12 Beers Of Christmas
I'll never forget the arrival in the late '80s of Coors Winterfest, a beer brewed just for the holiday season. The malty, amber brew was better than any other beer I'd tried up till then. I'm disappointed to see it missing from shelves this year.
Coors has shifted its holiday focus to a new Blue Moon variety, Full Moon. It's one of 12 Beers of Christmas I've rounded up from among the multitude of winter seasonals that jockey for space on shelves and taps at this time of year. Any of them would make a fine gift for the beer lover on your shopping list, even if that's you.
I ranked them based on a tasting session of 1-ounce samples, but everything in the group is outstanding. Unless otherwise noted, all are sold in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles; most of the Colorado offerings are on tap in bars and restaurants, too.
1 Wassail Ale, by Full Sail. The label proclaims it "ridiculously tasty," and I won't argue. It almost approaches the character of a barley wine, with a vague fruitiness, but plenty of hops keep it from becoming cloyingly sweet. A standout from Oregon.
2 Hibernation Ale, by Great Divide. Rich, creamy and slightly smoky, it's an intensely assertive winter ale from the Denver craft brewer. The cask- conditioned version is worth seeking out, too; they'll tap a keg of it at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Great Divide Tap Room, 2001 Arapahoe St.
3 Isolation Ale, by Odell. One taste and you'll swear someone's been roasting chestnuts in your mug. A malty, smoky favorite from Fort Collins.
4 Christmas Ale, by Breckenridge. The best- looking holiday beer label wraps a nutty, woodsy, strong ale with oh-so-subtle hints of chocolate and caramel. Brewed in Denver, it's consistently among the best winter seasonals.
5 2 Below Ale, by New Belgium. Very aromatic, with hints of pine and citrus. Similar to Fat Tire, with less malty sweetness. A straightforward winter warmer from the Fort Collins brewer, which also offers its raspberry- heavy Frambozen this time of year.
6 Jubelale, by Deschutes. From Oregon comes this smoky winter ale with an oaky aroma and a pronounced hoppy bite. The kaleidoscopic painting on the bottle label is fun, too.
7 Brew Masters' Private Reserve, by Anheuser-Busch. This Doppelbock won't remind you of Budweiser. Malty with notes of caramel, its 8.5 percent alcohol by volume makes it a robust sipper. Worth hunting for, it's sold in a 46.5-ounce swing-top bottle.
8 Cocoa Porter Winter Warmer, by Tommyknocker. The Idaho Springs brewer starts with its Prospector Porter, a winner at this year's Great American Beer Festival, then adds roasted cocoa beans and honey. The chocolaty aroma alone will have you expecting to see a little Swiss girl on the label.
9 Ten Fidy, by Oskar Blues. Hard to believe it's been five years since the Lyons brewer began canning its microbrews. This latest addition to the line, an Imperial Stout, is intensely rich, with strong hints of chocolate and roasted coffee.
10 Spruce Goose Ale, by Steamworks. The most unusual beer on the list, it's brewed with fresh spruce tips by the folks at the Durango brewery. The pine aroma is immediate; the taste conjured bites of sweet pecan pie. Sold in 22-ounce bomber bottles.
11 Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale, by Anheuser-Busch. Bud's equivalent of Winterfest lives up to its name, thanks to aging on oak from bourbon casks and vanilla beans. You'll enjoy a distinct aroma of bourbon and a sweet, creamy finish.
12 Full Moon Winter Ale, by Blue Moon. Coors has delivered a sweet Abbey-style ale with toffee and vanilla notes from Belgian dark sugar. This and the Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale are the fizziest beers on the list.