Despite my recent injury that has led to a severe decrease in my overall mileage, this blog has remained almost exclusively a running blog. I don’t like that, and I wanted to change that.
And so on December 12th, I poked my head inside my roommate Cash’s bedroom and sheepishly asked if he would be interested in lending his professional writing talents (he’s a sportswriter, and you will find his prose to be infinitely more polished than mine) to a project that would be ambitious in scope, but somewhat lacking in maturity: I wanted to drink and review a large number of holiday beers, all in one sitting. I first suggested 6 beers, like a semi-responsible adult, but then over the course of our conversation that number swelled to 9. Then Cash threw down the gauntlet, saying “You know, if we’re going to do 9, we may as well do 12.” Well, then.
So on Thursday, December 13th, we went to the local Binny’s booze superstore to pick up supplies for the evening. We first picked out a Sam Adams sampler pack that had 5 different seasonal varieties (on sale with Binny’s card!), and then we headed to the Build-Your-Own-Six-Pack section to pick out the remainder of our beers. Once we had 24 beers selected, 12 for each of us, we returned to our apartment to settle in for a long night.
Yes, 12 beers apiece. I know now that we really only needed 12 beers total, and that if we had poured each beer into two glasses, then 6 ounces apiece would be more than enough for each of us to form an opinion on the beer in question. I know that now, but we didn’t really consider it at the time.
Not considering that would prove to be a mistake.
I had requested the following day off of work on account of a 2pm flight to San Diego, so I saw nothing wrong with getting drunk enough to speak in cursive.
For the purposes of this write-up, Cash and I each took our own respective notes during the tasting(s), and Cash sent me his notes a few days after this debacle. Without further preamble, let’s get into it!
BEER #1 — Sam Adams Holiday Porter – 5.8% ABV
–BREWER’S NOTES: “Introduced as a member of the Winter Classics Variety Pack in 2004, Samuel Adams® Holiday Porter, with its rich malt complexity, has become a favorite among our winter seasonal brews. In total, four types of malted barley are used in the brewing process including a variety of German malt called Carafa®*. This specialty malt, along with a bit of flaked oats, gives our Holiday Porter its smooth, roasted malt character. Add generous portions of imported hops to the mix and one has a brew that is both robust and drinkable.”
–OTTER’S TAKE: We chose the first beer of our harrowing journey completely at random, with Cash reaching into the fridge with his eyes closed and pulling out a beer. I sighed a little when I saw his hand emerge with a Sam Adams Holiday Porter, which is possibly the most boring dark beer I’ve ever had. It’s so dark that it’s almost black, but it really has no signature flavor. Sam Adams makes some awesome beers, but their Holiday Porter is like toast – it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just, you know, toast. You’re not going to be mad if a restaurant gives you toast with your breakfast, but at the same time, you don’t ever take the quality of an establishment’s toast into consideration when choosing where you want to eat. And so it is with the Holiday Porter – minimal nose, a somewhat roasty-ish flavor, but nothing to write home about.
We probably shouldn’t have started the evening off with one of the heaviest-sitting beers in the fridge, but I was happy to get it out of the way.
—CASH’S TAKE: I’m really struck by the word, “Carafa,” which is an ingredient in this beer. Unfortunately, all Wikipedia did for me was bring up that it’s the surname of the House of Carafa, a noble Neapolitan family of Italian nobles, clergy and men of the arts. And then there was Janet Carafa, a mime artist based in New York. Anyhoo, Dan mentioned the beer looks like coffee, and it sort of tastes like it too. It’s a good thing we’re starting with this one so it’ll give me the caffeine boost needed to get through tonight.
BEER #2 — Sam Adams White Christmas — 5.8% ABV
–BREWER’S NOTES: “As crisp as the first snowfall of the year, this unfiltered white ale is blended with holiday spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel. The familiar citrus and wheat characters of the ale are complemented by the warmth of the spices for a festive brew that’s perfect for the season.”
–CASH’S TAKE: When Dan read this beer’s description out loud, he said “species” instead of “spices.” Apparently that Holiday Porter really got to him. I think it’s a good thing we opted for this instead of Tooth tonight. [Ed. Note — Houndstooth is a bar across the street from our apartment that plays country music and sells $6 pitches on Thursday nights.] Describing this beer, “as crisp as the first snowfall of the year,” had me a bit uneasy, because I hate snow. But I like cinnamon, nutmeg and oranges, so I gave it a shot. As Dan said, it fucked us with a lot of nutmeg, but I appreciate the hint of orange. This is in the early lead for my favorite beer. [Ed. Note: This was our 2nd beer of the night, and the first beer sucked, so yes, it should have been Cash’s favorite beer of the night through this point.]
