… and I don’t mean the temperature.

I thought it would be fun to mention a couple of readily available winter seasonal beers that struck me as a couple of the biggest surprises of ’08 – one in a good way and the other in a not-so good way. I’m going to avoid including any hard-to-find beers in this little experiment, hence the “readily available” disclaimer. In southern Illinois, you might be surprised just how little in terms of truly good beer is available, readily or otherwise.

Except, perhaps, at my house but let’s not go there. No, literally … let’s not go there.

The first beer I’ll mention brought me a welcome cheer of excitement several weeks ago. This one made the most of low expectations, for sure. I’m speaking of Spoetzl Brewery’s Shiner Holiday Cheer! The guy at a local liquor store actually talked me into buying a six-pack a couple of weeks ago, despite my best efforts to avoid it up to that point. Suffice to say, I have never thought too highly of Shiner Bock and I assumed that this one would be more of the same in terms of quality and taste (or lack thereof). After all, the Blonde did absolutely nothing for me either. I haven’t tried the Black Lager. This beer, however, is pretty dog-gone tasty and not just for a “Shiner beer” either. Check out my review I’ve re=posted here and then go out and try this one before it’s gone for another year!

Shiner Holiday Cheer“This holiday offering pours a rich, dark ruby-tinged brown color with a bubbly head of light cocoa foam about two-fingers high. Active carbonation bubbles and spotty lacing in the glass. Poor head retention.

The nose is like liquid peaches – very fruity, with hints of pear, honey and very subtle spices. The nose reminds me of the syrup in canned fruit more than anything.

The palate offers a very fruity punch right up front, but isn’t as sweet as the nose would have you believe. There is a rather nice balance of peachy sweetness and nutty dryness going on here. I detect ever-so-slight hop bitterness and a subtle roasted malt character that counters the fruitiness of this beer rather well.

This is a medium bodied dark wheat beer with very ample carbonation – maybe slightly over-attenuated – and a dry, slightly bitter finish. A very drinkable holiday beer, and a nice change of pace from the heavier “barley-based” beers of winter. I would have liked to have seen a bit more spice in the beer and just a bit less carbonation. Having said that, though, this beer exceeded my expectations quite a bit.”

Okay, on to the next beer that offered me a bit of surprise this year. Although it was released last year, I understand, this year was my first to try Coors Blue Moon Full Moon Abbey Ale. Maybe they just shouldn’t have called it an ‘Abbey’ beer and I’d have been a lot happier, but this is not an Abbey-style ale by any stretch. As my review points out, I’d buy it (as in ‘believe it,’ not so much as in ‘purchase’ it) if they called it a mild or even an ESB for crying out loud, but not an Abbey beer or any Belgian style I’m acquainted with. Again, not to come off too harsh here – it’s not horrible. In fact, it is tastier than most macro beers, but c’mon. If you’re gonna claim to have brewed an Abbey style beer and you’re gonna toss around ingredients like Belgian candi sugar, you just gotta do better in my estimation. Here’s my review of this one – maybe it’ll make you wanna try it for yourself, but just don’t expect something it definitely is not!

Blue Moon Full Moon“This offering from Coors under the Blue Moon label pours a medium amber color with an impressively tall, rocky head of foam that presents a wet sand color on top of the beer. Active carbonation bubbles rise quickly from the base of the glassware through the crystal clear amber hue of the beer they’re swimming in.

The nose is where things go awry a bit – queue the record-scratching stop here. Perhaps it is the fact that this beer purports to be a Belgian Abbey-style beer, but this is certainly not what I expected in the nose. I get notes of bready crystal malts, roasted grains and a very slight spiciness coming through. I don’t get the tell-tale fruity esters you’d expect in an abbey-style beer. In fact, I’d seriously question whether this beer was brewed with an abbey ale yeast strain at all. If it was, it was at a very low fermentation temperature, as there are no detectable esters here. Phenols (spiciness) is minimal as well. The hop addition is a little aggressive for a Belgian abbey beer as well. Bottom line, this beer doesn’t smell bad, in itself, it just doesn’t smell right for the style it claims.

The palate confirms all of this with bready/biscuity malts, some minimal molasses-like character and English hops. The label also reports the use of Belgian dark candi sugar – perhaps a touch only. The beer is not dark enough or high enough in alcohol to have much of a dark candi sugar addition. Since candi sugar (derived from beets) is 100% fermentable, it doesn’t contribute sweetness, really … just some color and food for the yeast. I get dry grainy and bready malts, some roasty notes and slightly spicy hops here – nothing to make me think this is a Belgian-style beer. The beer is thin and aggressively carbonated. This is certainly consistent with the use of some candi sugar, but at 5.6 % ABV, this isn’t a “big” beer by any account.

The finish is very dry and slightly bitter. At under 6% ABV, this is a user-friendly beer and not horrible in any respect. Again, if it didn’t claim to be an abbey-style ale, I’d be much more forgiving. In fact, I’d be more inclined to believe this was an attempt at a British mild than I would a Belgian-style beer. The yeast is just not kicking out the fruity esters you need here and the mouth feel is just too thin for even a small Belgian-style ale. I can’t say I’d return to this one again any time soon, but points for the effort. At least the “Blue Moon” line is trying something new to appeal to the masses. That is, after all, who they’re after much more than the beer geeks who might have issues with this beer posing as a style it just doesn’t match.”

If I don’t get the opportunity to post again before Christmas, and I may not, I hope everyone has a happy and safe Holiday this year. Remember, enjoy family and friend and fine beer – but keep it within reason and always “drink wisely!” Cheers!

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