Well, we’re a week into the month of December and it’s even started snowing (sort of) in Austin, so what better time to try out a little seasonal Christmas cheer in bottle form. I have selected a very diverse cast of beers from three very different breweries in order to see how different regions around the country sustain themselves over the cold winter months. (They were also the only ones that HEB had at the time.) Let’s get started!
The festive label screams, "Happy Holidays!"
First up, let’s check in with an old familiar favorite from the Lone Star State, the Shiner Holiday Cheer from the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. The Shiner Holiday Cheer has been an annual tradition for a little while and is described as “an Old World Dunkelweizen brewed with Texas peaches and roasted pecans.”
The Cheer gave off a real strong flavor of berries, although that might be in keeping with the peach elements. It also had a delicately hoppy flavor with a light body and a smooth mouthfeel. This brew has an alcoholic content of 5.4 percent alcohol by volume, but doesn’t have an overwhelmingly alcoholic taste. On the Austin Brew Scale, I would give this beer 4 out of 5 mugs.
For my next seasonal beer, I went to the Pacific Northwest and the Widmer Brothers Brewing Company out of Portland, Oregon. Their current winter offering is the Brrr Seasonal Ale. The Brrr is available late October through early January and is recommended to be paired with “holiday favorites like ham and turkey.”
After an initial sweetness, the Brrr gives way to a much more bitter flavor than the Holiday Cheer. The Brrr also has a strong, hoppy aftertaste.
The Brrr has a smooth texture and a slightly thicker body.
After an initially smooth tasting,I definitely got more of a sense of the 7.2% alcohol by volume as I continued drinking. Finishing up became more difficult as the alcohol started to kick in. I would give the Brrr a 3 out of 5 mugs on the Austin Brew Scale.
The final beer that I tried was completely different from the previous two, and provided something completely unexpected to the whole experience. The beer comes from the Magic Hat Brewing Company, located in South Burlington, Vermont. For the winter season, Magic Hat brews a beer that they accurately describe as a “Black-As-Night Winter Lager”. The beer, called Howl, is made with English ale yeast and a bitterness rating of 32 IBU.
The folks over at Magic Hat take this beer VERY seriously according to the description posted on its homepage: “Born of dark and cold and snow in the marrow of the northeast’s longest night, HOWL comes in on wailing winds with winter-weary eyes burning holes in sunless shadows. In its darkened depths out inner voids are warmed.” Okay, well now I’m a little scared. Not exactly the “holiday cheer” I was expecting. But it gets even crazier.
The website for Howl begins with a darkly lit flash animation accompanied by eerie music and a rather sinister voice in a British accent reciting an expanded version of the poem above. In the less terrifying description of the beer, the company describes it as “A dark, medium-bodied beer with a rich roasted malt flavor and smooth hop bitterness.”
The thing that is the most shocking about Howl, however, is the 4.6% alcohol by volume. The reason it seems so shocking was evident from the first sip I took of Howl. Whereas the Shiner didn’t have much of an alcoholic taste or kick to it to begin with, and the Brrr gradually became more intense as you drank it, Howl immediately felt like a punch in the face. The overall taste of the alcohol gave me an extreme “whiskey face” that I could feel in the back of my throat and the sides of my mouth. This was quite surprising considering that Howl had the LEAST alcohol by volume of the three beers that I tried.
In terms of texture, Howl was surprisingly very thin and fizzy. It did not produce much of a head despite being an extremely dark and almost completely opaque beer.
Another facet of the taste that struck me as different about Howl was the overwhelming presence of malt flavor. The beer contained at least three kinds of malts, including pale, crystal, and carafa. This made for an interesting flavor and an even more curious look to the beer. As you can see, when held up to the light, you are able to see the hundreds of tiny malt crystals floating within the beer. While this might be perfectly normal for some of you, it kind of grossed me out a little. For being a little a too bitter and malty for my taste I give Howl a 2 out of 5 mugs.
Well that’s all I have for this time, I hope everyone has a safe and happy holidays (while sampling out new bears of course) and let us know in the comments what your favorite winter beverage is. Until next time, Cheers!
photos by Preston Edmands