–OTTER’S TAKE: Finally, some flavor! This beer is extremely light in color, and it does kiiiind of fuck you in the face with the taste of nutmeg, but it’s not half-bad. The citrus flavor really comes through, and it pairs well with the nutmeg and space. I never really tasted cinnamon, but the nutmeg really cut through the mix. Nutmeg!
BEER #3 — Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale – 6.9% ABV
—BREWER’S NOTES: The holidays are a special time in Anderson Valley. The days are darker, weather colder, and foods richer. And Anderson Valley’s Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale is perfect for this time of year. Deep amber in color, with an inviting aroma of spice and nutmeg, it was made for the turkeys, cranberries, hams, and yams of the holidays. Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale evokes a crackling fire, drifting snow, and smells of home. A hint of spice and hop bite to balance out the creamy and smooth mouthfeel, and medium sweetness.
As with all of our products, Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale is never sterile filtered nor heat pasteurized.
–CASH’S TAKE: I’m just getting over the influenza, but Dan mentioned this has a “sweet nose to it,” and I agree. In terms of being sick, the fact that I can actually smell something is a good sign for the beer. This has more real taste than our previous beer. Also: the label has a bear with antlers on it as the logo. I’m aware the bear is the actual logo, but really? Putting antlers on a bear? At least give him a red nose too. It’s the freaking holidays. Today’s fun fact (there might be more fun facts, it’s early): The brewery’s motto, which is shown on all its bottles is, “It’s bahl hornin’,” which means “It’s good drinkin'” in Boontling, which is folk language spoken only in Boonville in Northern California. God bless Wikipedia. (Dan also said this beer reminded him of donuts. Do with that what you will)
–OTTER’S TAKE: I just eaten a packet of Lorna Doones on a flight to San Diego when I sat down to edit my thoughts on this beer, and that may very well be where the wizards at the Anderson Valley Brewing Company got their inspiration for one of my favorite beers, Winter Solstice. As they do with their Summer Solstice seasonal offering, the guys at AVBC don’t like to be put in a box when it comes to what a seasonal beer should taste like – they like to do their own thing. Instead of brewing a heavy winter warmer with loads of cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices, AVBC instead opted for a sweeter, creamy beer with Winter Solstice. It’s still very much an ale, but the result is a beer that is deep amber in color, with a very sweet nose to it. It’s just about the opposite of what you would expect a winter beer to taste like. At 6.9% ABV, this beer is fairly alcoholic, but it never tastes like it. Just a fantastic seasonal offering.
[Ed. Note — it was after Beer #3 that we took our first mandatory water break]
Beer #4 — Lakefront Brewery Holiday Spice Lager – 11.0% ABV
–BREWER’S NOTES: Our version of a winter warmer: brewed with cinnamon, orange zest, clove and generous amounts of honey. Pours a deep amber to ruby color with an off-white head. Aromas are fruity and spicy, with a slight floral undertone from the lager yeast. The flavor is smooth, full and spicy, balanced by the bite of Mt. Hood hops and a substantial, warming alcohol character. This is a full bodied beer, making it a holiday taste sensation that will warm your bones on a cold winter night.
–OTTER’S TAKE: The color is darker than amber/ruby, with a very floral nose. Upon first sip, what I taste immediately is the spice and the nutmeg, with a nice honey flavor mid-palate. Despite the brewery’s description, I don’t taste any orange or citrus. It’s a thick beer, so much that I can almost chew it. *Pauses to look up ABV percentage* ELEVEN PERCENT?! Are you kidding me?? 11% ABV?! We are fucked. I’m four beers in, and I’m already buzzed. This is going to be a long night.
–CASH’S TAKE: It really smells like flowers. I’m guessing poinsettias, since it’s seasonal and I don’t think I’ve ever actually smelled poinsettias. There’s an ending taste that I can’t quite figure out. Honey in the middle, a bit of orange on the lips, but the end? I’m not sure. I’m guessing it’s the clove, because I don’t know what the clove tastes/feels like, although I’ve heard it’s a bitch. Also, this beer boasts it will, “create joyful holiday memories that you’ll hold on to.” Umm, not sure I’ll be able to hold onto many memories from tonight, but I guess that’s why I’m chronicling the journey. Speaking of potential memories, here’s a good exchange we just had:
Me: “What percent is this?”
Dan: “I’m not sure (looking at the computer) … this can’t be right.”
Me: “What? (looking at the computer) … holy shit, it’s 11 percent.”
