Speaking from experience, you can go really wrong really fast when it comes to special edition holiday brews. There are a lot of recycled spring and summer seasonals lurking behind cheery winter labels out there. So a group of enthusiastic CL imbibers sat down with a load of those labels to sort out the best from the rest.
Sweet Water Festive Ale 2014Sweet Water Brewing Company—Atlanta, GA
As far as winter brews go, this toasty treat emerged as an overwhelming crowd favorite. Even the strongest craft breweries can’t get it right every time… but dagum, did Sweet Water get this one so right. With malty, nutty body backed by delicate cinnamon spice, the 2014 Festive Ale is a strong testament to the idea that the flavor of the holiday season can, in fact, be bottled. This annual beauty boasts a rich and creamy mouthfeel without weighing too heavy on the stomach. Though complex, the beer is incredibly well balanced. No single flavor element dominates another or overpowers your merry mouth with lingering tastes reminiscent of the scented candle aisle. Finishing with supple molasses notes, the Sweet Water Festive Ale is going to have you reaching for another all winter long. But do be careful, this one sure doesn’t taste as potent as it is (8.5%). We recommend keeping this superior seasonal on hand for holiday gatherings, casual cold weather sipping, and pouring over vanilla ice cream.
Beer floats are always in season—don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
Goose Island Festivity AleGoose Island Beer Company—Chicago, IL
Talk about deep caramel and dark fruit, this brown ale has got it going on. Collectively, we found the caramel and fruit combo just a bit weird at first sip. Tart cranberry notes up front came across slightly unbalanced; however with a couple more mouthfuls, we landed this brew in the camp that we at CL like to call “oddly compelling.” So much so that we couldn’t put it down. Once you really get into the flavor profile of this one, it’s easy to appreciate as a welcome wintery change of pace. Velvety smooth, with a light frothiness, the mouthfeel of GI’s Festivity is something to be celebrated. Here again, we have a stellar option to keep in the ice bucket for holiday company and parties.
2014 Bourbon County Brand StoutGoose Island Beer Company—Chicago, IL
Another gem from Goose Island, the Brand Stout isn’t a designated “holiday” brew… it just happens to be a beverage we want need to have around for the entirety of the holiday season. Part of Goose Island’s annual Bourbon County series, the limited release stout (available as of November 28th) is aged in rye whiskey barrels with cassia bark, cacao nibs, panela, and coconut water for powerful flavor that is so far beyond ideal for enjoying next to an open fire (but not too close—this bad boy weighs in at 13.8%). The key to falling head-over-heels for the Bourbon Co. Stout is to go into that bottle knowing that you're about to have one intense experience all up in your mouth. Get ready for a seriously chocolaty, oaky, smoky nose followed by an ultra creamy, dark, and deeply sweet body that lands somewhere between chocolate milk and aged port. It’s rich, robust, well-rounded, and probably all of the other positive ‘r’ adjectives you can think of. The GI Brand Stout might not be your best bet served as a party beverage given its heft and high alcohol percentage. That said, this is what we call a “gifting beer;” as in, you gift a 4-pack of this to your friends you love the most.