When it comes to living in San Francisco, one of the many things I’m grateful for is the abundance of specialty liquor stores, not that I buy all that many bottles of booze or vino. This may come as a shock, but mostly I scan the beer coolers. Such was the case when I popped into the Jug Shop at Pacific and Polk St, just around the corner from Half Pint’s apartment. Incidentally, despite living there for four years, she’d never scoped out the joint. Since we’re shacking up and it’ll no longer be the neighborhood beer store, I wanted to buy a bottle for the first time for old time’s sake. The proprietor sensed I was there for no mere sixer of Heinie and disappeared into the backroom only to emerge with a bottle of Deschutes’s Abyss.
As I paid, the fellow (his name is Eric) let me know they were going to hold a winter beer tasting over the course of two nights. Yep, a tasting too big to be contained in one session. Not only would he be opening up winter warmers, he’d be be opening up TWELVE winter warmers. Not altogether, but EACH NIGHT, which is to say the 12 Beers of Christmas. Friday: Mostly Belgians. Saturday: Mostly domestic beers. Hooray for having a place to crash within stumbling distance!
I feel like I’m always apologizing to the Beer Geek Community, but while I am always down for trying everything, I’m no huge fan of certain styles of beer, from the uber bitter double IPAs to the pucker-inducing Belgian sours. So while I greatly appreciated the first session, I didn’t love most of them. Surprisingly, most of the samples were overtly malty with nary a trace of hoppiness. Pancake beers, because they were so syrupy sweet. What follows is the complete list of beers, the Jug Shop’s retail prices for 750 ml unless noted, notes and my personal rating on a 5-stein scale.
1. Scaldis, Prestige. $49.99. (Yep, fiddy bucks for 750 ml. Initial impression was all sugar, but nice piney finish, certainly spices up as it warms up.) 4 steins.
2. Brasserie Dupont, Avec Les Bons Voeux. $10.99. “With Best Wishes” from the brewery that brings us a stellar Saison, this guy was only lightly fruity. 3 steins.
3. Canaster, Winter Scotch ale. $15.99. I love Scotch ales. Having said this, this was too tart to be what I consider a Scotch ale. 2 steins.
4. Scaldis, Noel Premium. $?. Unfiltered, bottle-conditioned amber that put Mrs. Butterworth to shame. 2 steins.
5. St. Bernardus, Christmas Ale. $11.99. Ah yes, this is what I was hoping to find. This “living ale” can be aged for 15 years. I don’t often go for Abbeys, but this one begs for a fireplace and s’mores. 4 steins.
6. La Chouffe, N’ice Chouffe, dark winter beer. $11.99. At 10% ABV, the purported thyme and Curacao didn’t really come through over the Wall of Malt. 2 steins.
7. Goudon Carolus, Christmas. $11.99. Three hops and six spices and herbs. Just shy of the Colonel’s secret blend, but way tastier. If it was brewed in August and tastes this good already, would love to see how it tastes next winter solstice. My only 5 stein beer of the night.
8. Delirium, Noel. $11.99. One of the most popular Belgians of the season, the banana and pineapple notes jumps the gun. Crazy Belgians. 3 steins.
9. Affligem, Noel. $?. Why is this not a barleywine? Where are the hops, spices, fruits? Drowned in all that alcohol. 1 stein.
10. Samichlaus, Helles. $5.99 (for 12 or 11.2 oz). This is a Helles?? Tastes like malt syrup, honey, molasses, treacle, and finishes with some sap. Bring on the triple-crème brie. 1 stein.
11. Samichlaus, Bier. $5.99 (12 or 11.2 oz.) OK, so they age these for almost a year. My maple syrup in my fridge is that old and it doesn’t get any more complex either. This liquefied brown sugar is over the top, but would go with a Nutella crepe. 1 stein.
12. St. Feullien, Cuvee de Noel. $10.99. OK, at this point I was just pleasantly intoxicated and making friends with my fellow tasters. I gave it 3 ½ steins.
The next night was more my cup o’ tea. Or beer. And cider…since Eric saw fit to start the show with three ciders from Oregon, on top of the 12 beers of Christmas. Again, he supplied a print-out with info about the beers, but somehow I misplaced mine, but I think I can recall them all. Most were poured from 12-oz bottles out of six-packs, which I recall were mostly in the $8-11 range.
1. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Dry. No joke about the dry. Reminds me of New Belgium’s La Folie brewed with Brett. 3 steins.
2. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Semi-dry. Niiiice. 4 steins.
3. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Heirloom Blend. The sweetest of the three but with an interesting tang. 3 steins.
4. Sam Adams, Winter. Yeah, that’s right. Sammy. Nothing mind-blowing our crazy out-there, but it’s been forever since I’ve tried this and it’s straightforward that works for holiday beer novices. 2 ½ steins.
5. Moylan’s, White Christmas. On top of standard Belgian witbier spices like orange peel and coriander, they kept going, but possibly went overboard with the white pepper. Yes, it has a kick. 2 ½ steins.
6. Marin Brewing, Hoppy Holidays. I usually want my holiday beers to just pack the spice, but this offers up both spice and hops. Delectable. 4 steins.
7. Shipyard, Prelude Special Ale. Sort of a nutty red ale. For a hit-or-miss brewery, chalk one up for the Ringwood yeast. 3 steins.
8. New Belgium, Frambozen. It’s not that I can’t like a fruit beer. It’s that I don’t like this one. Tastes like a basket of raspberries that was left to ferment in your fridge plus hops. 1 stein.
9. New Belgium, 2 Below. Nicely balanced like if they were to turn an ESB into an ice beer. 3 steins.
10. Sierra Nevada, Celebration. Yep, lots of Cascade hops. 3 steins.
11. AleSmith, Yulesmith. What do San Diegans know about winter let alone winter beers? Quite a lot. 4 steins.
12. Anchor, Our Special Ale 2007. I’m a latecomer to Anchor vertical tastings of their Chrismas and New Year special ale, but I’ve been squirreling away a few bottles at home. I remember last year that the 2007 rendition didn’t do it for me as much as the ’06. Having said that, it has aged tremendously in just one year. Dare I say… 5 steins.
13. Anchor, Our Special Ale 2008. I was planning on cracking open the ’07 and ’08 at home soon. Jug Shop did it for me. I’ve already had the ’08 this year and loved the dark roasted malts and ginger kick. Having said that, the aged ’07 is now better. Silver lining: how good the ’08 will be down the road.* 4 steins.
14. Deschutes, Abyss. No, this isn’t technically a Christmas beer, but certainly holds up against any winter warmer. It’s an imperial stout, aged in French oak and bourbon barrels. Hells yeah. Remember how I started by saying I bought a bottle of this here last week? Upon tasting it, Half Pint made me buy one to keep for down the road. 5 steins.
15. He’Brew, Jewbelation. Again, I was too toasted at this point. But I’ve had this, uh, Chanukah Beer before and it does the trick. 4 steins.
*While there, I got a call from Jesse who was attending a beer club meeting hosting a phenomenal-sounding vertical tasting of Anchor X-mases, 1993-2008!!! Woe that I did not make it over.
Overall, both nights were excellent endeavors and drew a great crowd of experienced and newbie beer fans who all found great was to stave off Jack Frost from nipping at our noses, and livers.