Beer Bracket Round One – Akron Showdown

It’s time for the third regional of our Winter beer competition, with an Akron face-off!  Which animal – dogs or frogs – will advance to the next round?

12 Dogs of Christmas vs. Frosted Frog

12 Dogs vs. Frosted Frog

Pours a darkish copper with a medium, white head.  Clear.
Ginger comes through strong on the nose, with some Christmas spices in back.
Very gingery taste as well, with stronger spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, maybe honey?  Not quite as good a mix as the nose, in [Josh’s] opinion.  Balanced malt, with a moderately dry finish.
Moderately warming.  Smooth.  It’s 8.3%, but drinks like a 7, tops.
A really nice Christmas ale.
J: 8/10 E: 9/10
Deep, dark, reddish copper.  Thin, off-white head.  Clear.
Huge spice nose.  Cinnamon stands out, with ginger, nutmeg, and clove hanging around as well.
Similar taste.  Cinnamon throughout, but particularly on the finish.  The spices are more balanced here than in the nose.  Behind the spice, sort of an Oktoberfest feel—malty and rich.  Overall, the beer falls a bit on the sweet side, but not overly so.  The spicing is too strong for Josh’s taste.  Erin likes it a lot, though, but says a snifter’s worth would be enough.
Definitely warming.  You can tell this one is a high-alcohol beer (8.6%).  One for sharing; the 22-oz. bottle this came in is far too much to drink by oneself.
Great smell, but a bit overwhelming.  Taken back a few notches, this would be a wonderful beer.
J: 7/10 E: 8.5/10
Our winner: 12 Dogs with an overall score of 17 to Hoppin’ Frog’s 15.5. 

I liked the Frosted Frog much more than Josh, but it must be meant for sharing.  I can see it being a fun pick to bring to a holiday party.

Fermentation Friday: Round One Distant Shores Bracket

Round One: Distant Shores Bracket

Round One: Distant Shores Bracket

This ended up being an unfair match-up since it turned out Josh had picked up a 2011-2012 Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome.  The ale held up well for a 2 year old, 6% alcohol, beer, and if Josh hadn’t been pulling so hard for its competitor, Anchor Steam’s Christmas Ale, it might have advanced.  We’re considering a rematch with the current batch of the Winter Welcome.

This round’s winner: Anchor Brewing, Our Special Ale 2013 with 16/20 points. 

Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, CA – Our Special Ale 2013 (Christmas Ale)

Dark brown in color with some reddish tones and a largish, khaki-colored head.  Nice lacing.

Great spicy smell: a mix of anise, clove, cinnamon, juniper, and others.  Smells almost like burnt sugar, but in a good way.  Quite strong, but not overpowering.  [Erin’s Note:  I found the nose a off putting at first, though I became used to.  I probably liked the aroma less over time, but that may have been partly in comparison to the much mellower Winter Warmer.]

The spice tones down on the taste, letting some dark maltiness through.  Dry finish.  Very nice.

Medium body, medium carbonation.  A touch of spice astringency on the finish.  Very drinkable from sip to sip, though definitely a palate-killer and maybe not something to have multiple pints of. [Erin’s Note: Half a glass was enough for me, but Josh is hoping to find this in one of the larger format bottles for the family Christmas gathering.]

Really good spiced Christmas beer.  My favorite of the Anchor vintages I recall.

J: 9/10.  E: 7/10.

Samuel Smith, Tadcaster, UK – Winter Welcome Ale 2011-2012

Light copper in color.  Very clear.  Medium-sized white head.

Smells strongly of malt–bready, mostly–with some earthy hops.  No spice, as far as I can tell.  A bit of butterscotch comes out as the beer warms.

Malty taste as well.  A bit sweet up front, with some light fruity tones, though the beer seems to get drier as it warms.  Dries out somewhat, but not completely, on the finish.

Medium body and medium carbonation.  No astringency.  Quite drinkable.

A nice winter warmer, but unfortunately the lack of spice doesn’t really fit with our theme here.  I wish it had either more malt or less sweetness; as it is, it kind of fits between two beers that I wish it was.  It feels very British in that way: not going far enough, out of a worry of offending.  (Barleywines notwithstanding.)  All in all, it’s good, but doesn’t do much to stand out.

J: 7/10.  E: 7/10.

[Erin’s Note:  One Brit who doesn’t seem worried about offending – Stephen Fry, who is in the new Hobbit movie, sporting a most theatrical comb-over.]

Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown. It’s been 20 years since I read the Hobbit, so pretty much all I remember is Gandalf, Dwarves, Bilbo, Eagles.


Fermentation Friday: Holiday Beer Bracket

I asked Josh to stop and pick up some holiday beers to try as a fun, Friday evening activity.  And did he ever pick up some beer.  I was expecting three or four beers, but we had eight.  What to do?

Enter, the Xmas Beer Bracket.


Over the next week, we will pair two beers at a time, in three rounds to determine the 2013 Xmas Beer Champion.

Round One in the Lake Michigan Bracket –  Revolution Fistmas v. Dark Horse 4 Elf

Lake Michigan Beers 

These were two very different beers both from breweries that I like and respect, though neither one was a slam dunk for me.  Josh, as is his usual practice, took notes on the beers and I gave my feedback on appearance, aroma, taste and my overall preferences.  The notes below are mostly his, with a little bit of editing from me. We tend to consider beers along the lines of the Beer Judge Certification Program criteria: aroma, appearance, flavor, mouth feel, and overall impression.

Revolution Brewing, Chicago, IL – Fistmas Holiday Ale (6.1% ABV)
Copper, clear, med. khaki head.
Strong, hoppy nose of pine and spruce, with some citrus as it warms.  Some malt, but light.
Tastes more malty than it smells, though the bitterness holds its own.  Still some pine, with something else that I don’t really dig.
Medium body and carbonation.  Not really warming.  No astringency, but not particularly dry on the finish either.
An interesting take on the style, pushing piney hoppiness and leaving the spicing to play a supporting role (unless some of the spicing is from spruce or something, which wouldn’t surprise me).  Not really my thing, though.
Josh: 5/10 & Erin: 6/10

Dark Horse Brewing Co., Marshall, MI – 4 Elf Winter Warmer Ale (8.75%)
Dark brown, somewhat cloudy and pretty much opaque, with a small tan head.
Spicy nose: molasses, clove, gingerbread.  Roasty malt hanging back.
Heavy spice taste.  Clove, cinnamon, maybe nutmeg.
Medium body and carbonation.  A bit warming as it goes down, but not as much as one would expect, given the alcohol.  Nice dry finish, but with a touch of astringency.
More towards a traditional, dark winter warmer, but perhaps a bit more fortifying than the average.  I’d prefer a bit less spicing, but Dark Horse again does a great job making a high-alcohol beer seem significantly less so.
Josh: 7/10  & Erin 8/10

Winner of the first bracket: 4 Elf with a cumulative 15/20.

Congratulations, 4Elf.  You will be facing off against the winner of our upcoming Distant Shores Bracket: Anchor Steam’s Christmas Ale v. Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale.