BeerCast #55 – Christmas Special 2010

Posted by on Dec 22, 2010 in BeerCasts | No Comments

Merry Christmas from the BeerCast to all of our readers and listeners – and not to forget the brewers who make everything happen! In this, our fourth annual BeerCast Christmas Special podcast, we review six seasonal beers and give our thoughts – both on the ale itself and the ‘Christmassy Factor’ of the label (i.e. whether looking at the bottle puts us in the festive mood).

First up we have Fyne Ales Holly Daze (5.0%) from Argyll, before we head to California for Anchor Special Ale 2010 (5.5%) – the fifth version of their winter beer to feature on the BeerCast. Our third festive cracker is Odell Isolation Ale (6.1%), before we head to Germany to sample the oak-smoked delights of Schlenkerla Eiche Doppelbock (8.0%). Our penultimate beer this time is Titanic Christmas Ale (7.6%) from Stoke-on-Trent, and we finish with another Scottish beer – the 8.5% Santa’s Madness from the Madcap Brewery in Dumfries-shire. On the festive panel are Richard, MrB, Grooben and Shovels.

1. Holly Daze (5.0%abv)
Fyne Ales, Cairndow, Argyll.
500ml glass bottle

Fyne Ales are rapidly becoming a Scottish brewing institution, and 2010 has seen them push their expanding range of bottled ales, as well as producing the much-praised Fynebridge Black IPA with ex-Thornbridge brewer Kelly Ryan. We’re unashamed fans of Fyne here at the BeerCast – MrB grew up a few dozen miles from the brewery, and their strong cask presence in Edinburgh pubs is always a welcome sight. Holly Daze is their Christmas offering and was recently released in 500ml bottles.

What They Say
“An antidote to Christmas. No strange spices, just a really good stronger beer with a crisp fruity hop flavour and plenty of malt. A refreshing beer to clear the palate.” [Official Website]

What We Say
MrB – A hoppy hit with a spicy something 8
Richard – It’s got a smoky aftertaste which I quite like 7
Grooben – Fruity notes and peaty overtones, the usual high standards from Fyne Ales 7
Shovels – I love the nice fruity aroma, I don’t know what category it fits into though 6

Label Christmas Rating
1/10The label looks like all their others, but it is called Holly Daze (Grooben)

2. Anchor Special Ale 2010
Anchor Brewery, San Francisco.
535ml glass bottle

It wouldn’t be a BeerCast Christmas Special without the latest special festive ale from Anchor. Each year they produce a highly secret recipe, slightly different from all previous years – the 2010 vintage is the 36th in the series. The 2006 edition topped our beer rankings for a long time, and was eventually crowned beer of the year in our 2007 Beer of the Year show, (during which we also tasted the 2007 one). The 2008 version also scored well, before a dip last year with the 2009. There are never any tasting notes as the San Francisco concern keep the exact ingredients classified, but expect spices, piney freshness and all kinds of winter flavours.

What They Say
“Chestnut in colour, with a hint of Christmas fruit and spice. This traditional ale is a real winter warmer.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – I could have two or three of these in a session
Richard – Has a woody, sprucey, sap-like flavour to it
Grooben – I like the Christmas tree flavours, it needs more body
MrB – It’s like spicy Christmas flavoured water – I don’t think the flavour is that bad, it’s just the body 2

Label Christmas Rating
7/10It is just a tree, but to us this beer is now synonymous with Christmas (Shovels)

3. Isolation Ale
Odell Brewery, Fort Collins, Colorado.
355ml glass bottle

In 1989 Doug Odell decided to take his passion for home brewing into something more commercial. Together with his wife Wynne they left Seattle (where Doug had been brewing in his kitchen) and moved to Colorado to be nearer to his sister Corkie and start a brewery together. This they did in that same year, producing beer for the thirsty college town of Fort Collins. In 1996 they acquired the facility to bottle their output, and shipped across the United States. They have a large range of English-style classics and seasonals – we sampled their Cutthroat Porter in BeerCast #49 back in June.

