I feel the need to try and smash as many Christmas beer reviews into December as I possibly can. Last year I did a review of St. Bernardus Christmas ale after the holiday season. I don’t really feel bad about doing holiday reviews after the season has come and gone, but I want to let my readers know about their options out there while they’re still present. This year I managed to grab a few different holiday beers; however, trying to keep things fresh, I wanted to try to stick with things I hadn’t reviewed before. Last year I reviewed St. Bernardus and Mad Elf, so I wouldn’t be doing those. Therefore, I had to go for a few different brews this year. Lump of Coal, my last review, wasn’t something I searched out, but I was happy to have it. Having no expectations going into a review left me feeling happy that it turned out okay. This beer was a little bit different. Mikkeller is certainly one of the most interesting breweries out there, so I was hoping I would get a really good review out of it.
This beer, like a lot in my collection, left me with somewhat of a dilemma. I really wanted to drink it, but the big old 11% ABV had me wondering if I really wanted to do it on my own. The goal in drinking craft beer isn’t really to get wasted. You want to see what flavors the brewer managed to pack into each bottle. I often even split 12 oz bottles when I’m with friends. I’m not looking to hog a beer; I’m looking to share in the experience and have someone to discuss with. Therefore, I do often find myself wondering if I want to tackle the big bottles with the high alcohol content by myself.
The opportunity to share this finally presented itself last Thursday. My wife, two friends, and I took off work for the day to attend the national tree lighting ceremony in front of the White House. We could have taken a half day, but our wives wanted to get there early for a lot of extra standing around. Anyway, before we took off, I managed to get this beer open for a little review. I figured we’d need something before we stood around during the coldest day of the year so far waiting to see Obama and all of his musical guests.
I knew that this beer was a Belgian strong dark ale, so it would be a darker beer. I was still, however, a little surprised to see just how dark it poured out. The beer is a super dark black cola color with a very nice ample espresso brown head and a slightly oily texture to it. It had some really nice lacing with a ton of sticky residue as well. The beer was clearly too dark for any sense of clarity; however, you can see some very small activity when you agitate the beer.
The nose may have been where this beer was lacking the most. I really didn’t think there was much of a strong aroma to it at all. There was some light chocolate notes; however, the addition of the Christmas spice smell was evident as well. There is some light Belgian yeast aroma as well as the ample sweet malts. I really didn’t pick up any hops, but I got some booze on the nose too.
Thankfully, despite the nose being a little lacking, the flavors here were great. The beer starts with some strong sweet malts and big rich chocolate flavors. There is some very deep rich fig and raisin flavors that blend well with the malts and chocolate. Nice big well-balanced roasted notes come in but do not overpower. There is some light clove that mixes with the roast and, more importantly, introduces the winter spices that dominate the back half. The winter spices do not overpower the palate, but they simply highlight the wintry qualities. The beer finishes with a wintry feel and a little bit of bold booze.
Overall I would call the mouthfeel somewhat thick. The middle manages to even out a little with some of the light carbonation and nice spice; however, the ending kicks back up with some heavy booze qualities. In the end, this is a big Christmas beer that is sure to warm you up if it ever manages to get cold.
St. Bernardus may still make one of the best Belgian Christmas beers out there, but I think this one could give it a run for its money. The smell may be a little lacking, but the flavors certainly make up for it. If you manage to find a bottle, save it for Christmas Eve and enjoy it with a few friends of family. It’ll definitely be a hit.
Teacher Grade: A