Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
I can’t pinpoint exactly when the “holiday season” starts for me as a retailer — especially considering that my “busy season” this year started back in August with the early arrival of pumpkin ales. The holiday season always seems to creep up on me a bit; I never notice it starting, but always have a sudden moment of realization that it’s happening.
My moment for this year happened about a week ago, during a busy afternoon of stocking new beers that had just been delivered. In my peripheral vision, I almost accidentally caught a glance of my Belgian beer shelves and it hit me — “Wow, I have a lot of really cool Belgian Christmas Ales in stock right now!”
The spectrum of Belgian Christmas Ales is every bit as wide as that of Belgian beer itself, but there is something approaching a “standard” for the style. Generally maltier, with medicinal notes from herb and spice additions and often candi sugar, the classic Belgian Christmas Ale live on through beers like Delirium Noel, Gouden Carolus Noel, and the recently arrived Vicaris Noel.
For some, these beers can come across too sweet or spicy, while for others they may have to be in the right mood to enjoy them. My personal experience — especially with Gouden Carolus Noel — is that if you’re so inclined, setting a few bottles aside for a year goes a long way toward making the sometimes scattered flavors of the Noel beers come together and find balance.
Other Belgian holiday releases take wildly divergent paths. Scaldis releases a traditional Noel each year, along with a Noel Premium that clocks in at 13 percent ABV and feels more like a Barleywine than a Belgian Ale (I’m a particularly big fan of Scaldis Noel Premium). This year, we received two other variants from Scaldis: the Premium Prestige spends its last six months of aging in oak casks, while the Prestige de Nuits spends those six months in French oak barrels from the Hospice Cotes de Nuits winery in Burgundy. These beers are powerful, complex, elegant, very rare, and pricey — you’ve been warned.
Two of my other favorites take more of an everyday approach. Brasserie DuPont’s Avec Les Bons Voeux was originally brewed at the end of the year to give to importers, distributors, restaurateurs, and retailers as a “thank you for your support” gift. Its legend grew enough that it became DuPont’s holiday seasonal release. If you’ve ever had the standard-of-its-breed Saison DuPont, imagine a version that is stronger (at 9 percent ABV) with richer, rounder flavors, and you’re pretty much there.
A beer with a loyal fanbase that is still somehow “under the radar” is the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. A 10 percent ABV Quadrupel, Bernardus Christmas is surprisingly mild on the palate with hints of molasses, mint, and spice.
There are dozens of Belgian holiday beers that will be available to us in the area this year. Share some of your favorites in the comments, and have fun finding new ones this year. Until next time.
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