Holiday beers 2015

Top-rated brews for the season



Photo courtesy of The Little White Box (via Flickr)

For 2015, the blind-tasting panel at Celebrator Beer News in Nevada City rated 46 beers on a scale from 5 stars (“exceptionally great”) to 0 stars (“bad; pour it out immediately”), and for the holidays, the CN&R is sharing its top-rated selections (with a focus on the ones currently available at finer beer shops in Chico).

Holiday beers are, by design, no one style, but they offer individual breweries a chance to let their imaginations run wild. During the holidays, when people stop their busy lives and share some precious time with family and friends, the beers they choose should be as special as the time they’re sharing. So a holiday beer should be made to impress, to wow its audience, to stand out. That’s the only criterion that should be met by one of these beers.

Five stars:

Brown Shugga’, Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma and Chicago

Bright, clear, orange-amber color with a fresh, rich hop nose and aromas of citrus, fruit and green onions. Chewy, rich malt and a zesty hop bite. Lemon and citrus notes, along with great balance and complexity.

Double Red IPA, AleSmith Brewing, San Diego

Bright, deep amber color with a citrus hop nose and aromas of fruit and bready malt. Chewy and creamy, with a big hop bite, a solid malt base, spicy tartness and great balance. Great hops all the way through, down to a long, lingering, bitter finish.

Fireside Chat, 21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco

Dark cola color with a dark fruit nose and aromas of vanilla, pumpkin spice and rum. Sweet roasted malt flavors, along with complex spicing, some warming heat and light pepper notes. A holiday spice bomb with a long, rich finish.

Gift of the Magi Ale, The Lost Abbey, San Marcos

Clear, dark amber with a spicy nose of floral, tropical and multigrain aromas. Big hop bite with syrupy sweet malt balance. This beer starts sweet and innocent but is visited by spicy hops midpalate, and they hang on through the long, lingering, tart, hot finish.

Jubel 2015, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Ore.

Dark cola color with rich malt nose and aromas of stone fruit, dates and figs. Big, rich, roasted malt flavors with warming heat and notes of dates and figs throughout. Nicely complex, with great balance and a lingering, sweet finish.

Sleigh’r Dark Doüble Alt Ale, Ninkasi Brewing, Eugene, Ore.

Dark ruby-brown color with complex nose of dark fruit, cola nuts, spicy hops and sweet malt. Roasted malt flavors and tart hop character, some warming heat, and nutty and toffee undertones. Complex and layered, with a lingering, bitter finish.

Winter Cheers, Victory Brewing, Downingtown, Pa.

Hazy light-gold color. Soft, herbal hop nose with citrus and spice aromas. Creamy and rich, with light spicing. Refreshing wheat character and good balance. A bubbly, effervescent mouthfeel and a long, rich, exotic finish.

Four stars:

Celebration Fresh Hop IPA, Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico

Bright golden-amber color with a citrus lemon-lime nose, loads of hops and a touch of spiciness. Tart and hoppy, with a big hop presence, but nicely balanced with notes of mint, citrus fruit and rich malt. The finish is long and equally tart and bitter.

Delirium Noël, Brouwerij Huyghe, Melle, Belgium

Clear orange-amber color with a spicy hop nose and herbal, tropical and citrus notes. Sweet and spicy flavors, very complex, with creamy malt. Belgian yeast and candied sugar notes throughout, followed by a hot, cloyingly sweet finish.

Hanukkah, Chanukah: Pass the Beer, Shmaltz Brewing, Clifton Park, N.Y.

Dark brown color and a sweet nose of toffee, caramel and dark fruit. Malty sweet flavors with a big hop bite. Notes of dates, figs and stone fruit, along with some light spicing. The finish lingers, with warming heat and sharp bitterness.

Our Special Ale (aka Christmas Ale), Anchor Brewing, San Francisco

Clear brown color with spicy, herbal nose with candied sweetness and toasted malt aromas. Roasty, toasted malt with some tart hop character and notes of fruit and light spices, followed by a slightly bitter, tart finish.

Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout, Port Brewing, San Diego

Black color with great lace. A roasted malt nose with complex aromas of bourbon, chocolate, coffee, vanilla and a little spice. Complex, rich malt nicely balanced with tart hops. Slightly smoky, with a rich, bitter finish.

Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale, Anderson Valley Brewing, Boonville

Bright golden-amber color with a caramel and toffee nose. Malty sweet with a touch of vanilla and spices. Creamy, rich malt with toffee, chocolate and vanilla sweetness—a malted milk of a beer. Light flavors, but complex, with a long, soft, sweet finish.

Reprinted with permission from Celebrator Beer News (