Bob’s Beer Bits and Sips
Four Holiday Ales with Notable Label Artwork
Holiday Ales, also called Winter Warmers, typically appear around the prelude to winter and are usually robust malty ales. While in past years, most were infused with some of the same spices you can expect to enjoy in your holiday meals, modern versions tend to use hops as the main spice. Here are four quality releases from breweries that can always be counted on to provide annual novelty brews for the season.
El Camino un Real
Brewed since 2010, a prime example of spices infused in a brew is this three-way collaboration between 21st Amendment, Stone Brewing and Firestone Walker. Brewed and canned by 21st Amendment, it takes its name from the historical mission trail El Camino Real the Royal Trail, now Highway 101 that linked the 21 Spanish missions throughout California and also links the three breweries together. A dark strong ale that floats between a stout and an IPA, it incorporates indigenous ingredients that grew along the Camino Real in the 18th and 19th centuries by missionaries and Native Americans: dried mission figs, pink peppercorns, fennel and chia seeds. It brings a slight herbal, fruit and spice note that matches nicely with the malt and hop complexity. The label’s artwork is a psychedelic depiction of a cassette tape with Side A and Side B, reminiscent of the playlist for the epic road trip on the 101 the trio of brewers—21st Amendment Brewmaster Shaun O’Sullivan, former Stone Brewmaster Mitch Steele and Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson—took to visit each mission, which led to the creation of this brew.
9.5% ABV, 76 IBUs
Full Sail Wreck the Halls
The name of this beer gives you a hint to the season it is promoting. The Hood River, Oregon brewery releases this beer annually as part of its limited-release Brewmaster Reserve series, but this is the first year it has been offered in six-packs. The six-time World Beer Championships medal winner is a hybrid of an American-style ale and a winter warmer which Full Sail Executive Brewmaster Jamie Emmerson describes as “an intriguing blend of Centennial and Cascade hops providing elegant citrus notes balanced by a backdrop of a rich caramel malt body, dry hopped to amplify the aromas and flavor.” The hand-drawn artwork on the label is the creation of Portland-based TWEEQiM Creative Lab’s MiQ Willmott and conjures the festive spirit of a holiday party gone just wild enough.
6.5% ABV, 68 IBUs
Full Sail Wassail Winter Ale
Full Sail also can be counted on to deliver its annual Wassail, a tradition it has maintained since 1998, and which has won a whopping 21 World Beer Championship awards dating back to 1995 and as recent as 2016. This year’s Wassail is brewed with a range of caramel and dark chocolate malts giving it a deep mahogany color and full malty body. Full Sail Brewmaster Jim Kelter said, “We use a blend of Pacific Northwest hops for a pleasant hoppy aroma and finish creating a deliciously balanced beer that appeals to both hop and malt lovers alike. In other words, it’s a Christmas miracle.”
7.2% ABV, 56 IBUs
Another beer with a slew of awards is this annual treat from the Bend, Oregon Deschutes Brewery, with nine medals stretching from 1990. This winter warmer has been helping us get through the onslaught of the coldest season since 1987, with this year’s version marking its 29th anniversary. The brewery’s dedication to art is evident, as it has selected a local artist each year to illustrate the label. The 2016 version features Bend, Oregon artist Karen Runae’s piece entitled “First Snow,” and was created through a centuries-old process called marbling. Known for its malty and dried fruit character, this year’s Jubelale continues that tradition and its use of EKG hops, which are lightly herbal and spicy, enhances the flavor profile and balances the malt. Deschutes Brewery Brewmaster Veronica Vega said, “Out of all our seasonals, Jubelale gets the most conversation about differences from year to year. I personally think this is tied to the amount of special memories that are created during this time of year, when the beer is consumed. So every year, the sentence ‘best year ever’ is repeated throughout the season in our brewery.”
6.7% ABV, 60 IBUs