[Day 1] Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

Yeah. You guessed it. MY FAVORITE BEER IN THE WORLD.

Considering this whole 12 Beers of Christmas thing is supposed to be about holiday and winter beers, I’m feeling pretty lucky that my favorite beer on earth just happens to be a winter release. It makes writing this “Day 1” post so much better.

Some of you may remember when I wrote about this beer last year. Even then I couldn’t begin to tell you how amazing it was, and I hadn’t even had it in over two years. In addition, I couldn’t find it in Seattle and was super bummed about it.

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Goose Island‘s Bourbon County Stout is the epitome of the bourbon barrel-aged beer. At nearly 15% abv, it might even kill you, but that’s ok because I swear it will be worth it.

And this year, I actually get to drink it again.

SOMUCHEXCITEMENTICAN’THANDLEIT!!!!

There is a bottle shop in West Seattle (The Beer Junction), and I have sort of made friends with the owner. Every year since I moved to Seattle I have asked him if he was going to get any Bourbon County. And every year he has regrettably told me no.

Until now.

This year, it happened.

Bourbon County was released in Seattle.

I almost died.

The best part of this story is that they got so few bottles that they didn’t even announce it on their Facebook page, which is where I had been looking. So when I went in on Monday and they didn’t have it, the guy told me to check back Tuesday or Wednesday because that was delivery day.

But I couldn’t go until Thursday. And it was gone. OH NOES!!!!

But then, like a beer angel, the guy behind the register comes around to the front holding a single 12oz bottle of Bourbon County Stout and presents it to me. He had put it behind the register just for me, knowing that I would be devastated if I didn’t get one. It was the last bottle for sale, he said.

I LOVE BEER PEOPLE THEY ARE AMAZING.

It’s kind of funny that I’m writing this post now, seeing as I haven’t even drunk my bottle of BCS yet. But I will. And you can be sure I will tell you all about it. For now, I will simply say the following:

This beer has singlehandedly made me feel joy, sadness, excitement, and depression. It has made me feel warm and fuzzy and wonderful inside, and has brought friends together in an effort to consume a 22oz bottle. It is the most wonderful beer in the world, released only at the most wonderful time of the year.

So, dear friends, Merry Christmas to you all. Find some friends and enjoy your favorite brew this holiday season. And fear not, when I get back to Seattle I will drink my Bourbon County and let you know all about the ecstasy that is barrel-aged beer.

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[Day 2] Alaskan Winter

This beer is #2 on my list for a number of reasons. First of all, I really like drinking it. Second of all, the way they make this beer is so cool that I like it just on principle. It’s too cool not to like it.

Alaskan Brewing makes pretty damn good beer. Their Amber is one of my favorite ambers out there. It’s super drinkable and tastes so fresh. I’m pretty sure the clean and fresh water they use up there makes a big difference.

Alaskan Winter is an awesome beer because it tastes different every year. Now don’t be alarmed, this doesn’t have anything to do with consistency issues at the brewery. The beer has so much variation every year because it is brewed with spruce tips.

Yes, tips of spruce trees.

Yes, really.

That probably sounds crazy, but it is a really incredible thing. It adds a flavor to the beer that is just so unique. And the best part is, it tastes different every year because the spruce tips have a different flavor each year depending on rain, temperature, etc. Alaskan just goes and picks them in early fall and then it’s up to fate.

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The 2013 edition of Alaskan Winter was miles away from the 2012 edition. The color was surprisingly light this year, kind of like an amber (not dark like most winter beers). The smell was incredibly sweet! Surprisingly so, in fact. It smelled like a lovely mixture of caramel and malts, and the smell just gets better as you tip the glass further around your nose.

And then the taste. Oh man. It’s freshest and sweetest (but not syrupy-sweet) beer I think I’ve ever had. There are hints of malt and caramel combined with fruitiness, creaminess, and a hint of trees. It’s like someone told nature to make a beer and this is what happened.

In 2012, Alaskan Winter actually tasted like trees. Straight up, it was like drinking pine needles. Now some people don’t like that (understandably so), but I happened to love it. There’s nothing like using natural ingredients year after year and getting a different result.

That’s why this beer is #2 this year: I’m already excited for 2014.

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[Day 3] Double Mountain Fa La La La La Winter Ale

We’re now getting into that territory of beers that really, truly blew my mind this holiday season. This beer is truly fantastic.

I have been a fan of Double Mountain for quite some time. Based in Hood River, Oregon (a bastion of beer-making), it’s no surprise that they make some top-notch beers. Their Hop Lava IPA is one of my favorite Northwest IPAs out there. (In fact, just last night I asked the waitress at a bar what the best IPA on tap was, and without any hesitation she said Double Mountain. See?)

