By John Antolos
Price Range : $12 - 15
Region: Watou, Belgium ABV: 10% IBU (Bitterness Units): 28
Before we bid a fond adieu to another Christmas season, let’s take a look at one “Christmas ale.”
Hey, it’s called 12 days of Christmas for a reason, so we have every reason to continue indulging in these delicious and robust winter ales. These ales are specially made to get you through cold winter nights and liven up your holiday celebrations. And when you take a good quaff of this one, you’ll understand what a well-made winter ale can do for your spirits! And if the little monk with the Santa hat and chalice of ale on the label doesn’t rouse a bit of the spirit in you, there’s no hope left.
ST. BERNARDUS’ Christmas Ale is a Quadrupel-style Belgian ale¹, tweaked a bit for the Christmas season. The first thing you want to do is pour it into a tulip glass (I drank mine out of a wine glass, which also seemed appropriate given this beer’s color and strength), hold it up to the light and admire the beautiful, rich red amber color peeking through the darkness. Take a big whiff and allow the aromas of roasted malt, yeast and dark fruit to warm and indulge your senses.
The flavors are what you would expect given the style and season. Dark bready malts blend with dried fruit flavors of dates, raisins and plums. Hints of licorice, orange rind and holiday spices like cloves and nutmeg will play on the tongue. As you swallow, you’ll catch the tell-tale yeast and alcohol warming typical found in the Quad style of ales. There is some sticky sweetness to this ale, but it isn’t cloying and doesn’t distract from the delightful complexity of it all. And don’t forget the yeast at the bottom of the bottle—give the bottle a good swirl and pour it into your glass. The yeast adds an additional level of detail and deliciousness that you’ll miss if you pour the contents directly into your glass.
There’s an apparent higher-than-expected level of carbonation which gave the ale a drier finish than I usually like, but allowing the beer to warm a bit lets more of the fruity intricacies to shine through. Sip this one over a couple of hours, and it becomes ever more enjoyable to drink, warming the insides with that 10% ABV.
True to the holiday spirit, I shared this Christmas ale with loved ones. With a higher-than-usual alcohol strength and hearty flavor profile, this beer is made to be shared. My mother, who is definitely not a beer drinker, really liked this one because the flavors were more akin to a liqueur than a beer… so how’s that for an endorsement? One more tip: I suggest skipping the holiday dessert. That fruitcake won’t be anywhere near as enjoyable as a big glass of this Christmas Ale, and if you’re going to add those extra holiday calories–make it worthwhile! —J.A.
¹ Quadrupel ales are generally darker and stronger Belgian ales, averaging about 10%+ in ABV.