Craft Beer Scene Around Rockford: Schlafly Christmas Ale: ‘Good sipper for a cold holiday night’

By Michael Sears
President, Forest City Brewers

Greetings all, and happy holidays!

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, breakfast with Santa and Christmas parties … whew! I guess we are full on into the Christmas holiday. It will seem a little more like Christmas for us this year as our son Jason will be back from South Carolina starting this weekend. Lisa, my wife, is beside herself waiting for him to get here, kind of like Ralphie’s father in A Christmas Story awaiting his major award to arrive. You know how moms love their boys. Ha!

As I mentioned last week, I am highlighting Christmas beers over the next couple of weeks. This week is from Schlafly and brewed by the St. Louis Brewery in St. Louis. It is an herbed/spiced beer with a hefty 8 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) that is available in November and December.

The website describes this as follows: “Our Christmas Ale is a warming winter ale that blends the spices of the season with sweet caramel malt. Orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom and cloves are added for spiciness. We use honey in the fermentation process, which raises the ABV without producing too much heat from the alcohol content.” So without further hesitation, let’s give this a try.

The pour is a deep orange, coppery color that is surprisingly crystal clear, similar to an IPA. A fluffy one-finger depth of head that is light ginger in color settles into a cloud-like thin foam. There is minimal lacing left on the glass just above the foam. A slight amount of carbonation bubbles rise to the foam layer. A pretty good-looking beer.

The aroma is of ginger, juniper, candied apples, nut, caramel, toffee and some orange zest. This reminds me of the wassail my grandmother would make during the holidays. Way in the background, I detect some pine hoppiness like a fresh-cut Christmas tree that plays well with the spices. I feel the aroma is balanced and executed extremely well.

The first sip is surprising, as the first flavor is the piney hops, then the malt sweetness comes forward and is quickly followed by nutmeg, cinnamon, spruce, minimal clove along with the orange zest. Some alcohol warmth mingles through the finish. It is fairly complex and keeps your attention throughout.

The mouth feel is medium bodied and sharp on the tongue, but not from the carbonation, which is soft, then transitions to a dry finish. The alcohol is extremely well hidden … I would have never guessed this was 8 percent ABV, unless I read the bottle.

Overall, this is an interesting beer. It has lots of similarities to Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale, and if you liked that, you will definitely enjoy this beer. It is well crafted and loaded with complexity. It is recommended that you let this beer warm to get the true flavor from it. A good sipper for a cold holiday night, as it is not a novelty. Well worth getting a six-pack of to enjoy with some friends over the holidays.

Prost!

Michael Sears is the president of the Forest City Brewers. The Forest City Brewers is a home-brewing club dedicated to the art of finely-crafted beer. The club meets on the first Wednesday of each month at Thunder Bay Grille on East State Street. For more about Forest City Brewers, go to http://forestcitybrewers.org. If you have comments or recommendations, please contact Mike at rockfordcraftbeer@comcast.net.

From the Dec. 10-16, 2014, issue

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