Although it may not feel like it, we’re neck deep in the Christmas season. This time of year produces a lot of things I’m not really fond of: Christmas music, gatherings with relatives you rarely see, and egg nog. I’m sorry if you like that stuff, but it’s super gross and should be eliminated. But that’s just me talking. There are a few things that I think are great and should be celebrated: like holiday-themed beers, of course! Dark beers are usually commonplace, but sometimes things can get mixed up a little and you get something that is completely unexpected. So, for the sake of being a literal “drunk uncle”, I grabbed three holiday themed beers from Hop City in Birmingham to try out. There was a method to my deciding: grab one I’ve had, one I’ve heard of, and one I know nothing about. This proved to be a great decision making process, because if all else fails, I still have a beer I know I like in the end.
Something I consider when determining if a beer fits the season depends on a few characteristics. Does it warm my insides for these brisk winter nights (I know we don’t have many of those, so just imagine we live above this second equator that lies somewhere below the Tennessee Valley,) does it embrace the tones and flavors of the winter, and is it a somewhat limited release? All of these factors play a part in my evaluation, because it’s not really a good holiday beer if it’s available all year, right?
With that being said, the first beer I grabbed was the Shiner Holiday Cheer, a Dunkelweizen that incorporates pecans and oranges into a dark brew made available only in the winter months, the Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hopped IPA, a beer I had heard from several reputable sources that vouched that this was the beer of the season, and, finally, a beer that I had never heard of, the Rogue Ales Santa’s Private Reserve, which is a traditional American Red Ale that is also only available in the winter months.
This is my first time to review three beers in one article, so pardon me if my words start to ramble; I’m drinking these back to back to back. Here are my thoughts:

I started off with the Shiner Holiday Cheer, an old favorite that I discovered a few years ago. A lot of people have their own opinions about Shiner and the beers they make, but I have never really had anything that has made me develop distaste for and of their products. This brew only added to my affinitive love for Shiner beers; regardless if they are one of the biggest craft breweries in the country (behind Sam Adams,) because just because it’s a big brewery doesn’t mean they can’t make quality options. Anyways, I poured this beer into a Good People pint glass and settled in with an old favorite.
The beer pours a slightly clear brown with red hue, could be considered cranberry, but we’re not talking about paint swatches. About two finger widths of fluffy head, slightly off-white, without any significant lacing on the glass. When you smell this beer, you’re immediately hit with the scent of roasted nuts and ripe peaches. You can pick up some slightly less pronounced notes in the background that favor the malt and barley, but nothing worth noting extensively.
Upon first taste, you can notice that the flavors really match the aroma in the way of a strong nuttiness and a emphasis on a sweet peach flavor. Up front, you get a lot of that said sweetness from the peaches with a nice roasted element from the pecans, and as you continue, you start to pick up on a mild hop bitterness that brings in a nice balance to the brew. Something that seems to be the main constant in this beer is the sweetness of the peaches. From year to year, I can get that same level of sweetness in every bottle. It’s not some horrible artificial flavoring either, or if it is, it’s the best artificial peach flavoring I’ve ever experienced. There’s some bitterness on the back end of the beer that brings it all together.
Mouthfeel is superb as all Shiner beers are, and it doesn’t really sit very heavily on the stomach; although, it is definitely warming my insides. The beer comes in at 5.4% alcohol so it’s extremely sessionable and is something that even non-beer drinkers can enjoy.
Everyone should try this one at least once before the holiday season is over, because it’s a well-balanced and extremely complex beer from a brewery that doesn’t really delve into the realm of creativity all that often.

