Why do all holiday beers suck? (An SN&R Christmas Beer Challenge!)

Brew the Right Thing: A Christmas Beer Challenge!

Crud. It’s that time of year. Holiday beers.

Holiday beers make pumpkin beers look like double-barrel Hunahpu.

Dear brewers, do we really need to rest beer on peppermint bark?

Are holiday beers some kind of conspiracy to bolster the orange peel, clove and ginger industries?

Can’t I just sport a pair of reindeer antlers, sip a pint of Faction pale with a red bow on it and call things even?

OK, so it’s probably not fair to across-the-board dismiss all winter seasonals. This is admittedly an especially great time of year to dabble in some big-boy Belgians. Think Rochefort 10 or St. Bernardus 12, two classic “quad” style beers, which are known for being full-bodied and malty darker ales with great stone-fruit sweetness that balances nicely with booming high alcohol. Both these latter beers you can probably find right now at your neighborhood Total Wine & More or BevMo! But since you want to shop local, you can definitely snag them at Corti Bros. and most self-respecting bottle shops.

(Or, if you’re some kind of aspiring beer-snob baller, treat yourself to a sixer of the “impossible to acquire” Westvleteren XII, which can be snagged on sites such as BelgiumInABox.com. (Be warned: Shipping will cost more than the beer, and it’s probably illegal to mail beer via USPS from Europe, but it works out anyway. Usually. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) (Also be warned: You have to kick me down a bottle since I told you about the site.)

But back to my point: Crud. Holiday beers. It’s that time of year.

I’m into dumb challenges, so I randomly snagged four holiday beers—ones that you can find now at supermarkets, liquor shops or maybe at the specialty bottle shop (i.e., not rare-ass brews)—brought them to work, covered up their labels and gave samples to co-workers.

The goal: find out which holiday beer is the least cruddy.

Thirteen SN&R co-workers, varying in beer enthusiasm, sampled these brews. Here’s what they had to say about the four beers (shown left to right in the photo, above):

Rogue’s Santa Private Reserve Ale (7.99 at BevMo!), amber ale, 6% ABV

What SN&R employees said: astringent, chemical aftertaste, musty, “I like it,” not Christmas-y, not a full flavor, flat, “tastes like it was from last year’s Christmas”

What I say: This was an off beer, perhaps ruined by light or heat during the shipping/storing process. Hopefully not ruined by a cruddy brewer. Drain pour.

Port Brewing’s Santa’s Little Helper ($7.99 at BevMo!), Russian imperial stout, 10.5%

What the tasters said: “looks like soy sauce,” nice head, “looks like a Christmas beer,” “totally tastes like bacon,” smokey, umami, “I like it but I don’t love it,” “tastes like liquid smoke from barbecue”

What I say: Despite this brew’s fragrant holiday nose and nice body, the overwhelming smoke profile kills it.

The Bruery’s 7 Swans a Swimming ($9.99 at BevMo), quad, 11%

What SN&R employees said: “uhh,” thin, “reminds me of a Christmas tree farm,” too syrupy, “I like it but couldn’t drink a whole glass,” “If you gulp it, it tastes like hairspray”

What I say: Can I rant real quick about Bruery beers. I didn’t re-up for my society at the brewery this year, and it was an easy decision. Tired of their high-octane BA brews, bummed on all the contamination issues. But, mostly, so hard to drink these brews fresh and enjoy them because of the sugar profile. For instance, everyone’s raving about Mash and Coconut, their barleywine rested on coconut. And, yeah, I get it, there’s coconut in it, and coconut is like apricots with beer: It always tastes friggin’ amazing. But it’s just too damn “diabetes in a bottle.” PS: The “12 days of Christmas” beers really disappoint. But I digress …

Prairie Christmas Bomb! ($11.99 at Pangaea), imperial stout, 11.5%

What SN&R employees said: coffee, dark chocolate, Christmas spices, “it’s the most wintery,” “this will give you the worst breath,” “I might pay $12. No, I won’t.”

What I say: This brew—the priciest—was also SN&R employees’ favorite. Although most people said they would never pay 12 bucks for a small-format bottle. I’m not a Bomb! fan lately, at least since the first early batches, because the coffee profile has changed and the body is thinner now, too. Or at least that’s my observation. This beer is nice, though, but the holiday spices still ruin it …

… because I am the Grinchiest beer snob in Sacramento. Muah!

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