To a certain extent, I find some of the beers of the Christmas season a little frustrating. It’s a somewhat love and hate thing. Big bold beers are great, but there are others that rely on a bunch of Christmas spices to give them that holiday flavor. Coming out of pumpkin beer season makes it a little frustrating. You leave these fall beers that focus on the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. They, of course, tend to be combined with pumpkin, but you never really taste a ton of the pumpkin on a lot of these beers. Winter beers then come out and, some of them, just take out the pumpkin and seem to brew a pretty similar beer. They once again have cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. I’m still a sucker for seasonals though, so I can’t help myself when I see an interesting new bottle.
I picked this bottle up on a little bit of a whim. When Sam Adams first started to come out with their more crafty options, I jumped on the first few that became available. I liked that a more macro brewery was sticking with their craft roots. I’ve missed more than a few options since then, but I couldn’t pass this one up. The label may be the real reason why, but I was also just interested in the style. I’d been hearing about an excellent gingerbread stout out of Hardywood Brewing Co in Richmond Va and, I also knew I would be trying their version the same weekend at my UFC and beer event. I guess that tells you how long ago I had this beer. Needless to say, there were some obvious differences in their attempts at the same style.
Sam Adams bills this beer a Gingerbread Stout, or ale brewed with spices, which I think was the first indication that I probably should have just left it on the shelf. However, a big bottle under $10, and the ability to compare to another bottle kept it in my hand on the way to the counter. Looking up the recipe, they state that the beer is brewed with the intensity and spices of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, & ginger. It’s these spices, the same as similar pumpkin beers, that in the end had me less than pleased with this beer.
This one pours a super dark midnight black color with a fairly ample creamy and foamy dark brownish head. There is tons of ample lacing on the side of the glass with quite a bit of residual sticky residue after the head finally dies down. It may not be a huge amount of head, but it hangs around for a while. The beer is obviously too dark for any sense of clarity, but you can see some very slight activity when you agitate it. Swirling the glass also reveals that the beer has a slightly oily quality to it.
The gingerbread is certainly quite obvious on the nose. The clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg comes across very strongly. The beer has a very large gingerbread smell, but it comes across as somewhat pumpkinesque when combined with these other aromas. I certainly didn’t want to smell a lot of these aromas so close to pumpkin time. Especially when I’m already quite tired of pumpkin at this point. Interestingly, the stout aromas don’t come out at all. This beer is called a gingerbread stout, but the stout quality seems to be swallowed up by the rest of the spices. The smell is quite crisp and clean overall.
The first sip reminded me of something that I really didn’t want to taste at that moment: pumpkin. The malts kick it off; however, they aren’t too heavy or overly sweet. Really almost all of the stout qualities seem to be rather lacking from the beer. Part of the reason may be due to the wheat used in the malt bill. They lightened it up just a little. There is some slight chocolate flavor which is the most prominent stout quality you find in the flavor. There are some slight hops in the middle that combines with some citrus flavors; however, the back half is dominated by the spices. The gingerbread is quite noticeable; however, the clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg are far too powerful as well. It’s got too much pumpkin remnants and not enough Christmas. It ends slightly boozy with some rather intensified spices.
The mouthfeel isn’t overly thick, but it does lean slightly more toward a heavy feel. There is some fairly good carbonation; however, it disappears rather quickly. The beer is severely lacking in the stout qualities. No roasted flavors or coffee, and you only get some slight chocolate notes.
I have a feeling my view of this beer was slightly tainted by having Hardywood Gingerbread Stout the day after; however, looking at my notes from the day before, they still aren’t positive. When I told some people I was trying both to compare, they told me I was comparing a Ford to a Corvette. Maybe the Sam Adams didn’t have a fighting chance with this one, but they could have done a lot more with the stout base. If you want a good stout with some gingerbread, try to find a bottle of Hardywood. It’s rare, but it certainly beats out this bottle. Otherwise, I’d try a few of the other much better Christmas offerings out there.
Teacher Grade: D