I always look forward to the fall/winter holidays. I’m an old-fashioned Norman Rockwell Christmas sort of guy anyway, but it isn’t the festive images of Christmas past that really trip my trigger – it’s the beer. Winter seasonals are among my favorite beers throughout the year, hands down. The special-release Christmas ales that appear ’round abouts now tend to be my favorites among the favorites. Deep, luxurious ales full of rich, spicy flavors and enough alcohol to warm the coldest of souls on the coldest of nights. These beers are truly “the Season in a bottle” for me and represent, in liquid form, the abundance and blessedness of what Christmas is all about for me and mine. Lest I wax too theological, let’s just say that the fine ales (and even lagers) of winter are a gift I look forward to all year long.
In light of this, I thought I might publish a series of simple reviews of some of my favorite winter seasonals, along with some new ones, in hopes of conjuring up some of the same sentimentalities in you. If you haven’t been smacked upside the head with the wonder and glory of holiday beers like Mr. Scrooge after a Christmas Eve haunting, maybe my humble ramblings can serve as your spectral guide into the other-worldly realm of winter seasonal beers – but with generally fewer chains and groaning, mind you.
Let’s kick this off with a nice Belgian offering from Brasserie Des Geants – Noel Des Geants:
This Holiday seasonal from Brasserie Des Geants pours a rather deep, ruddy medium brown color and produces a massive, bubbly head of just off-white foam that threatened to overtake the rim of the tall tulip glass I’ve poured into. Tiny flecks of yeast in suspension are disbursed all throughout this beer, even after a very careful and slow pour like so many snowflakes in a holiday snow globe. Active carbonation rises from the bottom of the glass, sustaining the epic head and adding to the bustling activity within the glass.
The nose is all of candy and fruit, upfront. Following the sweet beginnings, notes of holiday spices like cinnamon, clove and allspice can be detected albeit in subtle quantities. This beer smells a little bit like cotton candy or maybe a jar of hard holiday candies being melted into a potpourri with spices. Very festive.
The palate was much drier than indicated by the nose, and delivers rich, lightly roasted malt notes, accentuated by a dash or two of honey and burnt caramel. The carbonation level of this beer is ample, to put it mildly, causing a lively, crisp effervescence in the mouth that is a nice contrast to the sugary sweetness in the nose. This also lends to a surprisingly clean mouth feel without any trace of cloying sweetness lingering long.
The finish is decidedly dry and the hops, what there is of them, assert themselves only a little very late in the back of the mouth. A lingering alcohol warmth rounds out the dryness and amplifies the spiciness in the beer long after the glass is empty. The combined effect of the high carbonation and substantial alcohol create a mild “burn” in the mouth that is both pleasant and warming without being “hot” or boozy. You could probably drink more of this beer than you should, quite easily. All in all, a very worthy holiday offering from a very interesting brewery – this may be my favorite beer from Des Geants to date.
May you have the happiest of Holidays!