So, with this in mind, I bought a bottle of Double Mountain’s holiday release and decided to give it a try. And good lord, it did not disappoint.

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This is one of the most unusual winter ales I’ve tried, in that it isn’t dark and heavy and sweet, which is kind of what I’m used to. Instead, it pours a beautiful light oak-brown color, is almost floral on the nose, and is bursting with hops. But underneath that hoppy exterior sits a subtle but intense malt flavor that carries through until the very end. It really is quite remarkable.

I hadn’t had Fa La La La La before, so I’m not sure if this is an annual release or not. But if is, I highly recommend you try it. And if it’s not, I’m sure whatever they come up with in 2014 will be just as delightful.

[Day 4] Fremont Brewing Bourbon Abominable

This post goes out to all the other bourbon barrel-aged brews out there. Way to go, bourbon. You’ve done well.

I would like to commend all bourbon barrel-aged beers for doing something super awesome. Barrel-aged beers are amazing, and bourbon is amazing, and together you are making beautiful magic.

BUT.

Fremont Brewing has got something on all of you. And no, it’s not that their beer is the best one out there (but it’s really, really good, don’t get me wrong). It’s that their barrel-aged beer comes out at the same time of year as the non-barrel-aged version (same beer) so you can try them side by side. And that is SO COOL.image[4]

Abominable Ale is Fremont Brewing’s annual winter release. It’s quite delicious. This is one of those truly hearty winter ales, the kind of beer where one of them is pretty much all you want. It’s rich, it’s thick, it’s creamy and roasty and malty and chocolatey. And ringing in around 8% abv, it’s a doozy.

But that is NOTHING compared to the barrel-aged version. Fremont Bourbon Abominable (affectionately referred to as B-Bomb) is like a punch in the face, but in the most positive way possible. It’s like you want to be punched in the face. But only by this beer. Because it feels so gooood.

Of course, like any barrel-aged beer, each vintage is slightly different depending on the barrels used, how long it’s aged, temperature, etc etc. But generally speaking, this beer is one of the best barrel-aged brews out there. (It has an overall rating of 98 on Beer Advocate. That is not easy to do.)

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I want to describe it to you, but I’m not sure I can. It’s so amazing. They’re taking an already-awesome beer (Abominable) and making it even more awesome by infusing it with bourbon flavor. It’s really rich, super creamy, very strong, warming, intense, sweet, flavorful, hearty. My god. On top of that, it’s like 11% abv, so you get really drunk and feel super warm and fuzzy inside when you drink it.

So, you should probably just drink it. They sell it all over the country now, as far as I’ve heard. So if you ever see a bottle shop with some strange 22oz bottles from Seattle, check it out. I swear it’s worth it.

[Day 6] Full Sail Wassail

This beer makes it onto my list this year for two reasons. The first is that it is, in fact, a very good beer. The second is that they have a marketing gimmick that I totally fell for and I don’t even care.

I don’t want you to think that Full Sail is some sort of terrible company that is constantly hard marketing to its customers, because it isn’t. So first, let’s talk about the main reason this beer is #6 on my Christmas list.

Wassail is Full Sail’s annual holiday release, and I have now had it three years running. I always though it was a pretty great choice as far as holiday seasonals go, but I think the 2013 release might be my favorite so far.

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Ringing in at 7.2% abv, this winter beer is surprisingly light. The flavors carry a hint of holiday spices alongside a warm malty flavor. There is even a hint of chocolate in there. It’s really easy to drink, which can be a difficult thing to find among the selection of winter beers out there nowadays.

On top of this, Full Sail did something brilliant this year. It’s marketing at its finest, but it’s so cool/fun that I’m not even sure this was a marketing idea so much as something “fun to do!”

On the underside of each bottle cap is a number followed by a phrase. For example: “12 brewers brewing.” I bet you can already guess where this is going.

In the six pack I purchased I ended up with four variations of these phrases:

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I was so excited that I was fully prepared to keep buying more six packs of Wassail until I had collected every single one. I probably would have done exactly that were it not for all the other winter beers I’ve been trying to drink over the past few weeks. Man, I live a tough life.

And so, dear friends, that is why I love Full Sail Wassail. Somehow, ever so cleverly, they made me want to just keep buying their beer, and it wasn’t even 100% for the beer itself. Brilliant. Props, Full Sail. That’s a marketing job well done.

