Anchor Brewing is seen as a the gtrandfather of American craft brewing. Founded in 1896 Anchor has a long and esteemed history that has seen many of America’s worst and best moments including being destroyed by the Great San Francisco earthquake. During prohibition Anchor survived despite having “nothing” in production. In 1965 Anchor Brewing was saved from bankruptcy by Fritz Maytag of Maytag washer/dryer fame. In 1971 Anchor expanded its lineup with four other brews; Anchor Porter, Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine and the annual Christmas Ale. By 2015 Anchor has over a dozen flagship and seasonal releases but still get back to their roots with the original Steam beer. Old Foghorn is a Barleywine style ale with 8.8% ABV and is single hopped with Cascade.
Pouring a bright ruby amber colour with a finger of dark beige head and tons of streaming sparkles of bubbles. The aroma is emphatically malty with tons of toffee and caramel malts that fill the palate entirely but for a subtle citrus hop and dark dried fruit aromas. Light flavours of prunes, raisins, tart cherry and woody malts in the front blend with heavy toasted bread, toffee, caramel, licorice and burnt brown sugar. A bit sweet throughout with a nice balanced profile. The finish has a moderate presence of alcohol that along with the full bodied mouthfeel make this the perfect winter warmer.
Alberta based importer A.Z. has been bringing exciting and new Californian beers into Alberta for the past 13 months or so. Moylans Brewing based in Novato, California is one of A.Z.’s newest arrivals with a good selection of typical Californian or West Coast style beers hitting the shelves in Alberta. With 6% ABV and a profile of spices that includes curacao, mace, white pepper, cinnamon and coriander White Christmas is technically classified as a spiced beer. Moylan’s is most well known for the hop bomb called Hopsickle that is an absolute bombastic 9.2% brew featuring upwards of 90 IBU’s. White Christmas is aimed towards being a winter warmer with the spice profile to prove it.
Pouring out a murky and muddled amber colour in the body the head is steadfast with an appearance of thick soapy yellow that leaves streaks of lacing around the glass. A first incidental sniff has a bit of a spice overabundance with notes of cinnamon, allspice, coriander and nutmeg filling the olfactory senses. Mild caramel and toasted bread malts blend moderately well despite the heavy spice blend. Notes of fake vanilla bean, toffee, caramel and brown sugar are all rather moderate. The body is full and a bit slick with a good malt to spice balance overall despite have a lingering spice profile overall. Not exactly my cup of tea in general but I can certainly see the appeal of this style to many amateur beer drinkers.
Brouwerij De Ranke in Dottignies, Belgium is a bit of a fairy tale story for many beer enthusiasts…started in 1994 by two best friends as a home-brewing fascination it quickly turned into more than a hobby. After a few short years they acquired weekend brew space at the historic Deca Brewery in West Flanders. After 11 years of sharing space and capacity with Deca, De Ranke built their own brewery in Dottignies, a town only a few minutes from the French border. De Ranke beers have been scarce both out of and in Belgium until their import to Alberta last year. Pere Noel is a Belgium Strong Ale (a category lacking boundaries besides being of Belgian origin)> brewed with brewers gold, hallertau hops and licorice. Unlike most Belgian Christmas beers that are rich, dark and fruity Pere Noel is spicy, sweet and bitter. At 7% ABV Pere Noel is about normal for Belgian style beers but rather low for a Christmas beer with most others hitting upwards of 9% ABV.
Pouring out a bright golden amber Pere Noel lacks the heavy effervescent head of other De Ranke beers and settles rather quickly. A thin line of lacing foam sticks easily to the glass as the head subsides slowly to a thin layer of bright white bubbles. The nose seems a bit out of place with the style as it is predominant with citric and grassy hops, toasted caramel and bready malts, mild spiced notes and a bit of alcohol warmth. A subtle yet pervasive funky aroma sticks to the nose throughout the tasting lending a bit of intrigue to this beer. The mid palate of taste is smooth and somewhat fruity with mild citrus hop notes as well as hints of apple and pear combining well with notes of toasted wheat, caramel, cereal grains and light licorice/anise spice flavors. The finish has a moderate bitterness that lingers unexpectedly into the aftertaste leaving mild resinous notes and sweet fruity flavors. Pere Noel has a great balance overall with bitterness, spices and malts blending well and leaving a crisp, clean but bitter Belgian flavor profile. Overall, a interesting and unique twist on a Belgian Christmas beer.
Price: $12.99 Grade: 90/100
If you are a true craft beer fan and have never heard of Danish gypsy brewer Mikkeller you must have been living under a rock for a few years. Mikkeller started in 2006 when homebrewers Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller decided to join forces and challenge the boundaries of craft brewing. Mikkeller soon got the reputation as a “phantom” or “gypsy” because they brew at a several different breweries and don’t house a brewery of their own. Instead of a brewery, Mikkeller uses its world famous Mikkeller bar in Copenhagen as its base for wacky new experiments. Since 2006, Mikkeller has brewed more unique beers than any other brewery eclipsing the 400 mark. Mikkeller has made a name for itself for its use of unique barrel woods and the use of ingredients as odd as hot peppers and civetcat coffee (coffee harvested after ingestion and excretion from civetcats, a weasel like creature).
Fra Til Christmas Porter is an 8% ABV Imperial/Baltic Porter by style brewed at De Proefbrouwerij in Belgium. The name is actually means From, To and the label is fashioned as a label on a Christmas present. Fra Til is brewed with a blend of unique spices as well as cassonade sugar.
Gently pouring this into a glass I am met with some of the most absurdly foamy, whipped head making it quite difficult to salvage a decent pour. After settling down a bit, Fra Til coats the glass with a ton of outrageous mocha coloured lacing. The body is an entirely opaque ebony black with a dying head of dark tan. Giving the glass a swirl, a solid stream of bubbles poke their way through the now thin cap of appetizing tan head. The first scent off the nose I get is a seriously intense roasted malt with huge chocolate and espresso notes. A hint of woody smoke, with a light spice blend including subtle scent of anise and gingerbread. The aroma is so appetizing and enticing with the warmth of a true Christmas ale.
Like a Baltic Porter or Imperial Porter should have, Fra Til has alot of sweetness and a syrupy mouthfeel throughout. A strong roasted malt character with pronounced anise, vanilla and a solid amount of a smoked malt blends well with a brown sugar and its accompanying sweetness. The spice notes are somewhat lost in the mix with a rather fervent smoke and ash flavour that drys the palate out towards the finish. The finish is rather sweet at first but a slow astrigency drys the palate and leaves a robust roast and smoked malt in the back of my mouth. This is an absurdly well crafted Baltic Porter with a unique Mikkeller twist; the robust smoked malts as well as the anise and gingerbread spices. That being said the sweetness and syrupy dark malts are spot on stylistically. Fra Til warms my heart on yet another chilly December evening.
Grade: 92/100 Price: $10.99