elephant journal goes Holiday Brews: A Seasonal Beer Hit-List

Via Rusty Ralston
on Dec 10, 2008
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Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale, Anderson Valley Brewing Company

Tis’ the season for tasty holiday ales, and 2008 is shaping up to be a very nice year for seasonal winter beers. As usual, I am here to give you the inside track on the best combinations of malt, hops, and holiday spices. If a winter warmer is your fancy, here are my most noteworthy beers of the season. I won’t give them all awards though, one particular brew deserved coal in their stocking. Come to think of it, it tasted like they put coal in their beer. Ehhgh!

Anyway… here you go, the most noteworthy beers of the season!

5. Anchor Steam, Christmas Ale 2008. Sorry, this is not the best of the season… but I had to include it because of the response it elicited from my taste buds. So, my beer friends, I have a question to pose for you: How can a brewery as good as Anchor Steam put out a beer that tastes like malted sh*te? Unreal! I really was stoked about drinking their Christmas Ale, and what a let down. I love Anchor Steam and I love the Liberty Ale, but the Christmas Ale tastes like someone dropped a bouquet of your grandmother’s stale herbs into the brew kettle. It tastes really muddy and weirdly spiced to me… no nuance just a lot of blah. Sorry Anchor Steam, I really wanted to love it.

Now, on to the winners!

4. New Belgium Brewing, Two Below. This beer is very solid. So, imagine the distinctive taste of Colorado’s mother beer, Fat Tire, but then dry-hopped to add some hoppy goodness and aroma. That describes the Two Below… very Fat Tire-ish with hops. it’s not revolutionary, but definitely a great selection. You can’t go wrong if you bring this to a party. And even more so, the brewery is supremely eco-friendly… so, you’re using your holiday dollars to vote for the environment.

3. Avery Brewing, Old Jubilation Ale. Avery is known for their gigantically flavored brews, and the Old Jubilation is a quality Holiday Ale worth your dollars. My friends and I recently partook in a keg of this warming goodness, and it did not disappoint. This beer is very malty, roasty, and has some toffee and Christmas spice in the mix. Yummmmmm. It’s also got a kick, so be careful.

2. Boulder Beer, Never Summer Ale. Boulder Beer makes some great beers and has years of experience as Colorado’s oldest microbrewery, and I think the best beer in their repertoire is their Never Summer Ale. It’s a beautiful red ale, high alcohol which keeps you toasty on snowy days, and has a wonderfully hoppy profile. It really is a winner, and if summer never comes around again, I will be content drinking this until their supply is exhausted.

Last, and certainly the best winter beer I tasted:

1. Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Winter Solstice Ale. I took one drink and I was in heaven. I drink a lot of good beer, and it’s rare that a beer truly hits me in the heart and jolts me into the upper echelons of beer ecstasy . It’s been a while, actually. But the Winter Solstice Ale is the perfect combination of seasonal qualities. The alcohol percentage sits at 6.9% so you can just have another instead of adding wood to the fire. It has a wonderful malty smoothness without being syrupy, and the very slight bitterness is counter balanced by waves of sweet caramel and toffee. It’s perfect, definitely my favorite of the season. I took a six pack to a party a couple nights ago, then bought another six today for my own holiday cheer! I can’t get enough. AND, to top it off… Anderson Valley Brewing Company is solar powered! So, not only can you consume the best beer of the season, but you can do it in eco-style!

So, there you go… be careful in your holiday beer explorations! Enjoy the holidays, and savor your family and friends with some delicious eco-friendly brew!


About Rusty Ralston

Rusty Ralston is a professional photographer specializing in music, fashion, lifestyle, and travel photography. He is available for shoots anywhere, preferably sunny islands.


32 Responses to “elephant journal goes Holiday Brews: A Seasonal Beer Hit-List”

  1. Hunter Kelly says:

    I look forward to test driving a few of these beers myself Rusty!!

  2. Tres Altman says:

    rusty, thanks for your festive summary of the holiday beer experience! i’m about ready to deck my halls with 99 bottles of beer on the walls. rock n roll, T

  3. Rick Gilbert says:

    Anderson Valley’s Hop Ottin IPA and Boont Amber Ale are available year-round, and are both outstanding as well. two of my favorites.

  4. Libby The Great says:

    Nice! I’m going to go get some! Can I find the Boulder Beer in WFM? I live in manhattan now…where is a good place to find it??? Any suggestions?

  5. Mandy says:

    Thanks for the tips, Rusty! I’ll have to check out the Anderson Valley. But don’t forget my favorites: Left Hand Brewery’s Snowbound and ODell’s Isolation Ale!

  6. Mercedes says:

    Very insightful. It will be interesting to see who wins the Ralstone award for best seasonal brew.

    Libby the Great- I saw a sign at the Liquor Mart in Boulder saying they delivered through UPS, but it’s not on their website. I would give them a call.

  7. Toby Schofield says:

    Nice review. I only wish I could go get some of that Winter Solstice Ale as I am writing this. The very detailed description of Rusty's own experiences in the partaking of the beer definitely makes you want to find the nearest store that sells it. Thanks for simplifying my beer selection process. I look forward any help in deciding what beer to drink in the warm summer of 2009.

  8. Linda says:

    Rusty….Interesting! I’ll share this with Lindsay’s husband (Nate) who enjoys good and different beers ( and still misses living in Colorado Springs, I think ) Happy Holidays!