3rd Roommate Mike, in his room on the way to the gym like a ‘responsible adult’: “You guys are drinking 11 percent beer?”
Dan: “This is our fourth beer. We are fucked.”
End scene. And on the fifth beer of Christmas, my roommate gave to me ….
Beer #5 – Noche Buena — 5.4% ABV
Noche Buena features a fairly dry up-front characteristic followed with a thick mouth feel and subtle sweetness, combining fine malts with spicy Styrian hops grown in Slovenia. Beer enthusiasts will notice berry notes at the finish and a nice caramel toasted malt aroma at the nose.
–CASH’S TAKE: Me: “Oh, it’s 5.4 percent. This should be like a water break. Hmm, it’s called Noche Buena. Shouldn’t that have been the last one? Doesn’t that mean good night?”
Dan: “It does.”
*Two evil/drunk laughs*
I’m still trying to figure out exactly who made this beer. The main reasons? We don’t know, or at least I don’t, but there’s a poinsettia on the label so that’s cool. I really like this beer. It’s like iced tea, which I’m a fan of, with a hint of a fruit that isn’t quite raspberry. Strawberry? Blueberry? Brinkleberry? I don’t know. We’re only 5/12 of the way through, but this will probably end up being the near the top of my rankings. If we’re doing rankings. No ground rules were set, so we’re just flying by the seat of our pants.
–OTTER’S TAKE: Dark amber color, and this is our first beer that features a poinsettia on the label, which feels important. Very drinkable, and much fruitier than I thought it would taste at first. Cash mentioned that it kind of tastes like tea, and he’s not wrong.
Beer #6 – Sam Adams Old Fezziwig Ale — 5.8% ABV
–BREWER’S NOTES: Spicy and bold, a big Christmas cookie of a beer With a remarkably full body and flavor it helps those long winter nights pass more quickly. The rich taste hits the palate with a depth of malt character ranging from sweet toffee and caramel notes to dark, roasty chocolate notes. Then the spices come in full force. Cinnamon, ginger and orange peel dance on the tongue bringing with them the celebratory spirit of the season.
–OTTER’S TAKE: This beer is DARK. Cash and I just had a spirited discussion on why orange is included in holiday beers, because it doesn’t seem like a very Christmas-y fruit. Maybe brewers should experiment with pine nuts? Anyway, the toffee and sweetness is embodied in this beer’s nose here, and this beer has a smooth, robust/creamy finish. It’s pretty damn good. Not amazing, but solidly above average.
I don’t know who Fezziwig is, but he seems like an okay dude, even if that’s a classic child-molester name. We are somehow only halfway through with this experiment, and I don’t know how we’re going to survive the rest of the night. [Ed. Note — I don’t know why I wrote those last 2 sentences on the Thursday that we were drinking this beer, but they felt so bizarre that I didn’t want to change anything.]
Beer #7 – New Belgium Snow Day — 6.2% ABV
–BREWER’S NOTES: The name Snow Day evoked joyful freedom. Everyone remembers waiting for the school report as little kids. When you heard your school was closed, you suddenly had all day to play in the transformed, white landscape. Well, that’s the kind of emotion we put into this beer. Pleasantly hoppy, Snow Day carries the subtle chocolate and caramel flavors of a new brewing malt known as Midnight Wheat. The Styrian Golding, Centennial and Cascade hops bring the backbone of hoppy bitterness to complement the roasty undertones. This beer is the deep garnet of a roasted walnut and presents a creamy tan head, floating artfully atop. Snow Day is bold and hoppy, drinkable and strong.
–CASH’S TAKE: Snow Day was a pretty good Nickelodeon movie back in the day. Fun fact: The hot middle school swimmer girl in that movie is Sloan from Entourage. Yeah. Whoa. It’s OK. I’ll give you five or 10, whatever you need. I don’t know why I thought of that. Oh, speaking of beer. Well, it’s pretty good, but not quite on Sloan’s level.
–OTTER’S TAKE: Very hoppy nose, and the color of the beer is pretty much black as night. The forefront of the beer is hops, hops, hops. For a dark beer, it’s super hoppy, while also tasting pretty roasty. I like this beer.
Cash and I agree that snow days in the winter are far more valuable than extra days of vacation in the summer – as kids, we always wanted to have snow days with no school, even if that meant adding an extra school day in May or June. In addition to the basic principle of Net Present Value (which argues that having something of value immediately is always better than getting it later), every kid should have the experience of running around in waist-deep snow, building snow forts and having snowball fights with all the other neighborhood kids. The fact that we knew we could have been in school instead is what made those snow days even more special.
So yes, Snow Day is an awesome name or a beer.
