Nutcracker Ale: Welcome Winter!


It could be argued that winter itself doesn’t technically begin until December 21st, but I don’t like arguing. So, from where I stand, the first day of winter is Dec. 1.  This is a good thing, though, as it’s the perfect excuse to start digging into the winter and Christmas ales during the first weekend of December rather than waiting another three weeks.

That’s why Boulevard Brewing Company’s Nutcracker Ale began pouring into my glass last night, which makes this our first official beer of the winter season.  It happens to be the best one so far, but I supposed there’s not much to compare it to just yet.  Last year the Nutcracker Ale was one of  the best winter beers of the season, though, so I have a feeling it’ll stand up just as well this season.  Mind you, I may be somewhat biased simply because Boulevard is a local brewery, but it truly is a genuinely great seasonal beer.

As much as I like the fall and harvest ales, winter is the time of year I look forward to most from a beer standpoint.  There’s something to be said for the scent and flavor of a hearty winter brew when the temperatures outside are near the freezing point, even if the outside temperature has to be in your imagination (an ode to all of my West coast friends).

Nutcracker Ale is a very nice balance of being hearty yet not-too heavy .  It’s packed with all the good flavors that make a good winter beer.  There’s just enough holiday spice and a rare blend of sweetness from the molasses to with the perfect amount of hoppiness.  I’d call it smooth… And delicious.  The absolute best thing about it, however, is how fresh it tastes.  The fresh Chinook hops really make the beer as far as I’m concerned.  Nutcracker Ale has a unique blending of spice, sweetness and freshness that make it a thirst-quenching and refreshing winter warmer.

It’s actually so smooth and refreshing that you don’t even notice that it’s got a 7.8% ABV.  It tastes like it would be around 6%, so it really is smooth. Plus, as much as I try not to judge a beer by its label, it has a very cool and semi-retro looking label that kicks me into the holiday spirit… Or maybe that’s jut the ABV talking?  Whatever the reason, I like it!

I gave it a 4.5 out of 5 on the Beeradvocate scale, and many of the recent reviews there seem to be similar to my impressions, although a few people had it graded quite a bit lower.  Who knew people had different tastes?  Go figure and bah humbug to them.  I like it enough that this certainly won’t be my last Nutcracker of the season.

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Saranac Pumpkin(less) Ale

The Jack-O’-Lantern label of this Saranac Pumpkin Ale is good enough reason to enjoy it on Halloween.  Unfortunately, I missed the “party” by one day.  Better late than never, I always say.

This is actually a really good seasonal beer…  Even for those who don’t like pumpkin.  You’d actually be hard pressed to pick out much in the way of pumpkin flavor at all, although it has the definite taste of spices one might associate with pumpkin pie, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, but not any actual pumpkin that I could pick out.  It’s tough to find a good pumpkin ale anyway, so this subtle approach seems to work just fine.  

This is my first experience with anything from Saranac, but it likely won’t be my last.  I’d call this a very good fall seasonal beer for anyone who likes a bit of holiday spice in their brew.  Very drinkable with just enough harvest-like flavoring that you know it’s a seasonal beer, but nothing so overpowering that it slaps you in the face.  I actually like a good pumpkin ale, but this still gets the point across if you wanted to introduce your non-pumpkin-loving friends to a good version that won’t turn them away forever.

It’s got an ABV of 5.4%, so it’s not really strong, which ads to the drinkability factor.  It actually makes for a nice balance with the spices.  I gave it a 4 on the beer advocate.com scale and the reality of it is that I’d simply consider it to be a good fall seasonal ale of which I’d be happy to have more.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it a pumpkin ale based on flavor, but it’s got the cool Jack-O’-Lantern label theme going on, so…  “Pumpkin” Ale it is.

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Goose Island: Good For The Gander

Goose Island Harvest AleIt’s autumn, so the harvest ale theme continues.  The most recent gaggle of beer arriving at our door included Goose Island Harvest Ale.

The best thing about this time of year is all the seasonal beers available from October through January.  It’s always a toss up for me as to whether I prefer the fall seasonals or the winter variety.  While labeled as “Harvest Ale,” Goose Island’s offering to the fall season really just a tastes like a good pale ale to me.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  There’s just nothing that seems all that seasonal about it, aside from the cool label.

It’s an ESB (Extra Special Bitter), so it’s a bit hoppy, but has a nice, clean finish.  It had a nice copper color and poured with an incredibly frothy and long-lasting head.  It’s got an ABV of  5.6% and while some of the reviews I read were able to pick out a variety of flavors, all I really picked up were the hops up front and a smooth, malty finish.  

Not a bad beer by any stretch, but nothing overly exciting either.  I’d give it a bout a 4 out of 5, which is actually bit higher than average BeerAdvocate rating.  In other words, I wouldn’t turn it down if someone handed one to me.  I’ll be on the lookout for Goose Island’s Mild Winter and Christmas seasonals as the colder months roll in.

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Oktoberfest: The Hunt for Red Hoptober

New Belgium Red HoptoberFall is the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year.  All of the seasonal brews start to make there way onto shelves in late September, and then it’s a non-stop beer lover’s dream through the winter.  

Okay, who are we kidding?  There’s no season when beer isn’t loved, but there’s something to be said for the flurry of seasonal brews available only through fall and winter. While the term “Oktoberfest” actually refers to the 16-day German beer festival which ends on the first weekend of October, that doesn’t stop anyone from thinking it should be celebrated through the entire month of October… And I have no problem with that.

I’m starting our October off with Hoptoberfest.  New Belgium Brewery recently released it’s Red Hoptober Ale and it’s quite good.  BeerAdvocate gives it a 3.86 rating, which is just on the verge of “exceptional” on their scale, and you won’t hear any disagreements here. 

Described by New Belgium as having a bold presence of hops with flavors of pine, caramel, barley and citrus with a “roast tone.”  It definitely has a distinct hoppiness up front and the piney flavor can be noticed only if you’re really concentrating on it.  It’s got a very nice and smooth finish.  They’ve done a really nice job of hop-control, if such a thing exists.  I’d describe it as being very well balanced.

Red Hoptober has a nice color and great aroma, but most of all, it tastes great, and that’s the most important box to check off.   As it says on the bottle, “Crack one open, sit back and enjoy the season’s change.”

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