Friday, January 11, 2008

Ringing out the season

An off-topic post only of interest to my California readers.

This was the first week back for most people who got two weeks off at Christmas. It’s been a busy week juggling stuff at work, my daughter’s school, and of course my research. It’s thus taken some time to wrap up one loose end from the Christmas season.

Almost exactly a month ago, I read an article in the Merc entitled “What's on Tap: Big, bold beers just in time for the holidays.”

They listed three special Christmas brews sold by major specialty brewers — two of them ales. Being an ale drinker and more than a bit of a beer snob, I felt compelled to investigate.

Below are the comments by the Merc’s reviewer William Brand and my own response.

Anchor Christmas Ale

This year's version is a dark brown ale, 5 percent alcohol by volume ale, spiced perhaps with nutmeg, allspice, cloves and seeds of paradise or ginger. It has a solid malty taste, backed by a gentle spicy tang that lasts into a drying finish.
I got a second opinion from a close friend. Not a bad ale, but nothing special — certainly nothing that says “this is a special ale you only get once a year.”

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

[Since it was created in 1981, the] only change, says head brewer Steve Dresler, was the addition of new hop varieties: floral, citrusy Centennials and piney Chinooks. Another change has been the use of "crystal" malt from an English company, which gives this beer its beautiful copper color and lip-smacking malty taste. Celebration is 6.8 percent alcohol and about 68 International Bitterness Units. (A comparison: Bud is 13 IBU.)
A step above the Anchor Steam. A very rich and full ale with a unique flavor. My brother-in-law agreed.

Gordon Biersch Winter Bock

For head brewer Dan Gordon … this beer brings back memories of when he was a 20-year-old exchange student in northern Germany. Everyone looked forward to the arrival of the first double bocks, the strong, dark, sweet beers from Bavaria, [Dean] Biersch says. …

Now, late each fall, [Gordon] makes a double bock.

"To me, it's the colder weather beer," he said over the roar of the bottling line the other day. WinterBock is 7.5 percent alcohol and made with a blend of malted barleys and spicy Hallertau hops. It has a caramel nose; full, malty taste; and drying finish.
After going for a sail on an America’s Cup yacht in San Diego (a birthday present), I fished one out of the charter’s cooler. Wow. I normally don’t drink beer but this was the most memorable drink I had all month. A few (but not all) beer hobbyists agree: I don’t see how someone could say it’s “boring”.

My vote is clear: if you want bold, go with the Double Bock. The Celebration is a full, rich ale, and certainly something worth having, but the Double Bock is an experience not to be missed. I bought several sixpacks, including one to give away.

Earlier this week I went to my local SaveMart (which claims to be a Lucky grocery). The Anchor Steam product was nowhere to be found — perhaps others agreed with me. But the other two were there, and either is worth buying.

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