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Schlafly Christmas Ale

Posted by on in January 2015 Editions
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At this time of year, retail shelves are stocked with brightly packaged Christmas Beers. The packages, the labels and perhaps even the name contain the word Christmas, but what is Christmas Beer?  It’s one of those questions open to interpretation and opinion to which there is no definitive answer.  Some might reason it is a beer for drinking during the Christmas Holiday.  Others might suggest that it is a spiced beer with aroma and flavor common to holiday desserts; and, still others might say it is a higher alcohol beer brewed especially for the Christmas Season.  Regardless of the definition, Christmas beer has a long and interesting history.

Whether it was pre-Romans, the Druids or Scandinavians celebrating the Winter Solstice, holiday beers have been around for a very long time –thousands of years in fact.  Strongly brewed beer intended to be shared with friends and family became the norm in Europe during the late Middle Ages.  The beer of the time often contained spices, herbs or fruit and plenty of alcohol.  It was a special brew made for the season and to make common folk feel both warm and happy at the same time.  This idea is not entirely new, and could have been a storyline in a Charles Dickens’ novel.

Clearly, the notion of a Christmas beer defies a simple definition.  It seems to be less a style of beer and more of a tradition. The Beer Judges Certification program (Category 23) proclaims Christmas beer must contain spices, be dark in color and have a Christmas cookie like aroma and be true to its underlying style – whatever that is?  To further complicate matters, many of today’s commercially available holiday beers lack one or more required characteristics found in the beer committees’ rules.

Schlafy “Christmas Ale,” a seasonal beer from the St. Louis Brewery, seems to conform closely to the wider notion of what a Christmas or Holiday beer should be.  At 8% abv, it possesses a fairly high alcohol content.  Its color is a bit dark and pours a deep copper (SRM 30 on the color scale), and is full of spice. Flavoring ingredients include orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom and cloves.

As it is poured, the beer shows off a large tan and tightly packed head of tiny bubbles.  In a beer clean glass, the head lasted for 2-3 minutes just long enough for any excess carbon dioxide to escape.  

The first hits of aroma and flavor come from a pungent combination of cloves and ginger. Schlafly Christmas Ale is best described as a zesty and spicy brew.  The aroma of clove and ginger was pleasant, muted and not overbearing.  To its credit, the St. Louis Brewery, as it does with all of its beers, puts blend and balance as its first objective.  Although Christmas Ale is substantially different from this brewer’s everyday beers, the overall result is one of outstanding drinkability.

Pale, caramel, and Munich malts provide the body for this Christmas Ale. The inclusion of chocolate, honey and additional sugars provides fuel necessary for a higher alcohol content.  American Ale yeast is used as a catalyst, and Magnum hops provide additional flavor and aroma. The ale has a medium body with a smooth and medium mouthfeel.  Its pleasant and lingering aftertaste tells us we have a beer to be enjoyed.

Schlafly’s Christmas beer clearly falls into the tradition of holiday beers.  It has a combination of bold, expensive ingredients that yield a spicy aroma with robust alcohol content.  It is a beer to be shared with friends and family during the holiday season, and could be one of the best gifts you can give or receive this season. Give it a try.  It could well become one of your top ten Christmas/Holiday brews.