  9. Mimi says:

    Thanks, Rusty. It takes a great man to put himself on the line to point the way to good beer!

  10. JB Ralston says:

    Man, the Anderson Winter Solstice sounds great by the description.Have had a couple of the others which are great. Look forward to toasting the holiday with Anderson!

  11. Doug says:

    Nice rundown on these seasonal brews. You sold me on the Winter Solstice Ale. I’m going to give it a try.

  12. Keith G says:

    Good review, the Avery Brewing Old Jubilation Ale sure made me jubilant! Now I have to try the Anderson Valley. Thanks Rusty.

  13. Ron says:

    Thanks for your honest and forthrite opinions on these beers.

  14. Paul Olexia says:

    Rusty, Thanks for checking these out for me. Saves me a lot of time and superficial beer drinking. Now to get on with the good stuff.

  15. Brent LeVan says:

    Rustys description of these beverages made me forget the eggnog and celebrate the season with some great tasting beer! Thank you!

  16. beerchick says:

    If you want to expand beyond New Belgium (I highly recommend doing so), Julelale from Deschutes may be one of the best beers I have ever had. 6.7% alcohol, strong hops, smooth caramel malt and some heft on the palate make this a good cold weather beer. But be careful not to have too many or you’ll be discovered thawing in a snow bank come April.
    I also like the Winter Ale from Alaska Brewing: 6.4% alcohol. Brewed with Sitka Spruce tips giving the beer an interesting “holiday” nose and taste.
    Unfortunately, I have to disagree regarding the Two Below. The flavor profile tastes like my Mom snuck in the kitchen and sprinkled fresh nutmeg and added caramel sauce to a Fat Tire. I think it’s a disappointment to make a beer SO similar to others in the beer fleet at New Belgium.
    My winner is the Jubelale. Happy Holiday drinking!

  17. Helanka says:

    I’m a bit miffed as to why the great State of Ohio’s Great Lake’s Brewing Company “Christmas Ale” has not made the list. It’s a beer Woody would
    be proud of, with a ho ho ho ring to it. Well cheers, anyway…..and
    let the good times roll.

  18. Patrick Goss says:

    Hey bro, does A-Valley BC ship these out of state? Thanks!

  19. Lindsey says:

    I’m a fan of ODell’s Isolation Ale too. And it’s pretty local, right out of Fort Collins.

  20. Dannyo says:

    Is it cold, in a bottle, Tastes like , smells like beer, I’ll have another and another. You’ve taken all the pressure off of me .. Love it, have been known to have one or twenty. With a smoke in between… bobonic!!!

  21. Nagel says:

    Being in sunny Encinitas during the Christmas season does tend to strip away a bit of the traditional Christmas “feel” especially for a guy who grew up in the midwest, so along with decorating the tree in the 80 degree heat I like to turn to a little holiday brew to take my yearning heart back to the feeling of a white Christmas. I definitely have enjoyed my share of 2 below, and I like it a lot, good pick! I’m sad to say that I’ve never had the others, but Old Jubilation sounds scrumptious and I will try my absolute hardest to not let this winter pass without some Winter Solstice Ale in my belly. Thanks for the recommendations, Rusty… I’m not sure I would’ve found these gems without ya. cheers… now go put one down for me!

  22. Seth Williams says:

    Your new name is now Brewsty! Unreal! Great stuff man! I can’t wait to get my hands on a couple Winter Solstices…one to drink and one to dump down my knickers!

  23. Dannyo says:

    As far as beer goes IC lite is the best tasting beer in my neck of the woods.. Right Paul..

  24. Doug says:

    After reading the reviews I may have to abandon the standard milk in cookies and raise the holiday cheer.

  25. Deanna L says:

    Rusty, thanks for all the hard work you put in to the summaries. Happy Holidays

  26. Papparatzi says:

    While I am looking forward to the Winter Solstice, the Wine Works in Ohio has not received any yet this year. So I will have to concur with a couple of other reviews and continue to consume the Christmas Ale from Great Lakes Brewing, Cleveland, OH.(bought my 3rd case this year today!)

  27. Erin Ruffin says:

    AMAZING article. I HAVE to try the Winter Solstice Ale. I MUST FIND IT. 🙂 thanks for this review…really great!

  28. jon says:

    great list. given that I brew my own as of late, it does not leave me alot of free calories to sample the great works of others.

    you’ve inspired me to pick up one or two of these I don’t know.
    great post, thanks

  29. d k mortimer says:

    favorite line “you can just have another instead of adding another log to the fire.” i know this dynamic. why is it usually with you. while your winter inventory check was insightful, i do have to agree with helanka on selling out to slugworth by not including O-hio’s capone:great lakes brewery is the my morning jacket of beers. you mean to tell me that you put the winter solstice and the christmas ale in the octagon and you’re putting yer hard earned greenbacks on the solstice? good god, man. bourdain would be dissapointed. griff would be dissapointed. obviously your own mother is let down. i don’t even know you anymore.

  30. d k mortimer says:

    you pennsylvania mule jockies don’t know a good beer if humped your own dog in a steelers sweater. in fact, IC lite tastes kinda like the territorial sprayings of our canine friends. maybe you got the humor in the family, but thanks be to god almighty that your nephew is writing the beer reviews!