The December meeting of the Fredericksburg Brewing and Tasting Society was held yesterday at Kybecca on Plank Rd. The theme for this month's meeting was "Holiday Beers." There where around 20 members gathered to sample 38 commercial beers and 2 home brews. It was quite an event. There's a partial list of the beers sampled posted on the FABTS web site.
What are "Holiday Beers"? This is a pretty broad category, as evidenced by the number of beers sampled. Also referred to as "Winter Beers" the selection included high hop beers such as Sierra Nevada Celebration or malty "Winter Warmer" styles such as Clipper City Winter Storm. Many of these Winter beers are higher in ABV, for a "warming" effect. In some cases the beers are "Wassail" style offerings and flavored with such spices as cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove. And in some cases the brewer simply relabels a year-round beer for the Holidays. In any event, there's a "Holiday Beer" to suite any taste.
There were too many beers sampled to provide detailed notes on each one. In some cases limited quantities necessitated small samples. I don't try to review a beer unless I have a full "serving" and can evaluate from the pour to the end of the drink. However these tasting events are excellent opportunities to try new beers and find ones you want to search out for further exploration. Besides the perennial favorites such as Sierra Nevada Celebration and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, there were quite a few beers that stood out. I'll post some notes on the ones I especially enjoyed.
Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale is a caramel malt flavored drink with just touch of hops. Flying Dog beers are readily available in this area now that they've bought the former Frederick Brewery in Frederick, MD. I've not found Flying dog beers that I've cared much for previously and was pleasantly surprise by this one. At 6.4% ABV this Winter Warmer is easy to enjoy.
Clay Pipe Pursuit Of Happiness Winter Warmer is from another Maryland-based brewer. This 8.25% ABV Winter Warmer has a strong malt backbone that is well-balanced by a nice hoppy kick. Some in attendance suggested that this might be fresh-hopped.
Stoudt's Winter Ale is a Winter release that changes each year. This year's release is brewed with cocoa producing a rich, chocolate malt flavor. I detected a hint of cinnamon a well. Stoudts is a brewer who's beers never disappoint.
Magic Hat is a brewery whose beers I've not previously taken a liking too. However, the Magic Hat Roxy Rolles Winter Amber was quite tasty. The Magic Hat web site says this amber ale is dry-hopped with simco hops. The flavor is malty with a nice sharp hop presence.
Ridgeway Brewing Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout is an English-style stout from the same folks who bring us the "Elf" series of beers. (Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Insanely Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf.) This is a deep brown colored beer with coffee notes in both the aroma and taste. Caramel sweetness comes through in the flavor as well. A nice stout at 8% ABV.
Fantôme Spéciale De Noel is one of the few "sour" beers I've tried. This Farmhouse Ale pours dark brown with a fruity aroma. The flavor of sour fruit, mostly cherries, comes through the dark malts. I made a note that I want to try this one again in a larger sample before passing judgement. The tartness does mask the 10% ABV.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is another ABV monster at 10% ABV. This Belgian Strong Dark Ale has the aroma of dark fruit. Sweet caramel and butterscotch flavors blend with the peppery spices to create a nice beer. The spiciness lingers in the aftertaste. A nice sipping beer.
Delirium Noël is from Brouwerij Huyghe in Belgium, the same folks who bring us the infamous Delirium Tremens. Yet another 10% ABV Belgian Strong Dark Ale, this one pours a dark red-brown with a sweet aroma of raisons and other dark fruits. Some clove and candy sugar sweetness as well. The flavor matches the aroma with a yeasty, fruity sweetness over the malt, with a dry finish. My notes state to "buy some" although I left the meeting without doing so.
Next up on my list of highlights is Tröegs Mad Elf. I've always been a fan of Tröegs beers and Mad Elf held up that reputation. This 11% ABV Belgian Strong Dark Ale is flavored with cherries. I wasn't sure what to expect since I'm not a big fruit beer fan. A clear ruby-red pour with a sweet aroma. The taste is well-balanced between malt and spiciness with the sweet cherry flavor peaking through. We also sampled a 1 or 2 year old bottle of Mad Elf that had lost the cherry flavor and was mostly sweet honey flavor.
As if these and 23 other beers weren't enough, we were now in for a very special treat. Rob A. had brought in 2 bottles of Samichlaus Bier, both 1995 and 1996 vintages! Samichlaus was brewed by Brauerei Hürlimann in Zurich, Switzerland up until 1996 when the recipe was sold to the the Feldschlösschen Brewery. It is currently produced by Schloss Eggenberg of Switzerland. This 14% ABV was once considered the strongest beer in the world and everyone was eagerly awaiting the opening of these bottles. The 1995 vintage was opened first. The beer poured a very dark brown with no head. The malt aroma was very strong. The taste was unexpected. This was a very smooth, sweet, nutty beer. It reminded me of drinking a very smooth sherry. The 1996 was only slight less in flavor to me, although some in attendance though the 1996 vintage to be superior. There were only small samples per person but these were exceptional delights. Thanks to Rob for sharing! For comparison a 2006 bottle was also opened. The flavor on the recent vintage was much less intense. Even though the recipe is supposedly the same, there can be little doubt that subtle differences crept in over the years. I think I will keep my 2006 bottle stored away for a few years at least. We also sampled a Samichlaus Helles, which is being bottled in 2007 for the first time since 1986. The flavor of this was more sweet than the previous beers and not quite as malty.
After the commercial beers were finished we got to try a couple of home brews from two members. The first was a Belgian dubbel style beer from Jim (?). Unfortunately I neglected to take any notes on this one, although I do remember thinking it was good with a nice typical Belgian yeast flavor. My apologies to the brewer for not recording more.
The second home brew, from Dave F. was a "smoked pumpkin ale". Dave used real pumpkin, apple wood, and fuggles and willamette hops. This offering was very well-received. Enough of the pumpkin came through to give some sweetness which worked well with the smokey background. This was a "real" pumpkin beer, not a "spiced pumpkin pie" flavor like so many pumpkin beers. Kudos to both these home brewers for sharing.
The large variety of beer was complimented by an equally impressive array of cheeses, courtesy of James and Angela. This treat was much appreciated. Also thanks go out to our host for this month, Kybecca Wine and Gourmet. Kybecca offers a wide array of craft beers, artisanal cheeses and wine. A grand time was had by all and I look forward to the next meeting on January 12. The theme for January will be Stouts and we'll meet at Bangkok Boulevard. Be sure to watch the FABTS web site for more details. Hope to see you there!