It's been over a week since any of us last posted, but with the Holidays and end of year deadlines at work we've all been a little busy. This year for Christmas I got roped into a Holiday tradition that is becoming more and more popular each years. I speak of the Christmas Beer Swap. It's a great tradition, which I hope to participate in for years to come. For anyone who might not know how it works, a group of guys get together (girls can join in too...for sexual favors) and buy a different case of beer. Then they put all the beer together and make a bunch of variety packs. For Christmas time, typically everyone gets a Holiday or seasonal brew. What I love about this Holiday tradition is it gives you a chance to try a bunch of new and different beers that you might not try otherwise. This is a big deal in PA since most of the time you have to buy an entire case to try any of these beers, and at $35+ for a case....no TV and no beer makes Homer something something.
I did this with a group of seven other guys at work, which means everyone got three of each beer. We did the swap on Tuesday before Christmas and I have already had the chance to sample several of the beers. I figured this would be a great opportunity to share my thoughts as I drink them. So expect several followups as I get through the collection.
We've got 10 different beers actually. One of the guys went to a "make your own 6-pack shop" ad bought 3 separate beers. The list includes Magic Hat (Howl) Black-as-Night Winter Lager, Bell's Christmas Ale, Lancaster Brewing Strawberry Wheat, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Erie Brewing Ol' Red Cease and Desist, Clipper City Brewing Winter Storm Category 5 Ale, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Ale, Troegs Mad Elf, Southern Tier Brewing Old Man Winter Ale, and to top off the collection, Samichlaus.
The first one I tried was the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Now I tend to shy away fom Sierra Nevada normally. They have a hard-on for hops. Though this is a fact true to just about all American craft brewers, but Sierra Nevada's got a real stiffy. The Celebration Ale was actually my pick. I was the one who bought it. Figuring most of the other beers would be heavy I wanted to mix things up with something a little lighter. The beer I wanted to buy, Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale, was $70 a case. So I went with a suggestion from the guy at the beer store. He said it wasn't as hoppy as most there other stuff. Well he was right, it wasn't "as" hoppy. Unfortunately there was much any other flavor either. It was slightly beer flavored hops-water. This surprised me because a lot of sources ranked it amongst the top Christmas brews. Alas, the truth is it tasted watered down with the only real flavor being the bitterness of the hops. It also had a cherry red hue that seemed completely atificial, as if they added red food coloring to make it more festive. I found this beer to be highly overrated and dissapointing.
The next beer I tried was the Cetegory 5 Ale. This beer from the High Seas line fo Clipper City Brewing was pretty much what I expected. Fairly typical for a winter seasonal brew. It was dark, rich and heavy on the hops. THough it is an imperial ESB and it did have a few unique characteristics. To quote BeerAdvocate "The neck label mentioned yeast sediment but it looks remarkably clear." So I guess that makes it special. It was good and I would recommend it if someone was looking for a winter beer, but it's got nothing on the last beer in this review.
The latests one to try, the Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, I've actually been drinking as I write this. I like it. I really really like it. The beer has a nice amber brown hue and rich aroma. It has a spiciness to it that I don't think I've ever tasted before, a respectable kiss of hops, and a unique caramel finish. I think it is incredibly smooth and very well balanced for a winter seasonal brew. I am sad, for as I wrap this up, the beer is now gone. Luckily I still have 2 more bottles in the fridge. Definitely at the top of my list so far. Though I do still have yet to sample the Samichlaus.
Expect more from me as I continue through the Christmas beer swap collection, and have a Happy Holidays.
update: I'd love to get the input of anyone else whose had the chance to try these beers as I go through the list. It would be great ot get somebody else's take on these.