The typical winter warmer/Christmas beer is something strong, both in alcohol and the amount of spices. Toss in honey, ginger and some cinnamon and you’ve got your typical Christmas beer. Ohio seems to do this pretty well. But occasionally you’ll run into Christmas beers that aren’t spiced at all. It’s rare, but I inadvertently grabbed three, not realizing I had picked up three of the unspiced variety – Bell’s Christmas Ale, Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza and Three Floyds Alpha Klaus.
With each falling into the Christmas beer category, it was tempting to throw together a blind tasting. But these are three completely different beers, so a blind tasting was unnecessary and almost impossible to do without knowing which was which solely based off of appearance, aroma and taste anyways. Heck, each is different enough that there’s really no point of ranking them, as each is going to appeal to different types of drinkers. So here’s the breakdown on the three beers.
Bell’s Christmas Ale
It’s a dark beer, so that fits into the Christmas beer category. But other than that, this isn’t like most Christmas beers out there. A Scottish ale brewed with Michigan barley, Christmas Ale pours brown with a thin head. The aroma is not particularly strong but is malt forward with dark bread and toffee and a touch of herbal hops. Caramel and toffee dominate the palate, but a slight pine hop note rounds out the taste with a nod to lit up Douglas firs. And unlike many Christmas beers, Christmas Ale is very dry, which makes it perfect for sustained drinking sessions. This is your six pack Christmas beer, the one you drink when you plan to have more than one.
Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza
Of the three beers, this one is the closest to a spiced Christmas beer. (It might actually be spiced but I couldn’t find a definitive answer. If it is the spicing is subtle.) It’s also about the farthest from a spiced Christmas beer as well. This mahogany beers accomplishes this seeming paradox by presenting a palette of dark fruit flavors combined with a signature tartness. It’s pronounced aroma indicates a sour beer immediately, with an aroma of baked tart cherries. Easily the most complex of the three, dark fruits like fig, raisin and cherry, swim through an ever-evolving flavor that has a slightly tart edge and a solid malt backbone. This is the beer you open up for your buddy who says he doesn’t like Christmas beers but enjoys a nice sour.
Three Floyds Alpha Klaus
Was it any doubt that the Three Floyds beer would be the hoppiest? Even though Alpha Klaus is a porter, it packs a hop punch that rivals its cousin, the pale ale Alpha King. This dark brown, bordering on black beer contributes a thick brown head that offers up a pronounced aroma of chocolate and coffee from the malt and mint, pine and even a little citrus from the hops. The roast presents itself prominently in the taste, with roasted coffee beans and dark chocolate assaulting the palette. A touch of pine and a refreshing herbal minty finish adds a Christmas twist. The mouthfeel is surprisingly light for the style, actually allowing the full bomber to be enjoyed by one person. This is the Christmas beer for those that love porters and stouts or like their beers hoppy. Or both.