Christmas Craft Brew Tasting

 Few signs of the season get my festive bells ringing more so than the first appearance of holiday ales on the shelves. It’s literally my version of hearing-the-first-Christmas-carol-on-the-radio kind of happy. I’ve reviewed a few quirky tea blends lately and figured why not wax poetic about some adult beverages that truly put a winter’s flush to my cheeks. Of the three below, two are new to me, and one a favorite discovery of a few Christmases ago that I drink each year to kickoff the season. 20171207_093605

Pennslyvania TuxedoDogfish Head Brewery “A spruce-infused pale ale, Pennsylvania Tuxedo pays homage to the flannel-suited hunters and gatherers who dwell deep in the backcountry of north-central PA.” ABV: 8.520171207_194752Holy spruce tips Rudolph, botanical drinks are a growing movement this year and although my husband picked this one out, I applaud his eye for recognizing a trend. The Woolrich logo and flannel clad fellows on the label denote a collaboration between the Pennslyvania outdoor clothing company famous for flannel shirts and woolen socks and independent Dogfish Head brewery. Approving of the addition of spruce tips; excellent in wax, it follows that it must be in beer too, right? 

Ooh, this lumberjack’s s a pretty pour, a shiny copper penny with cloudy haze, minimal foam retention and stringy lacing up the sides. Sniffing the brew bears a blast of citrus rinds and green floral perfumey notes. 

A bold first taste with lush, full mouth feel. Described as grassy but I’d say twiggy. Fresh hops, sharp citrus and leafy flavors dominate with facets of bright spruce boughs balancing the sharpness. I think it can be improved by a greater concentration of resinous spruce, however, as the taste was mostly hidden. Less true woodsman, more of a Ralph Lauren plaid–wearing weekend trail-goer. Light and refreshing, it’s deceptively easy drinking, but at 8.5% ABV, knocking a few of these back will knock you back, too.

20171208_193201Snowdrift Vanilla Porter-Leinenkugel’s* Not really a craft brewery any more as it was purchased by MillerCoors craft division. “Winter seasonal inspired by dark, snowy nights in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Available November through February, brewed with seven malts and aged on real vanilla, delivering a creamy body and smooth finish.” 

Appears a deep brown-black with lasting foamy head. Aromas of roasted chocolate malts and vanilla bean provide a richly scented experience. A memorable first sip of SVP a few winters ago opened my palate to the world of dark porters; a rush of bitter malts and toffee tones with a creamy molasses finish. This is an acquired taste, boozy but not too heavy at 6% ABV, unlike coffee stouts or spiced ales (which I like too) SVP imparts a uniquely warm and inviting winter brew. 

I must apologize for the horrid lighting and glare. Not up for pouring and drinking in the only decent light I get with the morning sun, BUT check out that glinting metallic almost purple-hued beauty.

Jolly Traveler Winter Shandy-Traveler Beer Co. “A cheerful winter…wheat beer made with real orange, pomegranate, and holiday spices.” 

Couldn’t resist featuring my lil’ gnome, the epitome of a jolly traveler.

A shandy is a rare appearance for a Winter beer, usually found in summer mixed with lemonade (ew) and the like, and a limited release for Traveler brewery. Featuring good clarity for a shandy, it pours a ruby-hued amber with medium foam head and retention.

Juicy orange aroma with a bright spicy background. Bubbly carbonation yields a lively, refreshing mouth feel. A mixed bouquet of traditional and exotic spices lay softly on the palate, dried nutmeg, cinnamon bark and ginger come to mind. Curious and pleasurable, but perhaps too reminiscent of a seltzer to me. The orange and fruity pomegranate juices impart an astringent aftertaste, like a strong Christmas punch. Certainly festive and an easy session beer at 4.4% ABV but I’d stop at one and switch to something smoother.

Thanks for joining me on this spirited aside from fragrance reviews. After the last week of worrying about fraudulent credit charges (though fortunately handled right away) waiting for new cards in order to continue holiday shopping, and getting over the Speech season hump with an epic two-day tournament this weekend, I needed to imbibe a few cares away. No fear though, from here on till Christmas, it will mostly be holiday wax and decor posts. Do you partake of any adult brews during the festive season? Which raise your spirits?

4 thoughts on “Christmas Craft Brew Tasting

  1. We plan on an at-home tasting Next weekend so we will be on the hunt for my fave twisted pretzel wheat from shock top. That is what kicks off my holiday season! I like the leinie porter and have liked curious traveler in a summer shandy so I will have to check that out. Will look for dogfish. The selection at our stores is overwhelming anymore!!! Hard decisions! 😉


  2. Yes! Shel loved that Pretzel Wheat too, will have to look for some for his holiday break; I did grab him a Claymore Scotch Ale in my mix pick. So overwhelming choice-wise, especially this time of year when I enjoy ALL the seasonal brews. Actually, except for that traveler shandy, just not a shandy girl. I also tried Great Lakes Oatmeal Stout, best stout I’ve had, love it, it’s a holiday release. Let me know if you find any gems:)


  3. This is awesome, Jay – your descriptive abilities as they apply to beer are fantastic. I’m – again – just one of those “Tasted hoppy, kind of screwed me up” alcohol “reviewers.” Hardly helpful. You’re actually telling people something about the brews, how they smell, how they taste – now, THAT’S helpful! I shouldn’t be surprised, though, as you’re also quite great at poetically conveying a smell beyond “Berry muffin thing.” 🙂 Have you ever taken a wine or beer (or harder) appreciation course? Not much of a beer drinker myself. And if I do, it swings all over the place from light, summery brews (I was actually thinking that shanty sounded pretty great) to stouts you stand a spoon up in (there’s a chocolate stout I once had that was pretty amazing.)


    1. Hey thanks, as it turns out, in the word’s of Tyrion Lannister (GOT) “I drink and I know things.”
      Years ago, tennish? before the wax world caught my fancy, I belonged to Beer and submitted beer reviews quite often. My skills felt rusty, so I did brush up on the main points of reviewing: appearance, smell, comparison to foods, etc. There’s an overall rating system in place that brewheads take very seriously, but I think is arbitrary, so I left out the overall and let ya draw your own conclusions.
      I enjoy a wide range of beers too. I’ve never taken a class, but have ridden the affectionately termed “beer train”, talk about swinging wildly all over the place! This was a fun diversion and I will likely do it again sometime, thank you for the feedback.


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