[Day 7] Eel River Brewing Climax Noel

Today’s Beer of Christmas is actually a beer I tried at The Beer Authority during that beer tour I did at the beginning of December (which, in fact, was also called the 12 Beers of Christmas…but I didn’t want to confuse you, and I also stole the name).

Anyway, the point is that this is a beer I had never had until just over a week ago. And I was so intrigued that I decided it deserved a spot on my countdown.

Eel River Brewing (Fortuna, CA) is a brewery I knew only a little about before last week. Since then, I have learned that all their beers are organic and they brew using sustainable methods. It’s pretty NoCal crunchy stuff, but I kind of like it.

Like many breweries, Eel River releases an annual holiday beer called Climax Noel.

Ok. Before we go any further, let’s be real. The name of this beer is kind of amazing.

Climax Noel?

It’s like Christmas and sex and beer all in one. (Sorry if that weirded you out, but that is literally all I can think of when I hear the name of this beer.)

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Ok ok, moving on. Climax Noel is an Imperial Red Ale, which is a pretty unusual choice for the “annual winter seasonal” most breweries put out (HAHA put out). Sorry, I’m stuck on the sex thing.

Anyway, most breweries tend to release a winter warmer style, or a barrel-aged beer, or something much darker. Not to say that an Imperial Red isn’t plenty hearty (it’s over 9% abv), it’s just not a common style.

Not only was this an unusual winter seasonal, it was really, really good. I decided to start my day-drinking with this beer, and I have zero regrets. (This was also the day I spent 7 hours alone at a bar… But you know what, I don’t think I have any beers to blame for that. If anything, I should be thanking Eel River for helping me have a super awesome Sunday.)

So cheers to you, Climax Noel. May your Christmas be filled with lots of ups (*snicker*), and hopefully no downs.

[Day 8] Great Lakes Brewing Edmund Fitzgerald

Well, as promised, today’s beer is indeed a porter. It’s also the first porter I ever liked!

Unfortunately, I cannot find this porter out here in Seattle. Great Lakes Brewing (Cleveland, OH) doesn’t distribute to the west coast. Which is too bad, their beers are quite lovely.

As I mentioned yesterday, I did not like porters much early on in my beer-drinking career. Basically, I didn’t like dark beers. My first go-to after High Life (the lock, stock and barrel of cheap college beer) was wheat beers, followed quickly by pale ales (Goose Island’s 312 was my first beer love), followed by IPAs and all those crazy hoppy things. But I just couldn’t get into dark beers. I didn’t like browns, I hated stouts, and I couldn’t get behind porters either.

I already knew I liked Eliot Ness, the amber lager from Great Lakes Brewing. I’d also had a few of their others, so one time at a party in the dead of Chicago winter, I grabbed a random beer from a mix pack in the fridge and cracked it open.

It happened to be Edmund Fitzgerald, GLB’s porter. I didn’t even bother to check, I just looked at the label and thought, “Oh, I haven’t had this one,” as if it were a piece of chocolate with some surprise filling inside.

So I took a sip.

And I paused, confused.

Then I looked at the label.

Then I paused again.

Then I took another sip.

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And from that moment on, I was hooked. Edmund Fitzgerald became my 2nd choice from Great Lakes Brewing (and I bought their beer a lot). Didn’t have Eliot Ness at the store? Fine, I’ll get me some Fitz. Drank too much Eliot Ness last week? No prob, I’ll drink some Eddie this time.

It’s really too bad I can’t actually drink one of these beers this holiday season. Technically it’s one of their year-round beers, but I especially enjoy it in colder weather. It also holds a special place in my heart as the beer that made me appreciate porters. And now, I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t like porters. Lately, in fact, they’ve been a go-to for me.

So thank you, Ohio, for teaching me a little something about beer. (Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.)

[Day 9] Porters!

As I mentioned in my previous post, the majority of these will be “specific” beers, but occasionally I’ll break out the broader genre.

So on that note: Porters! What a genre of beer!

If you ask me, cold weather calls for porters more than any other type of beer. They’re hearty, they’re filling, and they warm the soul in the wintertime. They are usually sweet, and really creamy. It’s like dessert in beer form!

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As someone who used to not like porters, I have to say I’m now a really big fan of this type of beer. The variation is pretty extreme, which makes it really exciting every time you try a new one. Sure, sometimes it might not be exactly your cup of tea, but spontaneity is fun!

