Abita Brewing Christmas Ale 2019 Review

We’re heading to the deep South for Abita Brewing’s Christmas Ale, just outside New Orleans, to be specific. Abita is a privately owned brewery with wide distribution. They make excellent Root Beer. The recipe for their Christmas Ale changes each year.

The 2019 Christmas Ale is a Brown Ale that pours with a long-lasting foam head. It’s brewed with six types of malted barley, pale malt as well as a combination of Caramel, Biscuit, Munich, and chocolate malts. This malty base gives the beer good body and nice mouthfeel. The Columbus, Cascade, Centennial, and Amarillo hops produce a piney and floral flavor. Overall, it’s an refreshing, interesting Christmas beer. It’s 5.8% ABV.

The label features a present-toting Papa Noel flying through the night sky in a swap boat pulled by a team on alligators.

Breckenridge Brewery Christmas Ale Review

Next up, a widely distributed Christmas Ale from Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado. Distribution is wide because the brewery was bought by Anheuser-Busch in 2016. But let’s not hold that against them. 

I have to tell you that I’m predisposed to like Christmas Ale because I also bought a 5 litre mini keg. It’s a screaming deal at around $18.99. I plan to serve it at my annual Christmas party. 

Let’s dive into the Christmas Ale. This beer pours a chestnut color with a auburn head of foam. It’s bright and clear. On first taste, there’s a zingy spice on the tongue. Unlike many Christmas beer’s, it’s not a spiced ale, however, the brewery says Chinook and Mt. Hood hops contribute the spiciness. Next comes a bit of caramel and slight cocoa flavors. It finishes very clean and crisp, which adds to the spice impression. It’s 7.1% ABV.

This is a good Winter Warmer that will be enjoyed by a cross-section of people. People who enjoy lighter beers such as lagers and pilsners won’t be overwhelmed by this beer as they would with a spiced beer or something darker such as a stout. Craft beer lovers will be wanting a few more distinct flavor notes.

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.

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.

Hoppin’ Frog Frosted Frog and Barrel Aged Frosted Frog Review

Barrel or no barrel? For me this is a no-brainer. I love barrel-aged beers. Today, we’re tasting Hoppin’ Frog Brewing Co. of Akron, Ohio. The Frosted Frog Christmas Ale and Barrel Aged Frosted Frog Christmas Ale.

First up, the regular Frosted Frog Christmas Ale. It pours fox-tail brown with a thin head of foam. There’s gingerbread on the nose. Spices dominate this beer. It’s ginger snap cookies in a bottle, with sharp cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg spices on a sweet, malty base.

Now for the barrel aged version. This one pours a bit darker and murkier with no foam. The sharp ginger aroma from the regular version is dialed back with a hint of vanilla from the barrels. Barrel aging adds a lot of depth to the overall flavor profile. It’s become gingerbread cake with more malty roundness. Both beers are 8.6% ABV and 12 IBU.

You’ve got to like this style of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg spice-dominated beer to drink local Christmas beer in Ohio. I’ve termed this flavor profile “Ohio style” because many of the breweries in the region shoot for it, and breweries in other regions don’t.

Spencer Trappist Holiday Ale Review

I’ve been wanting to taste the first American Trappist Brewery’s Christmas beer. The Elves contacted my friends at Belgian-Style Ales who fixed me up with a few bottles of Spencer Trappist Holiday Ale. It was worth the wait.

Holiday Ale pours mahogany red with a health white head of foam. The aroma is ginger, cinnamon, coriander, all spice, cloves, Belgian yeast, and raisins. The aroma immediately reminded me of the Ohio Christmas beer style, which predominantly ginger, cinnamon, and honey, except Holiday Ale has more spices.

Diving into the glass, the beer hits with spices first: ginger, white pepper, and cloves, then move to a sweet, burnt sugar, medium body. As it warmed, I tasted fruit, raisins and bitterness from the hops. At 9% ABV the alcohol is well integrated.

Spencer is a Trappist monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, USA. Trappist communities observe the Rule of St. Benedict, a 6th century guide for monastic life, that stresses the importance of ora et labora or “pray and work.” Monks are encouraged to be self-supportive and offer charitable assistance to others by producing and selling goods to the public. The monks at Spencer decided to become the first American Trappist brewery.

Read more about Trappist beer in the excellent book, Trappist Beer Travels: Inside The Breweries of the Monasteries