To Øl 1 Ton of… Christmas Review

To Øl 1 is a recent brewery with a lot of success and a huge following. The commercial brewing began in 2010. In 2014 ranked them as the 9th best brewery in the world. They currently export to 40 countries. On to the beer…

Ton of… Christmas pours a opaque hazy blush pink, with a huge head of blush tinged foam. It has a vivid tart taste. It’s brewed as a Berliner Weisse along with cherries, redcurrant, and prunes. The fruit provides a kaleidoscope of flavors resulting in a complex, interesting beer. The tart fruit taste is a refreshing change from the syrupy malt bombs that are passed off as Christmas beers these days.

Ton of… Christmas weights in at 8.1% ABV. Look for the cute Elves on the label.

To Øl brews a number of Christmas-themed beers. And even sells a beer Advent calendar. Take a look at them here. I’d love to try the rest of their Christmas beers, especially the barrel-aged versions.

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.

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.