It is Christmas and surprisingly the ground is covered in snow – that means its time for a warming Christmas Ale. Christmas Ales and Winter Ales vary a great deal in style but they all tend to be malty and big, typically above 6% alcohol by volume. Some are spiced while others let the combination of malted grains, hops, yeast and water do all the work. No matter what style the Christmas Ale is, it should be warming and well suited for drinking during the holiday season.
After taking my dog for a walk in the snow this afternoon, I opened up Rogue’s Santa’s Private Reserve Ale with high expectations; I am a fan of Rogue Ales and have heard great things about their Christmas Ale. The first sip (more like a gulp) was a bit disappointing – the beer tasted like a pine tree. I looked at the beer, it had great colour looking similar to a Vienna Lager, and it had a thick frothy head, but still tasted foul. I couldn’t figure it out, I know that certain hops have a piney aroma and flavour, but this seemed a bit much, even for a brewery from the hop heavy Pacific North West. I continued to nurse my beer and within 15 minutes realized that I was making a terrible mistake. The problem did not lie with the brewer but with the drinker, the beer was just too cold.
The tongues taste buds are numbed by cold beer – this is a problem when it comes to a malt forward beer such as a Christmas Ale. As my beer continued to warm in my glass, the malt flavour became far more pronounced, balancing out the bitterness from the hops. In North America, most beer is consumed cold, but colder is not always better. Beer’s bitterness manages to shine through even the coldest beer, but the sweetness from the malt becomes almost nonexistent when served cold.
As it turns out, Rogue’s Christmas Ale has been my favourite beer this holiday season. When this beer reaches a cool cellar temperature, 10 – 13 degrees Celsius, its pine like bitterness is balanced nicely by its rich malt flavour. As you reach for your favourite holiday beer this Christmas, let it sit and warm up – you will be glad you did.