Beer #7.1 (?) — ABInBev Shock Top End of the World Midnight Wheat — 6.0% ABV
[Ed. Note — This is not a beer that Cash and I drank on the night of our 12 Beers of Christmas, and subsequently I don’t know where Cash’s following review came from. Cash doesn’t know where this came from, either. When he emailed me his summary of all the beers that we drank, he included a summary of Shock Top’s Midnight Wheat, and I have no idea why. We did NOT drink this beer, but I present his review to you anyway.]
–CASH’S TAKE: I wanted to dislike this beer. It’s a bit U of M in presentation [Ed. Note — Cash and I both attended Michigan State], with gold foil over the cap, like, “Oooooh, I’m so much better than you but I haven’t done shit.” (Denard.) [Ed. note — the real Shock Top Midnight Wheat does not have gold foil over the cap.] But despite its disgusting smell, it’s actually tolerable. I’d considerate it a MAC-level beer. I’d liken it to Eastern Michigan because while you’re drinking it you’re like “eh, it’s beer,” and when you get a degree from Eastern, you’re still like “eh, it’s a degree.” Hmm … we’re on another beer apparently. This is going be tough.
–OTTER’S TAKE: I have no take on this beer, because I say again, WE NEVER DRANK IT ON THURSDAY. Cash wrote a 91-word review about a beer that never touched our lips, and he did it while we were actively drinking other beers. It’s a real mystery — we didn’t have any Midnight Wheat in our apartment, nor did we find any Midnight Wheat bottles or caps laying around our apartment the next day when we cleaned up. But while Cash was drinking either his Snow Day or his Mild Winter, he was somehow convinced that he was drinking a Shock Top Midnight Wheat.
Yes, we were a little faded at this point.
Beer #8 – Goose Island Mild Winter — 5.6% ABV
–BREWER’S NOTES: Toffee brown, medium-bodied, with a creamy head and an aroma of raisins and freshly baked dark bread. Mild Winter’s rich caramel malt and spicy rye flavors are sure to take the bite out of whatever Old Man Winter brews up for you this year.
–OTTER’S TAKE: I like this one. Not enough to write down a decent review of it, but I liked it more than I didn’t like it. [Ed. Note — I didn’t write anything after that. This is where my notes for the night end.]
–CASH’S TAKE: It’s OK. But it’s not great. I’m thinking I could drink 15-16 of these and be OK with my life, but any more than that I might be disappointed. Or hospitalized.
Beer #9 – Flying Dog Brewery K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale — 7.4% ABV
–BREWER’S NOTES: The psycho in the pack … K-9 Cruiser is a dark, sweet and malty winter warmer that will captivate any adventurous craft brew drinker. A true Flying Dog original, K-9 Cruiser is the perfect brew to warm you up in those cold winter months.
–OTTER’S TAKE: Wooooo hooooo, another beer where I didn’t write down a single word on the night that I was drinking it! Sometime after drinking my Snow Day on Thursday night, it appears that I gave up on writing and was content to merely drink and watch the terrible Bengals-Eagles game instead. I’ve had the K-9 Cruiser before, and it’s a pretty solid beer – it’s sweet, but sweet in the traditional winter warmer style (rather than the non-traditional Winter Solstice style). I’d give it a 4 out of 5.
–CASH’S TAKE: This was much better than Goose Island. And it makes me think of puppies that grow up to be police dogs. There’s a very real taste long after I finish, something that sticks there on the tip of my tongue. I approve.
Beer #10 – Sam Adams Winter Lager — 5.6% AVB
–BREWER’S NOTES: Bold and rich, with a touch of holiday spice. The first thing one notices about a Samuel Adams® Winter Lager is the deep ruby color. Then comes the magical aroma which promises something special on the tongue. The cinnamon, ginger, and hint of citrus from the orange peel blend with the roasty sweetness of the malts to deliver a warming, spicy flavor. On the palate Samuel Adams Winter Lager is rich and full bodied, robust and warming, a wonderful way to enjoy the cold evenings that come with the season.
–OTTER’S TAKE: At some point after I poured this beer into my glass, I left the room, and I didn’t come back to the living room until the following morning.
I have nothing to contribute regarding this beer’s taste, because I don’t think I drank a drop of it.
–CASH’S TAKE: Dan went into his room like 20 minutes ago. I think we lost him.
A handful of hours later, I’m awoken from a drunken dream in which I hear the pitter-patter of Reindeer on the roof …
[Ed. Note — It is at Beer #10 where our journey ended for the night. Cash tells me that I left the living room for a bit because I needed to “get something out of my room,” and I never returned. He waited about 10 minutes, and then after he realized that I had gone to sleep, he then retired to his sleeping quarters as well. I’m (GENERALLY) pretty good about knowing my limits, and I had certainly reached my limit for the night.
