Ohio beer lovers (especially Clevelanders) always get giddy when November rolls around because that means it's Christmas Ale season. It's kinda ridiculous how much hype this beer gets in the Buckeye State, and this year was no exception. However, to throw a wrinkle in this annual tradition, Great Lakes Brewing Company sent a larger than normal percentage of their seasonal Christmas Ale out of state, leaving a smaller supply here in Ohio.
As I mentioned when I first started this series, I had to check several places before I finally found a shop that had any in stock, and even then sales were limited to 1 per customer. When my review copy was inadvertently consumed by a certain very occasional poster to this blog, I temporarily freaked out, knowing that more Christmas Ale would be hard to come by. My ladyfriend and I were at our local Giant Eagle grocery store when we saw a patron exiting the premises with a sixer of Christmas Ale. We immediately made haste for the beer aisle, only to find out that he had bought the last one. We momentarily considered heading back outside and jumping the poor bastard for his beer. Figured we should probably take his shoes too while we're at it, since there's precedent.
We headed back to the Pace-High carryout, the site of my initial score. Unfortunately, there was no Christmas Ale in the cooler. Dejected but not defeated, I asked the guys there if they were going to get any more in. One of them answered "I can probably spare you a six pack," and headed for the stock room. Our eyes lit up. Upon his return he told us "We're just trying to keep it fair. People are actually selling this stuff on Craigslist."
Whoa. Further research would prove this claim to be true.
So I guess the over-arching goal of the 12 Beers of Christmas is to see if Great Lakes Christmas Ale is really the king of the holiday beers, or if it's just Cleveland pride run amok. After 11 beers of varying strengths and weaknesses, it was finally time to put Great Lakes to the test.
The pour is a coppery amber and crystal clear. The off-white head is thick and persistent. Not only did it have the longest duration of any of the beers I sampled, but it also laced to the glass quite nicely.
The beer gives off a strong aroma of honey and ginger, the latter I'd expect from a winter warmer, but not the former. It's not playing coy: this beer wants you to smell it, and you don't have to try very hard to pinpoint the rich ingredients.
My first sip delivers on the honey and spices, but with a more robust malt character. I get a very nice base of sweet toffee beneath the strong ginger and honey flavors. This is medium bodied with average carbonation. The finish is a really nice caramel sweetness around the malt.
This is an astounding tasting beer that will leave you craving more. You'll have to be careful drinking more than one of these, as the high gravity 7.5% ABV can get you shit-cranked in a hurry. That's what a winter warmer should do, but it does bear precaution.
Overall, I have to say that Great Lakes Christmas Ale is worthy of the hyperbolic accolades bestowed upon it by proud Clevelanders. Several of the beers in this feature have rated very highly (Columbus Winter Warmer, Shiner Holiday Cheer, and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale in particular), but the Great Lakes edges all of them out. This is one beer truly worth searching for.
Beer Advocate readers: B+
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