It seems silly to just talk about the style without listing some options, so here are a few porters that you should probably try (in order of how much I like them):

  • Baltic Porter – Zywiec (Zywiec, Poland)
  • Black Butte Porter – Deschutes Brewing (Portland, OR)
  • Robust Porter – Smuttynose (Portsmouth, NH)
  • Baltic Porter – Alaskan Brewing (Juneau, AK)
  • Smoked Porter – Stone Brewing (Escondido, CA)

There’s actually another one that should be at the top of that list, but then I’d be giving away tomorrow’s beer of the day! So you’ll just have to be kept in suspense for a little while longer…

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[Day 10] All of the Randalls!

Today we delve into one of the non-specific “beers of Christmas” that will appear over this 12 day period. Most of my “12 Beers” are actually specific beers, but there are other things worth mentioning, and so I shall do that.

Today, we discuss Randalls.

Don’t know what a Randall is? No worries! I didn’t either until last December, when The Pine Box (a bar in Capitol Hill) kept talking about the “12 Randalls of Christmas.” And I was like, who is Randall, and why are there 12 of him?

Well, let me tell you, a Randall is a super cool “contraption” that makes beer taste super exciting! In fact, it kind of makes beer taste like whatever you want it to. It’s pretty crazy. Before I get into the facty-facts, here’s a photo of a holiday Randall:

imagesSome of you may have figured out what a Randall is simply by looking at this photo. If you didn’t, here’s the skinny: A Randall is basically a “double tap” contraption whereby the beer (any beer you want, really) is pulled from the draft or keg through a canister containing other “ingredients” and then re-drafted into a glass through a second tube. So basically, you’re pulling the beer through something else in order to “quick-infuse” it with a bunch of flavors.

At first, I was skeptical.

But then I tried it.

Oh man.

Imagine drinking a porter that you like a lot. Probably not your favorite (no one wants to “alter” their favorite things), but something you’re enjoying at the moment. Then imagine drinking that with the added flavors of coffee and vanilla bean. Yeah. I’m serious. It’s like drinking a completely different beer! But in a really good way!

The Pine Box (bar mentioned above) generally has at least two of their beers on Randall. It’s great because you can order the beer by itself, and then you can order it through a Randall and it’s like having a completely different beer.

l(See that “thing” in the middle under the Bruce Lee poster? That’s a Randall!)

I have had 2 Randalls at the Pine Box. The first was (in fact) a porter pulled through coffee and vanilla beans. It was intense and unlike anything I’d ever had. Definitely wouldn’t be my first pick on most occasions, but really quite delicious.

The second was Laurelwood Brewing’s Vinter Varmer (their holiday seasonal) pulled through lemon rinds and cinnamon.

Whoa.

It was so incredible! Before choosing I tried both the “original” and the Randall version, and I couldn’t help but pick the Randall. It was unlike anything I’ve ever had!

So, dear friends, if you ever have the opportunity to try a Randall, I highly recommend it. I guarantee it won’t be like anything you’ve ever had, and chances are you’ll decide it’s not really your thing. But it’s worth checking out. Drinking beer like this totally changes the experience of drinking beer, and sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone.

[Day 11] Diamond Knot Ho! Ho! Winter Ale

This is a beer that may not have landed on my list were it not for the wonderful experience I had while drinking it.

Diamond Knot Craft Brewing (Mukilteo, WA) brews many beers that I very much enjoy, and the Ho! Ho! Winter Ale is quite delicious. It’s pours pretty dark and smells like winter spices (yum!). Flavor-wise it has some maltiness to it, but is also remarkably bitter and has some toasty and nutty flavors as well. Definitely not an “easy-drinking” beer like the Red Hook, but goes down smooth.

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But this beer holds a special place in my heart this holiday season for a few other reasons. The first is that I got to try it at one of my favorite bars, Beveridge Place Pub. As I mentioned a few days ago, I was doing a Christmas beer tour, and Beveridge Place was one of the bars involved. It’s such a wonderful bar, filled with couches, excellent beer, dogs, and nice people. It’s one of the most comfortable bars I’ve ever spent time in.

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In addition to being one of my favorite bars, I happened to go on one of their “Brewer’s Nights,” during which they dispense numerous prizes throughout the evening. Basically, for every beer you purchase, you get a raffle ticket. Your ticket goes in a big bowl, and every hour or so they do another drawing and give away sweet prizes from the featured breweries.

Well, Diamond Knot happened to be one of the featured breweries, along with Dick’s Brewing (Centralia, WA) and Oakshire Brewing (Eugene, OR). And guess what? I won! Twice! In addition to a pint glass+coozie+sticker from Dick’s, I won this sweet Ho! Ho! t-shirt!

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And so, Diamond Knot, you’ve landed yourself on my 12 Beers of Christmas list this year. Sometimes free stuff goes a long way. (Also good beer…but whatever.)