What They Say
“Available each winter from the first of November until it runs out, Isolation ale is amber in color, malty and strong. We consider it a traditional winter warmer, without the addition of fruits or spices.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Balance of sweetness, hops and bitterness – brilliant
MrB – Very fruity, almost like fruit punch, I’d guzzle this
Richard – You can quibble about how wintry it is, it’s just a good beer 8
Grooben – So many breweries bung the spices in and think that’s good enough – this proves otherwise 8

Label Christmas Rating
4/10 Wintry rather than Christmassy – but Odell have the best labels in the business (Richard) There could be presents inside the cottage (MrB)

4. Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche Doppelbock
Brauerei Heller, Bamberg, Bavaria.
500ml glass bottle

If you wander the historic cobbled streets of the Franconian town of Bamberg, you might be lucky and come across the Schlenkerla brewery tavern (it’s in Dominikanerstrasse). This classic Bavarian eatery is a half-timbered, geranium-clad hostelry of the oldest style. It’s here that the ‘original’ smokebeer is produced, by mixing beechsmoked malts with water and hops. We sampled this famous Schlerkerla Rauchbier Märzen all the way back in BeerCast #8, resulting in one of the most infamous BeerCast quotes (and the first ever 0 score) from MrB – “It tastes like hot dogs in a blender”. Their winter release is smoked with oak rather than beech, to give a slightly different flavour.

What They Say
“The complex smokiness in “Schlenkerla Oak Smoke” is paired with the multifaceted bitterness of finest Hallertau aroma hops. With 8% alcohol and Bernstein color it matures for months in the deep brewery cellars underneath Bamberg into a special treat for smoke beer lovers for Christmas.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Milder and sweeter than the Märzen, but still smoky 6
Grooben – This is the smokiest smoky beer
MrB – I like hot-dogs, I don’t like them in a drink 2
Shovels – The smokiness goes eventually but you’re still left with the hot-dogs 1

Label Christmas Rating
1/10What makes this Christmassy apart from it’s green? (MrB)

5. Titanic Christmas Ale
Titanic Brewery, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.
500ml glass bottle

The Titanic Brewery might hail from land-locked Stoke-on-Trent but they have a nearby famous (or infamous) son. Captain Edward John Smith – who steered the Titanic to it’s ill-fated maiden voyage – was born in nearby Etruria. Founded in Burslem in 1985, the Titanic Brewery is currently owned by brothers Dave and Keith Bott who joined together to take over production in 1988 when the original owner ran into difficulties. Many of their beers have a naval theme – Steerage, Iceberg and Lifeboat.

What They Say
“This sweet malty winter ale has a port-like aroma, oranges and lemons play around the edges of the tongue whilst dried fruit and cinnamon drive home the wonderful warming effect, the walnut aftertaste completes this slice of Christmas time in a glass.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Lambic sharpness, I just don’t know if it’s right 2
Shovels – I get blood oranges with grapefruit, and that’s it 2
Grooben – It ain’t no Christmas cake, that’s for sure 2
MrB – Tastes of lemons and oranges, I’m not saying it’s good 2

Label Christmas Rating
2/10 The Titanic on a red background is not Christmas (Grooben)

6. Madcap Christmas
Madcap Brewery, Annan, Dumfries-shire.
330ml glass bottle

One of the tiniest breweries in Scotland is the Madcap Brewery in Annan, a few miles southeast of Dumfries. All of their beers are released from 200 litre batches produced on equipment housed in a garden shed. They supply local pubs with cask ales, and also release a few bottles when time (and capacity) allows. These are uniformly strong and interesting – none of their bottled range weighs in at less than 7%abv. Their festive offering – Santa’s Madness comes in at 8.5%.

What They Say
“Created in the style of a dark and malty, strong scotch ale, with the addition of selected seasonal spices to compliment the festive season.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Liquorice then smoke, this would go well with mince pies 5
Shovels – Three flavours – smoke, liquorice and monkey nuts
Grooben – Aftertaste of those raw monkey nuts 1
MrB – Much more concentrated, really don’t like it 1

Label Christmas Rating
8/10Reindeer and baubles – what could be more Christmassy? (Richard)

– (clockwise from top left) Grooben, MrB, Shovels, Richard

BeerCast panel verdict
Odell Isolation Ale 33/40
Fyne Ales Holly Daze 28/40
Anchor Special Ale 2010 22½/40
Aecht Schlenkera Eiche Doppelbock 14½/40
Madcap Christmas 10½/40
Titanic Christmas Ale 8/40

  • Listen to the episode here: BeerCast #55 – Christmas Special 2010
  • Subscribe to the podcasts in iTunes or our Site Feed
  • Please keep those comments and emails coming in – thanks for all your comments this year. Our final podcast of 2010 is the big one – our fourth annual BeerCast Beer of the Year show. This time, we’ll have five of the highest scoring beers from our podcasts this year, sampled by a specially extended panel. Stay tuned for a BOTY preview…

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