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Hop Notes: Holiday beer traditions, new and old

When it comes to the holidays, I’m a pretty traditional guy; I love listening to Bing Crosby sing White Christmas, Burl Ives sing Jingle Bells and Johnny Mathis sing Christmas Is…

Stockings always hang from the door leading into the den and other decorations are in the same place each year. When it comes to my Christmas beers, there are some that I always go back to, and this year there are a couple of new traditions.

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Two of the oldest and most traditional holiday ales are missing from my list this year; Sierra Nevada Celebration which has been brewed since 1981, and Anchor Steam Christmas Ale, which has been brewed for the past 41 years. These are both great beers worthy of any holiday tradition, however, I decided to skip them in order to enjoy some different holiday beers this year.

First on my tradition list is Great Lakes Christmas Ale (winter warmer, 7.5 percent ABV). This is a pretty traditional version of this style with rich bready malts, and good holiday spice. Building gingerbread houses has become an annual tradition at our house, and enjoying a Great Lakes Christmas Ale during this activity has joined this tradition. Much of this is gone from Michiana shelves, but I suspect there are a few six-packs still lurking around.

Great Lakes Winter Fitz

(Holiday porter, 8.5 percent ABV)

A buddy of mine gifted me a 22 oz. of their limited holiday release: Originally inspired by a special firkin served at their brewpub, the brewery took their award winning Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and blended it with the same spices used in their Christmas Ale. I believe this was a pub only release, so you won’t find this on local shelves.

Bell’s Christmas Ale

(Scotch style ale, 5.4 percent ABV)

It wouldn’t be the holidays for me without this one. Whether you are baking cookies with the family or heading to a holiday gathering, there are still plenty of six-packs of this around Michiana.

Three Floyds Alpha Klaus
(Christmas porter, 6 percent ABV)

When I head north, I can always count on Alpha Klaus being a much appreciated gift. With such limited distribution, this can be a great gift if you are traveling out of the area for the holidays. I took several bottles to my buddies up at Bell’s on Eccentric Day. It has lots of roasted malts, chocolate, coffee and holiday goodness. Fresh, it is a bit more hoppy than some holiday beers, but you have both choices at some Chalet Party Shoppe locations since they have bottles from last year as well.  You can check the date on the neck of the bottle, and you can purchase fresh bottles if you prefer hoppy or last year’s edition in which the hops have faded by now.

Iechyd Da Brewing Co. G.L. Perry’s Basement

(Winter warmer, 9.2 percent ABV)

New on my traditions list this year, and the one that I am most looking forward to is, Iechyd Da Brewing Co.’s G.L. Perry’s Basement.This was the debut of their Legacy Series bottle project.  A couple of times a year, they will bottle and sell a special release and on the Saturday after Thanksgiving this year they sold 250 bottles that didn’t last long. I am saving my bottle for Christmas Eve, but you can still enjoy this on tap at the brewery.  I may even save the last little sip for Santa himself.

Another Iechyd Da treat that has become a tradition (now only in it’s second year) is beer truffles.  The brewery has again teamed up with The Nut Shoppe in Goshen  to combine some of my favorite Iechyd Da beers such as Breakfast Cookies into chocolate truffles.  You can also purchase these at the Nut Shoppe, and even though they were sold out last week, Justin promised me that they would have more available this week.

Brasserie Fantôme: Fantôme De Noel

(10 percent ABV)

Brasserie Fantôme, located in Belgium, is known for its unique variations on the Saison style of farmhouse ale, and since it’s founding in 1988, it has achieved a cult like following among beer lovers of this style.  Because of being a somewhat smaller brewery and also an imported product, it can be difficult to find.  However, I was lucky enough to find a few bottles of Fantôme De Noel (10% ABV) a year or so ago at Chalet Party Shoppe and I put one in my cellar.  Last night while wrapping some presents, I decided to open  my bottle and I found it to be one of the most enjoyable Saisons that I’ve experienced. The initial flavor is spice, followed by the traditional farm house earthy yeastiness.  There is a nice balance between fruity tartness and chocolaty sweetness.  I hope that there are a few more bottles of this out there somewhere that I can track down.

I’ll be taking a few more Christmas beers to a gathering this evening, and there are plenty more choices to be found around Michiana.  Check out the tap lists at your favorite restaurant or pub, and the shelves at your local bottle shop.


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