I forget where I’ve seen it online, but the news was out that St. Bernardus had once again released its Christmas Ale. It would be perfect for a review. I set out to find some. Belgian quads are my bailiwick and I savored the juicy sweet malts of a top-notch beer. Of, course, it has not yet hit town so a road trip was necessary.
I was in luck. My wife had Thursday off and needed to buy a few gifts for my sons at the homebrew store in Plainfield. Binny’s was also in Plainfield, as was Portillo’s, our favorite place to get great Italian sausage and beef sandwiches. It had all the earmarks of being a great day.
The lunch was awesome, the homebrew shop had exactly what my wife was looking for, and it was only about 10 minutes down the road to Binny’s. Once there, I quickly scanned the Belgian section for the beer in question. Nope. Off to see the beer guy.
He said it was right where I had been, only on the other side of the aisle. Start over. Yep, there it was, on the other side of the aisle. About 4 cases with a sign stating its price. I grabbed 2 bottles by their necks and proceeded to the checkout. That was it.
Great lunch, great camaraderie at the homebrew shop and then scoring a great beer. The trip home was fun as my wife and I talked about the upcoming holiday, our full bellies and the gifts yet to be bought. Yep. A great day. It’s not often that we seek and find just what we’re looking for.
I didn’t know what the St. Bernardus Brewery had up their sleeves with this beer. Maybe they added some Christmas spices or some other touch to bring it into the season at hand. I’d be disappointed if that was case. I’ll bet that they stuck with tradition and release a minor version of a classic recipe of one of their other beers.
When the time came on Saturday night, I opted for the Chimay chalice glass and sat down at the computer to begin drinking beer and writing about it. It was time.
Let us begin.
The beer poured a light brown color right at the neck of the bottle and it took on a reddish-brown hue in the glass when held up to the light. The foam was thick and dense with a beige color. Carbonation was active with micro-bubbles rising from the nucleation point at the bottom of the glass. The aroma was that sweet malty smell typical in many of these big Belgian beers.
The first sip was amazing. It had a nice, full mouthfeel and the dark fruity sweetness at the front with slick glide right down the gullet. It was an absolutely top-notch beer of this style.
The subtle sweetness lingered after the swallow making the mouth water for a another sip. There was a crispness at the swallow, but I’d say that was from the carbonation. The malts are boldly represented and the beer is well-balanced from front to back.
Not too much sweet, but just enough of those dark Bing cherries and other dark red fruits to blend together to form a new sense of sweet, one not found in other beers.
After a few sips, there was a nice internal warming in my gut. It wasn’t heat but it was something that seemed to raise my body temp about 2 degrees. No alcohol could be tasted in the sip.
The beer has none of the spices that drinkers expect from Christmas beers. No ginger, no other spices, just a purebred Belgian quad doing its thing. It’s one of the top quads brewed and it would be very difficult to tell the difference between this Christmas ale and regular St. Bernardus Abt 12.
Compared to other commercial quads out there, Three Philosophers, The Sixth Glass and Trois Pistoles, The St. B is a cut above. There was something special in it. However, compared to Westvleteren 12, Chimay Blue and maybe Gulden Draak, you may be splitting hairs. But for me, when you’re talking quadrupels, all of them are delicious.
I’d say that this is not necessary a Christmas quad with the traditional Christmas spices, but rather a great Belgian strong dark beer with maybe a tweak here or there to the original recipe, timed to be available this time of year.
If you will be going to a Christmas party with friends or family, pick up a couple of 750s of St. B Christmas Ale to pass around. Your friends and family will be warmed by the liquid and perhaps feel good about the season in General.
Style: Belgian Strong Dark (Belgian Quadrupel)
Taste: Dark fruit sweetness and great malt body make for an outstanding taste.
Smoothness: Easy going from start to finish.
Drinkability: The perfect sipping beer to drink until you stop drinking.
Bang for the buck: Not bad for the great taste delivered.
Amount paid: $12.49 per 750ml bottle (Cage & cork)
Get it again? Yes. Especially next year around this time.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: (Sniff) A little bit of a Christmasy smell. (sip) I almost get a little chocolate. (sip) It’s not bad at all for how dark. Not bitter. (sip) That’s actually pretty good. (This just may be the perfect chick beer. Nudge, nudge.)
Saint Bernardus Brewery [5:30]