So, This Is Christmas…

It hasn’t felt much like Christmas around these parts this year. The weather has only dipped below freezing once or twice, and there isn’t a flake of snow on the ground – on the contrary, the grass is still green on most lawns in our neighbourhood. I even saw some bulbs sprouting in a neighbour’s flower bed earlier today. Since I find it hard to find the Christmas spirit at the best of times, it’s been especially tough to get into the holiday mood this year.

But that’s not to say that I haven’t been doing some celebrating. My pal Doug hosts an annual beer tasting bash at his place on a Saturday in mid-December every year, and this year’s instalment was as enjoyable as ever. Everyone brought along some bottles to share (the remnants of which can be seen in the accompanying photo), Doug put on his traditional spread of chili, cheese and other munchies, and a good time was had by all.

Last Thursday, I hosted a smaller event with my usual tasting buddies. We had a fine assortment of beers from all over the damn place, most of them acquired by those mad beer traders Paul & Harry. We started the night with Bolshoi!, a potent Imperial stout from Brooklyn’s Six Point Brewing, and ended it with Old Boardhead Barley Wine from Full Sail Brewing of Oregon, knocking off another dozen or so along the way.

And of course, no December would be complete without enjoying some local holiday & winter beers. Up until a couple of years ago, the selection of such beers in Ontario was quite limited, but a number of new and established breweries have started stepping up when it comes to solid seasonal releases, so there are a few more to choose from now. Here are my thoughts on the ones I’ve had a chance to taste so far this year:

Amsterdam Tilted Kilt Scotch Ale
I really liked the Kerstmis beer that Amsterdam used to make it each Christmas, and when I heard they were bringing back their winter seasonal, I was hoping it would be that. So I was a bit disappointed when I discovered it was a different beer, but at least this is a pretty good one as well. Pours a very nice dark copper-amber with a thin head. Nice aroma, very toasty, with notes of roasted nuts and a bit of cocoa. Body is a bit thin, but OK. Flavour is fairly sweet as promised, with more nuts and cocoa in the middle, and a fresh mellow hoppiness to finish.

Black Oak Nutcracker
One of the old-timers on the local seasonal scene, it’s always a treat when the annual batch of Nutcracker is released by our friends at Black Oak. This spiced porter has a dark ruby-brown colour with a thin tan head, and a complex aroma of coffee, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom & pepper. The body is rich, smooth and slightly creamy. Roasty, toasty, nutty flavour with notes of chocolate and cinnamon and other spices – the spiciness has been ramped up a bit this year, making it better than ever. They even did a cask version with a bunch of whole cinnamon sticks thrown in à la dry hopping (“dry cinnamoning”?).

Great Lakes Brewing Winter Ale
No, this isn’t a new beer from the renowned Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland, but rather a new seasonal from a Toronto brewery of the same name that is better known for producing mainstream lagers. They surprised everyone earlier this year with their Devil’s Pale Ale, and now they’ve done it again with this enjoyable winter warmer. Aroma of malt, banana, orange zest, brown sugar and a bit of cinnamon. The flavour is sweet but not cloying, with some nice fruitcake and licorice notes. As with the Devil’s Pale, it could be a little more aggressive, but it’s still another great step forward for these guys – onwards & upwards!

Over the rest of my holiday break, I’m hoping to get a chance to try Maclean’s Scotch Ale, C’est What Hazelnut Coffee Porter, Nickel Brook Winter Bock, and the just announced Scotch-Irish Christmas Cake Porter. Assuming my attempts to get out and try them are successful, you can expect a Part Two post in a week or so.

In the meantime, I hope that everyone is having a Merry Christmas. May you have a well-stocked beer fridge now and into the new year, and good friends to help you enjoy it. Peace & cheers!

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