Your Holiday Beer Blind Taste Test: All Hail Het Anker!

Categories: Beer

holiday beer at healthy spirits.JPG

Holiday beers are good for many things. They make office parties more bearable. They give your cheeks a radiant, celebratory glow. And most importantly, they warm the cockles of your liver (note to self: What are cockles, and why do they need to be warm?).

For this installment of Tasting Blind, our brave panel critiqued an assortment of spiced holiday beers. According to the official Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines, a spiced beer should offer a "harmonious marriage of spices" to be judged on the "pleasantness and balance of the resulting combination." Because balancing spices is an art, we invited five local homebrewers to the panel -- all of whom have previously created heavy-handed, over-spiced beers at home.

Tasters rated the beers out of a possible 20 points: five for aroma, 10 for taste, and five for overall impression. To avoid getting swept up in holiday cheer, no impressions were discussed until after the scores were in. All beers were purchased between City Beer Store, Healthy Spirits, and The Jug Shop. Prices are approximate. The spicy results from high to low:


1) Het Anker Gouden Carolus Noel: 91 points
Brewed with six secret herbs and spices (cue Colonel Sanders joke), this beer hit the sweet spot -- literally. Despite a sticky sweetness, the panel enjoyed flavors of caramel, clove and dates. One panelist described the rich texture and flavor as "cozy as a Snuggie." 750ml, $14

2) Affligem Noel: 87 points
Our panel clearly had a preference for Belgian holiday beers. Somewhere between a Belgian tripel and dubbel with a touch of spice, this beer had an instant warming effect and flavors of toffee. One rater likened it to "dipping bread in molasses." 750ml, $10

3) Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale (Our Special Ale): 84 points
Despite our vow of silence, the panelists shot each other knowing glances upon taking a sip of this classic seasonal. The most immediately recognizable beer on our list was also a hometown staple. Brewed since 1975, the spice profile is constantly changing but always intrigues. Panelists picked out flavors as varied as cherry wood, charcoal, and ginger. Six pack, $9

4) Anderson Valley Winter Solstice: 83 points
Described as "hard not to like," this was the most accessible beer of the bunch. This amber-hued brew had a pronounced vanilla flavor that every panelist enjoyed. In one person's opinion, the beer was "silky smoove." That's right, smoove with a "v." Six pack, $8

5) Mikkeller, Santa's Little Helper: 78 points [TIE]
Clocking in at nearly 11 percent abv, this dark Belgian-style brew had some noticeable heft. Flavors of roasty, bitter chocolate dominated. Despite being described as "boozy" and "ashy," this heavy hitter managed to land squarely in the middle of the pack. 750ml, $15

6) The Bruery, Four Calling Birds: 78 points [TIE]
Another Belgian dark strong ale, this beer was more polarizing than most. Brewed with "gingerbread-like" spices, the beer is heavy on allspice and nutmeg flavors. While one reviewer enjoyed the "layered and complex" spice profile; another said, "Well, you better like cinnamon." Verdict: Agree to disagree. 750ml, $12

7) Jolly Pumpkin, La Parcela: 74 points
Despite landing low on the list, this brew was universally enjoyed. This sour, oak-aged pumpkin beer brewed with spices was the obvious curveball of the bunch, and panelists enjoyed this tart, woody, dry creation. The spices, however, were largely lost behind the beer's acidity. Great beer, but not the best winter warmer. 750ml, $15

8) Mikkeller Hoppy Lovin' Christmas: 70 points
Another beer that the group enjoyed, but didn't fill anybody with the holiday spirit. This IPA brewed with ginger and pine needles offered aromas of tropical fruit and a touch of spruce, but mostly represented itself as a solid IPA. Panelists agreed that it would have fared better in another context. 750ml, $13

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Jonny Doe
Jonny Doe

I would agree with just about all of this except for the fact that you didn't taste the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.  Which, in my humble opinion, is one of the consistently great holiday beers out there.  perhaps it didn't meet the official beer judge certification program guidelines?

Ben Walsh
Ben Walsh

Even though they release it seasonally and put snow and poinsettia on the label, Sierra Celebration isn't really a holiday beer. It's more like an IPA -- a very good one, better than their flagship Pale Ale, I think -- but it's not at all in the same style as these beers.

Jason Henry
Jason Henry

I like Celebration as much as you do!  For the purposes of this article, however, we only rated spiced holiday beers. Despite rumors that Celebration contains cinnamon, the beer actually contains no spices (to the best of my knowledge).  It is, however, a solid IPA that I enjoy every year.

Cheers!Jason

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