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Holiday Cheers 

People may leave out a lot of milk and cookies for Santa Claus, but he looks like a beer drinker. The holidays are a good time to enjoy a host of special ales and winter beers made by American microbrewers and imported from England. Winter beers tend to focus on malts rather than hops. They generally offer complex flavors with hints of fruit and spices, and most are high in alcohol content to fight cold winter weather. Below are some special holiday season beers.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Christmas Ale 2008

Anchor Brewing Co.

San Francisco, Calif.

Anchor's 2008 installment in its Our Special Christmas series is a "winter warmer" style beer. Winter warmers tend to have maltier flavors and some are spiced. They are high in alcohol, which provides the drinker with a nice warming sensation, hence the name. Anchor has produced an Our Special Christmas beer every year since 1975, but uses a different recipe every time. This year's installment has a pleasant aroma of fresh pine needles and a complex taste of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and peppermint.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Celebration Ale

Sierra Nevada

Chico, Calif.

Sierra Nevada releases Celebration Ale every holiday season especially for the hop lovers. It's an American-style IPA (India Pale Ale) brewed using three different types of hops (Chinook, Cascade and Centennial) and two different types of malts (two-row pale and English caramel), which create a rich, robust, well-balanced ale. The hops give a grapefruit aroma, and the taste balances citrusy hops with toasty malts that have a hint of caramel.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Tröegs Mad Elf Ale

Tröegs Brewing Co.

Harrisburg, Penn.

Tröegs Mad Elf is a Belgian strong dark ale. These range anywhere from malty and sweet to dry and spiced, but they all have one thing in common: very high alcohol content. The Mad Elf has 11 percent alcohol and is a very complex brew made with cherries, honey and chocolate malts. The aroma has a bold fragrance of cherries and honey, and the finish has hints of grain from the malts.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale

Samuel Smith Old Brewery

Tadcaster, England

Winter Welcome Ale is a nice version of an English-style winter warmer, which tend to focus on the interplay between malts and hops and avoid spiciness. Winter Welcome has fruit and caramel aromas and an herbal hoppiness. The complex flavor also has hints of yeasty maltiness, caramel and candied sugars balanced with floral hoppy bitterness.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Santa's Private Reserve Ale

Rogue Brewery

Newport, Oregon

American amber/red ales are labeled mostly on appearance but are generally beers focused on malts with high to low hop characters, depending on the brewer. Santa's Private Reserve Ale uses Chinook and Centennial hops, which give the ale a spicy, citrus character balancing the rich and malty flavors of caramel and sweet yeastiness.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Christmas Ale 2008

Abita Brewing Co.

Abita Springs, La.

Abita's head brewmaster, Mark Wilson, uses a different recipe for its Christmas Ale every year. This version is an American nut brown ale, which essentially is an English brown ale with a little more hops added. English brown ales tend to be malty sweet with low hop bitterness. This beer has a spruce hop aroma with hints of nuttiness. Subtle hints of cinnamon and nutmeg also infuse the sweet maltiness.

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