Drink Magazine

Great Lakes Christmas Ale

By Bryan Roth @bryandroth


‘Tis the season, and all that. What better way to celebrate with some seasonally-appropriate brews?

There are plenty of “Christmas ale” options out there, but this is the first year we’ve had Great Lakes’ offering here in North Carolina. The rest of their lineup that gets shipped here is solid, if not fantastic, so I wanted to make sure and give their seasonal beer a try. It’s currently got a 88 on Beer Advocate.

Did this yuletide merrymaker leave me feeling jolly? Let’s hit the jump and discuss.

I will give Great Lakes this – they sure do know how to pull together the right ingredients for a Christmas beer. A pour of red-hued amber liquid sets the stage perfectly with a couple fingers of head helping to extenuate a holiday bouquet of aromas. This beer was brewed with cinnamon and ginger, which were the one-two punch on my nose, followed by honey. The honey, however, wasn’t candy-sweet in its smell and blended nicely with hints of orange and caramel from the beer’s crystal malts.

Nice amber hue with decent lacing.

Nice amber hue with decent lacing.

The smell is fantastic – something I think anyone would enjoy – but it’s the beer’s flavors that will make it or break it, depending on palate. Like the beer’s aroma, spices are the first sensation I tasted on my tongue but are much more subdued than the smell. You don’t have to strain to find the cinnamon, but it won’t be knocking your socks off, either. There’s an amazing finish on each sip showcasing some sweetness I equated to vanilla, and it lingers forever. All this easily hides the beer’s 7.5 percent ABV, so it’ll warm you up a bit, but you’ll never pick up any alcohol heat.

But here’s the breaking point. Great Lakes recommends the beer be served at 55 degrees, so I let it sit for a bit to warm. As it picked up in temperature, the beer became sweeter, imparting flavors of raisins and Marciano cherries – almost a light syrup characteristic. This would either turn some people off or really make them think this beer is a perfect Christmas ale. After all, what else might we think of when it comes to the holiday season than sweet treats?

My solution? Drink it while it’s cold and test a little at warmer temperatures. Either way you slice it, it’s either a great beer right out of the fridge or a dividing – but still solid – brew as it sits in your glass.

Christmas ale stats:

  • Malt: Harrington 2-row, wheat, crystal 45, special roast and roasted barley
  • Hops: Hallertau (US) and Cascade
  • Adjuncts: Honey, cinnamon and ginger
  • ABV: 7.5 percent

+Bryan Roth

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