Here's the second flight of holiday seasonal beers. The first wave put the emphasis on the hops, a style that was perfect for the unusually temperate weather a few weeks back. But now that it's turning cold and blustery, a little warming sweetness is welcome. The three in this week's lineup make for a nice transition. They aren't as big or as strong as what's to come, but the emphasis is definitely more on the malt than on the hops.
Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale, 2010
The 36th bottling of this California classic sports a deep, dark ruby-brown color that is almost opaque. Spicy brioche and caramel corn aromas dominate with earthy nutmeg, cinnamon, orange tea and roasted malt. This one offers lots of complexity on the palate as well--plum, spice, raisin, anise, touches of spruce--all wrapped up in a sweet malt blanket. Very light hop flavors come through, mostly on the finish.
Hale's Wee Heavy Winter Ale
An ebony-hued brew with a thick, dark-tan head that holds well. This beer offers soft floral aromas, colored by chocolaty caramel and a pleasantly herbal touch of straw and dried peat. It's rich in smooth mocha flavors that are just sweet enough, along with roasted hazelnut and a nice backbone of balancing hop bitterness. A bit of cleansing crispness comes through on the finish of this Seattle seasonal.
Laughing Dog Cold Nose Winter Ale
This beer pours a deep coffee brown with a thin but persistent head. Lightly roasted malt aromas mix with even lighter citrus-laced hops, all backed by ripe fruit undertones. Creamy on the palate, the flavors in this offering are balanced between vanilla-hued malt playing against just-bitter hops, along with touches of roasted grain and nut.