ALESMITH YULESMITH WINTER HOLIDAY ALE REVIEWHappy holidays beer fans! For this beer review, we take a look at an unusual take on a winter seasonal, AleSmith YuleSmith Winter Holiday Ale.
WHAT IS A WINTER ALE?
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the sun takes half days and the wind turns from refreshing to painful, man’s tastes change. Warm, thick, comfort foods like stews and chowders, mulled ciders, and roasts reappear in our kitchens as we gather indoors with friends. Brewers have always followed the seasons, losing access to fresh hops, the cold months are historically celebrated with a malty, higher ABV style known as winter ale or winter warmers. The English brewed these sans hops at times, to be heated and spiced. Later Burton Ales, a stronger dark beer, became a consistent winter tradition from the early 1900’s through the 1950’s (thankfully, they are now making a return).
In the US, Anchor Brewing revived the style in the states with a boldly spiced, dark beer known as Christmas Ale, according to the OCB, “its name predating worries about religious overtones” in 1975. And so today beers like Great Lakes Christmas Ale are a part of many craft beer lover’s highlights of the brewing year. Described by dissenters as potpourri in a bottle, American Christmas ales are generally brown ales with an ABV over 5% and spiced with ingredients like cinnamon and ginger. West coast versions often have a noticeable hop element.
My first taste of this beer came during a blind tasting of Christmas ales with the prestigious Tri-City Beer Club (est. 1996). Despite the inclusion of the hopped up 3 Floyds Alpha Klaus porter and Bell’s well hopped scotch styled Christmas Ale, everyone was struck by the contrast between AleSmith YuleSmith Winter and everything else sampled. Not everyone was pleased by the contrast, but that is another story…
Tasted later on its own, the beer pours a ruddy brown that cannot be seen through. The nose of tropical fruit hop and sweet malts comes wafting up well before any pretentious sniffs are taken. The taste starts with toffee from the malt and grapefruit. YuleSmith Winter is not as hoppy as that big nose hinted at, but the hops are certainly there, with a bit more pine, growing more prevalent as it warms. The finish is a sweet and a bit boozy.
Winter seasonal beers, like autumn’s “pumpkin ales”, can become an excuse to make bland ale covered up with a familiar spice blend. YuleSmith proves that a great beer can be brewed by breaking from the mold, and going boldly hoppy even in chilly months. Great imperial reds like AleSmith YuleSmith Winter Holiday Ale can, with the bold application of sweet malts, bridge the divide between hop lovers and hop haters. The balance is that good. So if you have a hop head on your Christmas list, do them a kindness and slip this one in their stocking. Just don’t pour it for someone expecting a Great Lakes Christmas Ale.