2019 Costco Advent Beer Calendar

Beer Advent calendars are all the rage. Last year, information on Beer Advent calendars were our most accessed articles. Celebrate the season with beer a day for December 1st through 24th.

Costco in the United States carries the most widely available beer Advent calendars, but it’s not available at every store.

Costco’s 2019 Brewer’s Advent Calendar is a boxed set of 24 German different beers in 16.9 oz cans. They are loaded into a box with a Christmas scene on one side and numbers 1-24 on the other side.

It’s all local, but pretty standard, German beer. A few Dunkel style are as close as it gets to Christmas or Winter beer.

You can make your own beer Advent calendar. (A more detailed article is here.) Get a box or crate that holds 24 bottles or cans. Download my list of 15 Favorite Christmas Beers, track them down, and load them in. Put a sheet of wrapping paper over the top and label the space over each bottle with the numbers 1 to 24. Store in the garage to keep them cool and ready to go.

pFriem Belgian-Style Christmas Ale Review

Belgian Christmas beer has a particular style. It’s rich, malty, and sweet. Many brewers in the United States make a Christmas beer, but not using the Belgian style. Particularly Northwest breweries tend toward hoppy beers brewed with a few herbs and spices. Good, but nothing like a Belgian. pFriem’s Belgian-Style Christmas Ale is different. It could be from Belgium.

pFriem brewed this beer as a Dubble, malty and rich. There’s coriander and Belgian dark candi sugar in the brew. The results are a full bodied, rich malty beer with toffee and smooth milk chocolate in the background. It’s 8% ABV and entirely delightful.

2018 Belgian Christmas Beer Festival Winners

Every December in Essen, Belgium a local beer club holds an international Christmas Beer Festival.

With 187 beers available for tasting over 2 days, participants were asked to vote for their favorite. Organizer, Gunter Mertens, reports the top 10 beers of the festival. Here’s the list.

2018 Christmas Beer Festival Top 10: 

1. Schuppenboer Winter 2018 (Het Nest, Oud-Turnhout)
2. Stille Nacht (De Dolle Brouwers, Esen )
3. Black Pudding (Vleesmeester Brewery, Boechout, gebrouwen bij Anders, Halen)
4. Murder 2018 Islay Oak Aged (Crow Mountain, gebrouwen bij Pirlot, Zandhoven)
5. Chimay Grande Réserve (Abdij ND de Scourmont, Chimay)
6. Winterkoninkske haspeng. Gr. Cru vintage (Kerkom, Kerkom gebrouwen bij Proefbrouwerij, Lochristi)
7. Sint Bernardus Christmas Ale (St. Bernardus, Watou)
8. Chimay Grande Reserve vieillie en barriques 2016 (Abdij ND de Scourmont, Chimay)
9. Oerbier Special Réserva (De Dolle Brouwers, Esen )
10. Jule Mælk (To Øl, Kopenhagen DK, gebrouwen bij Proefbrouwerij, Lochristi)

Unfortunately, only a couple of these beers are available outside of Belgium. I, for one, am preparing to join the 2019 pilgrimage to Essen December 14 & 15.

In Celebration of Fresh Hop Beer

It’s been a few years since I reviewed Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Fresh Hop IPA. Since then my taste for fresh hop beers has developed, and so has my interest. Just what is a fresh hop beer?

The term “fresh hop” needs to be explored. According to the Brewers Association, fresh hop ales are “brewed with freshly harvested hops. Such hops might be undried fresh or frozen cones or ground material, or, freshly kilned dried cones or pellets.”

To me, this definition stretches the meaning of fresh too far.

Here’s the normal process for harvesting hops. When the hops reach a certain moisture point, the bine is cut at the bottom and quickly moved to a processing facility where the hop cones are removed. From there, the hop cones are usually laid out and rapidly kiln dried to lock in the hop’s unique flavors. After drying, the hops are further processed into rabbit food-sized pellets that can be used for up to 3 years.

Fresh hop beer, according to the Brewers Association, basically comes in two categories: wet and dry. Wet hop beer is made from freshly harvested hop intercepted after separation from the bine. The hops are unkilned, and therefore wet. These hops are added to the brew within 24 hours of harvest. Since 75% of US hops are grown in Washington State and the other 25% are split between Idaho and Oregon, brewing with fresh, wet hops is difficult and costly outside the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps the Brewers Association wanted to throw a bone to the many breweries outside of driving distance to wet fresh hops when they included kiln dried cones and even pellets in the definition of fresh hop beer. Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Fresh Hop IPA uses kiln dried whole cone hops within seven days of harvest. The thinking is, like herbs, a freshly dried hop will be more flavorful than a 9-month-old dried hop. True, but…

To me fresh hop means beer made from wet hops within 24 hours of harvest.

There really is a difference in the flavor. Sierra Nevada’s Celebration is a excellent IPA with piney, citrusy hop flavor. It’s clean and complex with a firm malt backbone. A wet, fresh hop beer is another animal altogether. Taste Seattle’s Stoup Brewing or Fremont Brewing’s fresh hop beers and you get a mellow, herbal grassy character that is quite distinct. Sierra Nevada makes a wet hop beer is calls Northern Hemisphere Harvest with these characteristics.

Each year in Seattle from the end of September to the middle of October, I look forward to drinking fresh (wet) hop beer. These beers are only available in for short time and in limited quantity. It’s worth the pilgrimage to seek out real fresh hop beer.

Question: What’s your favorite fresh hop beer? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Best Belgian Christmas Beers 2017

The Kerstbierfestival held in Essen, Belgium in December drew a sold out crowd of Christmas beer fans from 34 nationalities and visitors from 14 different US States, 3 Canadian, and 2 Chinese Provinces.

Participants are surveyed to determine the top 10 Christmas Beers of the festival. For the 9th time, Stille Nacht by De Dolle Brouwers won top ranking. Fans of this blog will know that Stille Nacht is Santa’s favorite as well.

The 2017 Kerstbierfestival Top 10 Christmas Beers

1. Stille Nacht –  De Dolle Brouwers
2. Schuppenboer Grand Cru Whisky Barrel Aged – Het Nest
3. Gouden Carolus Christmas – Het Anker
4. Sint Bernardus Christmas Ale –  St. Bernardus
5. L’Ensemble BA Montalcino –  Dochter v/d Korenaar
6. Murder –  Crow Mountain (Anders)
7. Jule Maelk Rhum Ed. –  To Øl (Proefbrouwerij)
8. Winterkoninkske Haspeng. Gr. Cru Am. Oak Fin. –  Kerkom (Proefbrouwerij)
9. Jule Maelk Cognac Ed. –  To Øl (Proefbrouwerij)
10. Chimay Grande Réserve Vieillie 2016 (Cogn.) – Brouwerij Abb. N.D. de Scourmont

The good news for global Christmas beer fans is two of the top beers, Gouden Carolus Christmas and St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, are widely available.

Fremont 2014 Coffee Cinnamon Bourbon Barrel Aged Abominable Review

Fremont Brewing Co. of Seattle makes my favorite bourbon barrel-aged beer. It’s now called B-Bomb, but previously named Bourbon Abominable. This 2014 Barrel Aged Abominable is the Coffee Cinnamon version.

It pours a rich, dark brown with a dark tan thin head of foam. The aroma is coffee, bourbon, spice, and coconut. The flavor is intense. Complexity with cinnamon, bourbon, vanilla, leather, dark roasted coffee, all formed together in a way that does a dance in your mouth. The finish is warm and long with good carbonation and smooth mouthfeel. There’s no booziness from the 11% ABV.

Coffee Cinnamon Bourbon Barrel Aged Abominable was aged in 12 & 15-year-old American Oak bourbon barrels and is a blend of 12, and 24-month old barrel strength Abominable Ale. For barrel-aged beer fans, this is one to search for. Here’s a link to the current version.

Pyramid Bourbon Barrel-Aged Snow Cap Review

Snow Cap is Pyramid Breweries’ English-Style Winter Warmer. For the brewery’s 30th anniversary last year, they released a barrel-aged version. This year they’ve done it again with Bourbon Barrel-Aged Snow Cap in a 22oz bottle.

BBA Snow Cap pours dark mahogany with a stiff tan head of foam. The aroma originates with the 10 months of barrel-aging: bourbon, vanilla, and sweet malts. The East Kent Golding hops give it an English Barleywine flavor. Distinct wood and vanilla, with a touch of chocolate from the barrels. A creamy mouthfeel with good carbonation hides the 10 ABV booziness.

Based in Seattle, Pyramid Breweries began as Hart Brewing in 1984 with the flagship brand of Pyramid Ales. In 1996, the company was reborn as Pyramid Breweries and currently offers craft beers produced under the Pyramid family of ales and lagers.