Thursday, December 16, 2010

12 Beers of Christmas: Bell's and Breckenridge Christmas Ales

Sorry I missed you guys yesterday. As it turns out, committing to do something every day requires, um, commitment. I'm making up for it today with a double dose of holiday hops.

Ah, Bell's. Creator of the famous Two-Hearted Ale, the highly demanded Hopslam seasonal, and the Oberon wheat ale (one of my summer favorites.) The brewer's reputation is beyond reproach, so was I ever surprised when I tasted this bland, boring, run-of-the-mill "Christmas Ale." In quotes, you see, because this is not really a Christmas ale or winter warmer at all: it's essentially an amber ale, which is strange since Bell's already has an Amber Ale.

According to the brewer's statement, Bell's set out to create a beer that "would stand apart from the array of spiced winter warmers that are typically introduced this time of year." No spices, no outlandish flavors, just Michigan-grown barley and hops. Am I the only person who thinks that it's a cop-out to call this a Christmas ale? If I had known what Bell's was shooting for, I would've left this one on the shelf.

As you can see in the photo, this beer is a rich amber color and a little cloudy. The head is off-white and medium thick. You can see the effervescent build-up on the side of the glass. The appearance of this beer would turn out to be the high point.

Holding the glass up to my nose, I get... nothing. OK, maybe not nothing, but not what I would expect from a Bell's product. Very slight hop aroma and a little bit of copper. Metallic. Mmm, totally makes my mouth water.

Now that I'm all warmed up to this, let's take a sip. Part of the mission here was to make this drinkable (a "session" beer), and at least that part was accomplished. At 5.5% ABV, I could probably take down quite a few of these. It drinks easily: subtle flavors of hops, citrus peel, and a hint of granny smith apple make it palatable, but the intense carbonation distracts, even detracts, from the taste.

Not much of an aftertaste - hops and a touch of leather - nothing that would cut into this beer's precious drinkability. It's too bad that all I'll remember about Bell's Christmas Ale is how many of them I'll drink in a row. Or not.

Beer Advocate readers: B
Justin: C

Two years ago I spent a week in Denver for the Democratic Convention. I don't remember many details from that week, primarily because a great percentage of Colorado breweries are phenomenal. New Belgium, Left Hand, Great Divide, Boulder Beer Company, Avery: these are no lightweights. Beer is a big, big deal in this state. As if to prove it, the governor-elect John Hickenlooper is the founder of Wynkoop Brewing Company, Colorado's first brewpub.

Breckenridge may not have the national profile or the celebrity factor, but they make some fine brews. I remember downing some of their Avalanche Ale during my time in Denver, a nice cold amber ale that washed away those hot August days. Yes, I was drinking in the daytime.

The Christmas Ale is Breckenridge's only winter seasonal, available in November and December. The brewers call it an "American strong ale" and it is strong at 7.4% ABV. Despite their self-classification, this is a pretty traditional winter warmer and not a bad one at that.

The pour reveals a beautiful, deep mahogany color. This beer is as clear as the mountain stream water used to brew it. What, they just use Denver tap water? Um, ok. The head was a complementary beige and somewhat thin. Just a gorgeous looking beer.

The malty nose was fainter than I expected, with hints of blackberries and mild spice. The taste followed the aroma, but with more robust caramel malts and spiciness, maybe even a little bit of red licorice. Its relatively thin mouthfeel and light carbonation make this an easy one to drink. Just remember this one's packing a punch, cowboy.

It leaves a very slight sugary aftertaste, and I really wish that this aftertaste is what I had gotten from the Anchor Christmas Ale I reviewed on Day 1. If that beer had this aftertaste, it would've been an "A-," maybe even an "A." Of course, if the Breckenridge had anywhere near the flavor profile of the Anchor, it would rate higher. And those guys at Breckenridge would be rich and up to their butts in medals.

Overall, this is a pretty good entry, but lacks a real standout flavor to carry it up to the next level.

Beer Advocate readers: B-
Justin: B


Jon said...

agreed on both counts. bell's christmas leaves a lot to be desired. their winter white is the superior winter seasonal.

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