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It was our first Christmas dinner tonight here at Casa del Good Beer and these are the ales we are sampling afterwards. Last year, I reviewed a number of strong ales apt for Yule but only one really was a Christmas ale, the one from Harvey's, and it was no great shakes. This year I have two US (Abita and Sierra Nevada), two French (Jenlain and La Choulette) and a Belgian (Corsendonk) to pass around. These notes followed later but I thought I would get the photo up first. According to the gathered, it was an unfair fight as the two US regional scale brewers and their versions of a Christmas beer were up against giants, smaller brewers able to express much more in their ales.
- Jenlain Bière de Noël: Dark amber or copper ale under an off white rim. This is Terry's chocolate orange beer or as the bottle says bière de garde ambrée - amber country beer. At 6.8%, this is a higher test saison with good pale ale graininess within a more-ish semi-sweet malt fruit. In addition there is some chocolate malt plus some orange peel - juicier than in a dubbel. The yeast is creamy. This is a very easy drinking ale based on lovely soft water. Respecting the French-Belgian border, the hops are tangy twiggy but not burlappy. Watered medium oloroso sherry and a touch of spruce.
- Abita Christmas Ale: The yeast is slightly milk soured in this red dark amber ale under an off-white head. There is crystal malt toffee enriching this otherwise moderately interesting US pale ale. It is good and grainy but the hops at best are twiggy but, to be honest, are Mt. Hood rough. It is an unfair comparison as it is lighter and less thoughtful than its French and Belgian comparators. The effect is nutty with a dry-ish finish overarched with more than a bit of vegetative notes. Chocolate toffee celery. No lie.
- Corsendork Christmas Ale: Mahogany ale under a beige rocky head. The burlap of the Belgians over rich brown malt. A nice acid fruitiness cuts though the semi-sweet of the malt. Rather rich compared to the others but this hides the 8.5% well. A Christmas pudding of a beer, slightly black rummy but with some spice. An especially rich dubbel you could say. Very nice.
- Sierra Nevada 2005 Celebration: It never had a chance and more than half went down the drain only because of the quality (and quantity) it was up against. A medium amber, beige rimmed ale full of strong orange peel bitter oil, some twig structured hops and a bit of dried fruitiness beneath. Not as rich as I might have expected. More like the Abita than the Euros in that respect. The sharp hoppiness is unattractive when compared to the others. In the end an adequate middle-range US IPA with a boost of brown and crystal malts. Not unpleasant but not profound.
- La Choulette De Noël: The prize. Dark copper ale under an off-white creamy rich head. The aroma is horse blanket which sat in rotting potato peels for a week. Sound disgusting? It is not but that is French country ale - beer for people who eat blue cheese and the flesh of horses. A touch of fig and date below and a bit of nut, too. Hazelnut cracked shell - dry and dusty within the richness. It would be a classic with a rib-eye steak, pommes frites and brussel sprouts. Massive flavour. I had the brewer's blond last May. I am convinced.