Holiday beers are heavy as shit.
Our other roommate Mike had left for the gym around the time when we were drinking our Noche Buena, and he said that when he got back about 2 hours later, the living room was dark and empty. The only evidence that there had been people drinking in our apartment that night was 20 empty beer bottles, 20 bottle caps, and one glass that was completely full of cold beer. I regrettably admit that I was responsible for the wounded soldier, as I clearly didn’t need it at the time.
Fortunately, Cash and I had discussed the possibility of not finishing all 12 beers in one night, and we decided that if that happened, then we would continue the following morning…]
Beer #11 – Sam Adams Chocolate Bock – 5.8% AVB — 9:30am
–BREWER’S NOTES: To create Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, we wanted to take the flavor beyond the taste of dark roasted malt. For this year’s brew we worked with a blend of cocoa nibs including Ecuador nibs from TCHO®, an artisanal chocolate maker in San Francisco. We started with hand selected Noble hops from Bavaria and combined them with a complex selection of carefully roasted malts. This dark beer has a big, malty character with the added sweetness of chocolate. We slowly age the beer on a bed of rare dark cocoa nibs, the primary ingredient in chocolate. Known for their quality, these cocoa nibs harvested in Ecuador, impart complex aromas and flavors from chocolaty to fruity, nutty, earthy, and citrusy.
-OTT’ER’S TAKE: It was around 6am on Friday morning that I awoke with a start, and I immediately noticed the following things:
- I was in my bedroom
- The lights were on
- I was lying on top of my sheets
- I was still fully clothed
Kids, there are very real dangers surrounding binge drinking, but thankfully I had matriculated to my bedroom at just about the exact moment I spied a blackout looming on the horizon. With a BAC far exceeding my shoe size, I eventually called it a night before completing The 12 Beers of Christmas. I went back to sleep for a bit after I finally shut off the lights and disrobed, and then I finally woke up for good at 9am. At 9:30am, Cash and I continued our journey with Beer #11.
I don’t know if Sam Adams’s Chocolate Bock is specifically a seasonal beer, but it came in the Sam Adams Winter Variety Pack, so it passed the initial smell test to be included in this roundup. This beer was a great way to start my morning – I didn’t taste any fruit or citrus, but the beer did taste very chocolaty and this made me happy. The previous night was a rather rough one, so this was the ideal beer to get me back on (off?) the wagon.
Immediately after I finished my Chocolate Bock, I went outside and banged out a quick mile run before coming back for Beer #12. It’s always a good day anytime I can knock out both of my running/drinking streak requirements before 10am.
—CASH’S TAKE: I don’t remember the Chocolate Bock entirely, but I bet it was good. What beer isn’t good? Aside from PBR and Natty Ice. Actually, I’ve had a couple of borderline good times with Natty Ice, from what I’ve been told. This beer, while no Natty Ice, is a good one to wake up to and gets me back on the horse. It has some chocolate from San Francisco in it, which is cool because I lived there for six months after college. Good times.
Beer #12 – Bridgeport Ebenezer Ale – 6.4% ABV
–BREWER’S NOTES: Our special Holiday brew is a smooth ale with a complex palate derived from four different roasted malts and a blend of local and imported hops. Deep mahogany in color, its malty forward taste and full body is balanced with a light hop aroma, leading to a caramel finish. It’s a festive elixir that can transform the mood of any scrooge! So forget the egg-nog and have a pint of Ebenezer.
–OTTER’S TAKE: What a strange trip this was; so strange, in fact, that I didn’t make a single mental note of this beer as I drank it. I was mindlessly drinking this beer while talking to Cash and Mike about the previous night, and then I looked at my glass and it was emply. I know that I liked it (I would have remembered it if I didn’t), but that’s just about all I can tell you. And we somehow only had one bottle of this beer instead of two, so Cash didn’t even get to have any (he did drink a Boston Lager instead, so that he could say he drank 12 beers). It’s a bit of a letdown to have the 12th beer of Christmas go out like that, but at the same time, it’s also somewhat fitting.
And so there you have it — 12 beers of Christmas, consumed within a span of 14-15 hours. Consensus high marks went to Winter Solstice, Snow Day, Old Fezziwig, and the Holiday Spice Lager, with a few others challenging for honors as well. Aside from the Holiday Porter, there really weren’t any beers that I would advise you to steer away from, which makes sense because holiday beers kick ass.
And so from our house to yours, Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!