It’s Wednesday! Usually, that would mean that the weekend is in sight and camels everywhere are throwing parties. Today however, it marks one week before Christmas. In honor of that fact, I’ll be previewing only Christmas beers for these next seven days. There really isn’t much difference between a Christmas beer and any other winter seasonal brew, but tis the season! Our first Yuletide Libation is Breckenridge Brewery’s Christmas Ale, wrapped up in a delightfully festive label that doesn’t give any information about the beer itself, other than its 7.4% ABV content. But that’s alright – we’ll experience this beer together, and hopefully find another brew to add to the Nice List.
Starting things off, a malty bread bloom bubbles up out of the bottle and bursts against your nose. Sticky hints of brown sugar and even a touch of chocolate add some dark sweetness that coats the malts wonderfully. Ultra faint notes of plums and raisins arrive at the end of each breath, bringing a pinch of dark fruitiness that mingles with the sugary sweetness and bread to create a bouquet not too far off from a Christmas bread. You’ll have to be patient and wait a bit to experience this particular aroma, but it’s worth it. The malts stay full and dominant the entire time, but the brief flashes of side notes add a nice, festive complexity that lives up to the beer’s namesake.
The flavors, however, strike away from the aroma. The malts show up first, shifting to a drier, almost cracker-like flavor instead of that rich, savory bread. In addition, there’s a roasted malt sublevel that adds a touch of smokiness that tastes like it’s been pulled right out of a stout. Just those malts though – the rest of the flavors have nothing stoutish about them. Actually, hints of orange peel and floral hops show up right after the malts, adding a touch of piney bitterness that rolls over the tip of the tongue before fading under the malts. There’s a super-subdued flavor of burnt brown sugar and caramel at the bottom of each taste that adds just a smidgen of sweetness. Finally, each taste is rounded out by a gentle splash of fruit – primarily made up of plums and raisins. The aftertaste mellows quite a bit from the main flavors, lingering as a soft, bread toast vibe at the back of the tongue.
Poured out into a tulip glass, the aromas fade quite a bit. After a few moments, some bread malts make their way up out of the glass, bringing notes of brown sugar and raisins in a noble attempt to keep the Christmas vibe flowing. Giving the glass a swirl reveals faint notes of mild nuttiness, followed by an even smaller hint of roasted malts. Visually, it pours mostly clear as a deep golden brown, with a quick and fluffy white head settling on top.
The post-pour flavors make up for the lack of poured aromas. Bread and cracker maltiness start things off with a smoothness that rolls over the tongue and clings for a while. Immediately after, a wave of hop spiciness splashes on top of the malty backbone, leaving most of the bitterness out of the taste and offering just the spice and floral notes of the hops. A subtle breeze of pine finishes the hop portion of the beer with a freshness close to a newly-cut pine tree. Despite the hops, the beer maintains its rich, malty identity by keeping the hop bitterness out of the picture. Letting the beer warm a bit reveals some sweet notes of homemade caramel – quite tasty with the crackery malts. Throughout the beer, there is a slow-building alcohol warmth that eventually creates a mild feeling of toastiness, perfect for those cold winter evenings. The alcohol is completely masked from start to finish, so you won’t realize the above average potency until you’re well within the beer. It finishes with a moderately long aftertaste of floral hop spices and lingering bread and cracker malts.
Starting the Christmas beer list off nicely, Breckenridge Brewery’s Christmas Ale brings a strong, malty backbone with layers of hop spices, dark fruitiness and hints of sweetness born from brown sugar and caramel to create a balanced, mouth-filling brew. Easily drinkable, it lends itself to slow drinking in order to experience the changing elements within the beer. A slow alcohol presence gives it a nice Winter Warming quality, and the cozy malt flavors create a feeling of holiday comfort that confirms it as a Christmas ale. Priced the same as other seasonal crafts, it’s well worth the price – but you can also find this in a mini keg that would work great for get togethers (or just for you, if you really love the beer).
With that in mind, I recommend this beer amongst friends and family, perhaps as you gather round to exchange gifts, or simply to exchange stories and laughter. It’d also be a great gift itself, especially to those who’d like to taste a nice example of full-bodied craft flavors. Kicking off the week before Christmas with a solid show, Breckenridge Brewery’s Christmas Ale earns a thoroughly tasty A-.
Lasting Strength: 9/10
Overall: 9/10 A-
Winter Warming Bonus: 8.5/10