer too.

12/19  – On the TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Santa’s Butt – Ridgeway Brewing – South Oxfordshire, UK

Winter Porter – 6% ABV : Rate Beer = 32 – Beer Advocate = 78

“This special holiday porter is made for winter – rich and warming, the way they like it at the North Pole. It was inspired by this famous line from a well-loved children’s storybook:

“And Santa sat on his great butt, enjoying a hardy brew…”

In case you find that amusing, the brewer hastens to point out that in England, “butt” refers to a certain sized barrel, in fact, holding 108 Imperial gallons. Back in the day it was quite a normal thing for a brewery to put its beer up in a large butt for storage. Still snickering, eh? Get your mind out of the gutter, or Santa will be skipping your house entirely this year.”

HTBN Comment: Well, clever names and label art only get you so far. Universally panned by reviewers. Us too. Fortunately I had a Winter Ale from Kulshan in the fridge to make this a better beer day.

12/21  – On the ELEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Double Elf Day at HTBN, one very bad, one seriously bad.

Very Bad Elf – Ridgeway Brewing – South Oxfordshire, UK

Winter Ale – 7.5% ABV : Rate Beer = 36 – Beer Advocate = 80

“Is it just my imagination,” queried old Santa, surveying the scene, “or is my Elf only getting worse and worse every year? What’s next? Seriously Bad Elf, I’ll wager. Mark my words.”  This Very Bad Elf is one fine ale – rich, hardy, and flavorful, brewed to an original 1795 Thames Valley recipe, with a very special pale amber malt that is rarely used nowadays, and balanced by a modest addition of English Fuggle aroma hops. ’Ere’s to your elf!”

HTBN Comment: This is a good beer. Not particularly festive, mind you, but a solid British ale. Ignore the review scores. Buy it if you see it. It’s pretty good.

Seriously Bad Elf – Ridgeway Brewing – South Oxfordshire, UK

Winter Warmer – 9.0% ABV : Rate Beer = 39 – Beer Advocate = 78

HTBN Comment: This is basically the Very Bad Elf on an alcohol drip. A bit sweeter I thought. I let it warm to room temperature. It was a 9% kick in the pants, especially after the Very Bad Elf. I recommend trying this one too. The reviewers are full of tosh. My lips are numb and I am smiling. Glad I got it.

12/23  – On the TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, my true love gave to me

Christmas Ale from Anchor Steam ends this year’s selection

12/25  – Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us at HTBN – peace, hope, love, and beer

Is that an Entendez Nöel whispering at me from the back of the beer fridge for a Christmas Day treat? Well, yes, I think it is. Hope I can wait. And a Mocha Death for an evening snack. What else is left in there?

Bob Shoemaker

Grew up in Renton, WA. Writer. Photographer. Homebrewer. Woodworker. Beer lover. UW grad. - 14 years in Marketing and Advertising communications - 16 years in technical product support, quality, loyalty, support analyst - 12 years as communications business owner