A little while ago I did a post on how much I enjoy “The Thrill of the Hunt”. Even though I shouldn’t have had to hunt this one down, I did end up having to do just that. I saw this one at my local store the week that it came out. Unfortunately, I had a really full basket and talked myself out of picking it up. Later I saw that this beer was the highest rated Christmas Ale one some people’s list. The next week I got back to the store and found they had sold out of it. I checked a few different stores to see if I could find another bottle of it, but ultimately I felt like I had missed out. While at my parents’ house for Christmas, I decided to check out a highly rated store in their area. Thankfully, sitting way in the back was the last bottle they had. I quickly bought it up, as well as, the bottle of North Coast I reviewed a few weeks ago. Even though Christmas has come and gone, I felt the need to pop this one open last Friday after a long week of work.
St. Bernardus is definitely one of the highest rated Belgian beer companies out there. They are known for a number of different beers; however, this Christmas ale is one of the best for the season. Last week ended up being a week for Belgian beers for me. Although this one isn’t called a Grand Cru, it is also considered a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Having really enjoyed The Beast a few days before, I was really excited to give this beer a try. Of course, The Beast had a much higher ABV. This bottle still comes in at a 10% ABV. With a little less alcohol, I was interested to see how it compared to The Beast.
This one poured a really dark brown color with some hints of red and orange in it. If you can’t tell from the first picture, I definitely made sure to take another picture of just how much head developed on top of this beer. It’s like having a big white cloud floating over your beer. For more of that winter aspect, it looks like you left the beer out in the snow. Either way, you have to let this one sit for a little to let the head subside. If the head is any indication, it’s no surprise that there is ample lacing on the side of the glass as well. You really don’t see any visible carbonation in the glass because of the very hazy nature of its clarity.
The smell here was a mixture of some rich clove and dark fruits. The plums, figs, and deep cherry scents manage to give the beer a very sweet smell, while the clove gives it a little spiciness. I always find it interesting when the yeast is really present on the nose as well. This is a little more of a sign of a Belgian beer, but you can’t always get it out of the nose of most beers. Additionally, I pull out some peppery qualities, as well as, some hints of cinnamon. Overall I would say you get a lot of malts with very few hops. This really isn’t a very heavy smelling beer like The Beast, instead it seems to have a much more clean and crisp scent.
The first sip really does bombard your mouth with a mixture of flavor, yeast, and carbonation. There is a lot going on here. You have a really sweet malt intro that combines with some light citrus notes and rich dark fruits. The spicy yeast quality quickly works its way in on your palate. This combines with cloves and some light peppery flavors to give the beer a really hearty quality. The beer continues to work in this slightly spicy concept until it reaches the finish. The finish does have a slightly boozy feel with the continuation of the sweetness from the dark fruits mixed in as well.
The carbonation on the mouthfeel is huge. Your first sip really coats your whole mouth with an incredible amount of fizz. Even though this is really carbonated, I would not at all say that it’s over carbonated. The carbonation and the yeast really work well together. They both have a very fizzy quality to it that makes the beer feel lighter than it probably ought to. The yeast also combines with some clove and pepper flavors to offer a really nice kick to this beer. It helps provide some ample depth to the beer. This beer somehow manages to warm like a winter beer without having an overly syrupy quality. The aftertaste has a certain crispness to it even though there is some booze that lingers there too.
Overall I love this beer. I may not have had it over the Christmas season, but I am still glad I got to experience it. It’s fairly ironic that I unintentionally had two of the same style of beer in one week; however, I’ll admit that I would prefer to drink this one over The Beast if given a choice. It’s got a little bit more drinkability to it, and I feel like it has more complexity to it. The Beast relies on a lot of booze where this Christmas Ale has a lot more depth to it. See if you can hunt one down for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Teacher Grade: A