WITB is fortunate enough to have partnered with the experts from Shep’s Beer Empourium here in St. Pete, your local stop for all things craft beer! Lucky for you readers, this means the beer experts from Shep’s will give you first taste of their hop-knowledge by reviewing some of their favorite beers they currently have in store. Today, we’ll hear from James, reporting on four of his favorite Christmas beers. Stop in store to pick up your copy, snuggle up (or not) and cheers your way into some holiday spirits.
12 Dogs of Christmas
Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. (Akron, OH)
Style: Winter Warmer
The beer pours a very clear, dark amber color, and a decently hard pour yielded a thin head with little retention. A thin layer of suds slowly runs down the side of the glass with each sip, while a small amount of carbonation rides up the amber liquid. The bright amber color and slowly cascading suds keep inviting me back for another sip.
First thing that hits the nose, as advertised, is honey, honey, honey. The honey is accompanied by some subtler flavors that are classic to a winter warmer, such as nutmeg, cinnamon and caramel malts. Some less common scents I’m getting are ginger, chestnuts and mama’s holiday fruitcake. The scent isn’t too overbearing–it’s just right. There’s definitely a lot going on here!
Initially, the flavor profile is dominated by the honey and nutmeg, but as the beer warms up the caramel malts really start to come through at the front, with cinnamon ginger and honey following behind. No chestnut on the taste. No hop flavors at all. Like most winter warmers, this was a sweet and malty spice bomb. This collection of flavors masks the ABV of 8.3%. The taste wasn’t as complex as the nose, which was disappointing. It just tasted like standard winter warmer with a honey focus.
Very warm due to all the spices and very chewy due to the sweet malts and high ABV. It has moderate body a little on the thicker side, almost like a thin syrup. It’s not very refreshing–I probably couldn’t drink more than two (owing to the thickness, not flavor).
This beer is an Ohio staple around the Christmas months. People rave about it! An old brewer from the renown Great Lakes Brewing is the current Thirsty Dog Brewmaster, which is part of the reason I was hoping for a little more complexity on the flavor. So, overall I would give this beer a 3.5/5.
Southern Tier Brewing (Lakewood, NY)
Style: Double Spiced Ale
A hard pour into the glass yielded a bold, amber color with very little head, which quickly dissipated to a flat surface. Little activity in this beer: after letting it sit for just a minute it looks almost entirely flat.
The aroma on the beer is very fruity and mildly spiced. Strong, sweet fig flavors, some zesty citrus, and mild cinnamon and nutmeg notes. As the beer warms up, the citrus falls off and makes way for the cinnamon and nutmeg spice.
Toasty and sweet malts dominate the flavor profile. There’s a bold, figgy taste throughout this beer, and not as much citrus as expected—barely any, actually. Cinnamon and nutmeg hit the back of the tongue on the tail end. Its boozy taste fails to hide its high ABV as well as other Christmas Ales.
Very little carbonation on this one. It’s typical not to have much effervescence on a Christmas Ale, but this was almost flat, which took away from the beer. It’s definitely a warming drink, medium bodied and mildly viscose, like a thin syrup.
I think Southern Tier missed the mark with this one, which saddens me, as they’re from my home state of New York and I’ve been a fan of their beer for quite some time. That being said, this beer definitely has its redeeming qualities: the fig was well captured and complimented the sweet malts nicely. Fig, citrus peels and spices were utilized in the brew as a tribute to the traditional Swedish winter ale, the Glögg—a style that is rarely seen.
Barlew Mow Brewing (Largo, FL)
Style: Herbed/Spiced Beer
Tinsel pours a turbid, dark amber with reddish hue. Nice head development as the beer is poured but retention is minimal. A very thin layer atop the beer persists through every sip. Suds mask the side of the glass and retain their hold there. Carbonation is hard to view due to the dark and turbid cloak, but judging from the activity on the surface, I’d say there’s a good amount of unseen action.
Cinnamon and nutmeg are the first two flavors to hit the nose—common stand out flavors in most winter beers. The sweet malts give off a delicious caramel-y, toffee aroma that this pesky fruit fly in my apartment is really digging, and frankly I don’t blame him.
Initially, the honey, toffee and sweeter malts are prevalent, but as the beer starts to warm up, the sweeter flavors peter off and the winter spices start to dominate the flavor. Nutmeg takes over at the forefront, with cinnamon and mild toffee notes in the midriff, followed by a roasted aftertaste of malts and mild cinnamon.
This dark, amber ale was smooth and thin, though when left to linger it had a mild astringency in the cheeks and on the tongue and left a dry feeling on the back of the tongue.
Overall I’d say this one was well done. When some aspects of the beer started to stray, other ones swiftly followed to their place. Sweet followed by spice followed by roastiness made it really complex without going too far. This beer was done by Barley Mow Brewing from Largo, and frankly I’m impressed this is a product of Florida. As much as I love Florida breweries, you can probably see why it’s hard to expect a decent Christmas Ale out of them (ahem, no seasons). Great beer and, as always, great to drink local.
Anchor Special Ale 2016
Anchor Brewing (San Francisco, CA)
Style: Winter Warmer
This one pours an almost abyssal black with a thick, creamy head—looks similar to a stout or porter. The head retains itself nicely with a subtle but apparent flow of carbonation ascending the side of the glass. Suds lace the glass after each sip, and they stick around.
Strong scents of molasses, banana and pine give off a very earthy yet sweet aroma. Some more subtle notes of stone fruits surface as well. It smells like a post-Christmas-dinner fruitcake baked in banana bread, if you can imagine.
Sweet molasses and very nutty banana bread occupy the forefront, with an added bittering factor from the pine notes. Caramel malts are evident but dialed back compared to most other Christmas beers. The malt flavors are predominantly grainy. Banana linger on the tongue after each sip. Complex and delicious.
So smooth it’s silky. Full bodied yet thin flowing. Not syrupy at all, which was a nice change of pace from other Christmas beers. A little dryness was left on the tongue after the finish.
Big fan. Anchor has been putting out their “Special Ale” every winter for 42 years. Each year is a different recipe dedicated to a different tree (aw). This one was dedicated to a lone pine 1000 miles from Omaha on the Transcontinental Railroad Line.
Follow James on Untappd at James_likes_beer
Shep’s Beer Empourium is located at 2001 4th St N, St. Petersburg, FL 33704