I visited the Four Seasons Beer Store once again and knew it was going to be a brain buster occasion. The aftermath of last week’s Scottish ale session was still relatively fresh in my mind and I knew full well that with this being the first day of December and winter being a mere 3 weeks away, I somehow thought I needed another superdark, superrich beer to get into the mood.
I had gone to an alehouse earlier in the week with a buddy and partook of some marvelous IPAs and wondered how that would go over this time of year. But when you come right down to it, who gives a rat’s ass about what you should be drinking on December first. I just started looking for something different.
Hey. How about a Christmas ale? That wouldn’t be too bad. Celebration and Christmas Ale were Sierra Nevada’s flagship seasonals for this time of year. I’ve had Celebration. Twice. It was my first taste experience in the IPA style quite few years ago.
After I did another lap checking the shelves and the cooler, they were nowhere to be found. Too bad. I never had the SN Christmas Ale and after drinking Sam Adam’s Merry Mischief, I figured anything else would be a cakewalk on the style.
One beer that eluded my scanning eyeballs was Breckenridge Christmas Ale. I’ve had a few of their beers in the past and they were pretty decent and at least worth writing about. I pulled a bottle from the carton and read the label. Nothing worth talking except for the 7.4% ABV. I figured, what the heck and grabbed the sixer. Paid the lady behind the counter and stashed it in the fridge until beer time rolled around.
I had plenty of time to do some research and I found a wide variety of opinions across the two brew review sites BA and RB. I hoped that I was in store for a non-waste of time.
One of the things that may have prevented me from buying more beers from Breckenridge was their rather bland carton and label designs. They just don’t jump out at me when browsing the shelves. The one great thing that I do about them is their great anti-BMC commercials. You can view them on their website. Short and sweet with a sharp cutting edge.
I never felt that I made the wrong decision and that I was stuck with this beer. I didn’t think to go back to the beer store and get something better. I’d drink this beer and tell it like it is.
The time had come and I made quick with the obligatory snapshots. Now was the time to drink this holiday beer. I may take some of the Grinch out of my opinion of this years holiday season which seemed to start just after Labor Day.
The beer entered the glass and yielded a nice orange-brown color when held up to the light. A creamy off-white head rose up to about an inch tall. Carbonation was rather vigorous consisting of jillions of micro-bubbles. The aroma was slight but had some piney notes and perhaps a tad bit of spice.
The first sip held a medium body with a minimal malt profile. There was a bit of zing at the swallow and I was perplexed trying to find some distinctive maltiness, but none was there. It was the first few tastings of this beer after all. I should give it some time.
The beer was pleasant enough to drink but nothing in it reminded me of Christmas. The only thing that came to mind was the dry, dusty smell of an unfinished attic or what it smells like on a hot day when it just starts to rain. Yeah, that smell. I started wondering if this was a bad batch or if it had been on the shelf since last year. I should maybe let the beer warm up a bit before casting dispersions its way.
The Breckenridge website gave some info on the ingredients and listed pale two row, caramel, chocolate and black malts used in the recipe along with Chinook and Mt. Hood hops. I was thinking that the chocolate and the black malts contributed to the color rather than the taste. I couldn’t get any hop notes at the end except that I did sense some spiciness, the taste of which eluded me. One would think that beer rated at 7.4% alcohol and having dark malts in its recipe would have some moxie to it. Somehow, this beer flies in the face of those facts.
As the sipping continued, the flavors bolded up a bit and a nice subtle sweetness became apparent. But that didn’t make up for my perceived lack of malt character and the rather odd attic taste. Whatever that taste was, it screwed with my mind for the entire duration of the first glass.
BA calls the style of this beer a Winter Warmer while RB calls it an American Strong ale. Neither of those styles are listed in the BJCP style book. The closest and most logical style would be the category 21 or Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer. Although the style book gives plenty of wiggle room for the brewer’s creativity, the usual Christmasy spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon were not readily detectable by this reviewer. Maybe it was because I didn’t shave today.
I did find this bit of information in one of the brewery’s blog posts:
Breckenridge Brewery first introduced Christmas Ale in 1993 and has been brewing this recipe for the holiday season since. This beer is known for its heartiness and rich flavors of caramel and chocolate. Unlike many holiday and winter beers, Breckenridge doesn’t add any spice to its Christmas Ale. The spicy characteristics of this ale come from the Chinook and Mt. Hood hops.
This beer, as is, could be placed at the opposite end of the spicy spectrum from Sam Adams’ Merry Mischief which was tried a few weeks ago. Quite the antithesis.
By the middle of the second glass, I started to actually enjoy the taste. it was then that I was reminded of the odd flavor I experienced while drinking Abita’s Turbodog so many years ago.
I can’t and won’t berate the entire brewery based on one of its beer recipes that doesn’t jive with my palate. I’ll let the beer speak for itself. The beer is by no means a drain pour and some folks your Christmas party may really like it. The 7.4% would certainly add to the merriment.
Try this beer for yourself and then you can either confirm that my taste buds are composed of sandstone and onionskin paper or that you can taste the same odd flavor in this beer that I did. It’s a perfectly drinkable beer that should be tried at least once to get the learning experience. It’s not a go-to beer for the holidays but at least it’s a decent beer to bring to a holiday party. For a more enjoyable beer drinking experience, you’d probably be better off with a Great Lakes Christmas Ale or some wet hopped Celebration Ale from Sierra Nevada. Of course, there’s Merry Mischief, at least for this year.
The SixPackTech summary for Breckenridge Christmas Ale:
Taste: Middle of the road with a mystery thrown in.
Smoothness: Goes down pretty easy, but what am I tasting?
Drinkability: A coupla two-three and then press forward into new territory.
Bang for the buck: A little expensive for the taste that’s delivered.
Amount paid: $11.99
Get it again? Maybe next year just to compare.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Smells sweet. (sip) I get a little caramel no chocolate. (sip) A little spiciness, but not overpowering. A little bit dry but doable. (sip) It’s not bad at all considering. (sip) It’s pretty good. (That’s why you should bring this to a holiday party. It’s a chick beer!)
Video review [6:35]
Video review & comparison [6:30]