Okay! We’re off to a great start, so let’s keep the train moving on into Sierra Nevada. I heard about this beer from a guy that I worked with at Good People. He was raving about it and he has great judgment so I took his word for it, and I’m so glad I did. This was one of the best beers I have ever had, and I completely understand why it has a 97 rating on Beer Advocate. So I saw the Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA in the pick six at Hop City and said why not. Got it home and chilled it for two days before drinking, and to be honest, it could have been a little warmer, but whatever we’re going with it. Being that this was an IPA, it was a little exciting to stray from the generic guidelines of what a winter beer should be.
I poured this one in another pint glass and first off, I noticed the cloudy copper complexion that had about one finger width of off-white head that fizzled out to a really thin, splotchy layer of foam covering the top of the beer. The nose is strong in the way of grapefruit and some other citrus fruits. I picked up a little bit of pine and a good bit of malt. It’s a very balanced aroma and very aromatic as well. I like a strong scent on an IPA, because it tells me that the quality is present and it’s not just a busted attempt at trying to offer that beer to the public.
Taste really explodes when you allow the beer to warm slightly, which I highly suggest doing. Up front you get a lot of citrus hop flavors that meld with bread-like malt that fade into a piney, earthy tone. The finish has signature IPA hop bitterness, but coupled with a great citrus hop character that leaves a serious citrus flavor on the tongue after each sip. It’s really refreshing for an IPA, but I don’t think it could be a session beer by any means. It settles on the stomach pretty heavily, like a Jai Alai or really any darker beer for that matter. This is a really well balanced beer and even more so if the beer is allowed to warm up for about five or ten minutes before drinking. Really top notch. The alcohol begins to show up toward the middle to late portion of the beer so it begins to taste a little boozey if it warms too much, just forewarning.
The mouthfeel is really nice for a Sierra Nevada beer, to be honest. Equipped with a full body, moderate carbonation, and a lightly noticeable alcohol level make it the epitome of a winter style IPA. Usually with Sierra Nevada beers, I find that the mouthfeel is usually the most depressing parts. It’s more times than not more carbonated that it should ever be, tastes fairly dank, and sometimes even just tastes too watery. This was a great take on a unique style of brew. The fresh hop addition really adds to the beautiful bouquet of aromas and flavors that this beer packs into each bottle. I can’t wait to try more of this one in the near future before the season is over.

Last but not least, the Rogue Ales Santa’s Private Reserve Ale. I picked up this beer to round out my selections and also to throw in a little mystery. I had never heard of this beer before I grabbed it, so I did a little research online to see what a few other people had to say about it. Turns out, I disagree with most of these people and their opinions, because this beer was nothing more than that basic Rogue American Amber ale. It was pretty boring, but I drank it for the sake of drinking a holiday beer. Here are my thoughts:
The beer pours a deep, golden amber with a slight brown hue that lacks any visible carbonation. After pouring into my pint glass, about two finger widths of off-white head forms and falls to a crater-filled half finger width. This beer is seriously foamy; not sure if it’s because I poured it weird or because of the temperature, but it was more fluffy than any other Rogue beer I’ve ever had. As it settles and is consumed, a thin layer of lacing lines the glass, but doesn’t retain much throughout the beer. The beer has some seriously strong scents in the way of caramel, some pine, and citrus; with some earthy notes mixed in as well. The aroma is pretty full and gave me the impression that it would be a very heavy beer.
The taste doesn’t really follow the scent at all. I got a lot of pine and resin up front followed by some caramel and then some light hop bitterness. I wish the flavors had matched the aroma, because it smelled like what I reference Red Ales to be like. It just let me down. Another note about the flavor, it seemed a little watered down, which made for a less than enjoyable experience. I wish the flavors of the caramel and citrus could have been much bolder and in your face, along with those very prominent earthy notes that really seemed to disappear upon tasting. Big miss for me. One thing that was a somewhat positive note was the lingering aftertaste. A mix of caramel and slight bitterness lingered for a good while after each sip and seemed to enhance as the beer warmed. This was a welcomed quality since the flavors were so lacking. I felt like I had nothing to hold on to in the beer, until after I had already drunk it. Mouthfeel was very nice in my opinion. The light carbonation could have possibly been bumped up a bit, but to me, it was very nice and allowed the flavors to have a chance to develop without an overbearing carbonation level.
All in all, this one was my least favorite and can’t really see myself ever drinking this again unless someone else pays it for and I don’t have to consume many. It was a big let down by a brewery I have come to expect great things from. No one bats 1,000 forever and, to me, this could be one strike out on the record. Lacking flavors and missed opportunities made this a beer that I will more than likely pass on next time.
These holiday beers were a great way for me to try some things I have never had, although, there are tons of options in the way of holiday beers for every type of beer drinker. I picked these three beers because they were the first ones I saw available and they represented a good mix of styles. So, go out, find one that you’ve never heard of and try it. You may be surprised how easily you can replace egg nog at your holiday parties with a new favorite beer. Cheers!

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