Beer Review 0298: Great Lakes Christmas Ale

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Merry Christmas to all by fellow beer lovers! I scratched my head for awhile as to what I would review on Christmas Day, and the answer was staring me in the face the entire time: Christmas Ale by Great Lakes Brewing Company.

Great Lakes was started by brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway on September 6, 1988, at a time when not one single microbrewery existed in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland, back in the 1800s, boasted thirty breweries — but until Great Lakes, all were extinct.

Great Lakes operate with what they call a “Triple Bottom Line” — they run their business engaging in responsible economic, social, and environmental practices, while profiting. That’s what those three squiggly lines represent on the neck label — the triple bottom line; and they also represent beer’s most important ingredient: water.

Christmas Ale is a limited release seasonal that shows up in stores each November. Last year, I didn’t jump fast enough and this sold out quickly; this year, the stock seems to be higher, as this has sat on my bottle shop’s shelf all season long. Coming in at 7.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), this Winter Warmer is spiced with fresh ginger and cinnamon, with a dollop of honey. Malt bill: Harrington 2-Row, wheat, Crystal 45, Special Roast, and roasted barley. Hops: Hallertau, and Cascade.

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The pour produced an average size head, slightly off-white, creamy and dense. The head lasted for a good while atop a lightly golden-orange beer, which was brilliantly clear and free from particles and sediment. Lacing was good, leaving behind sudsy patches after each sip.

The aromatics on Christmas Ale were pretty straightforward as described on the bottle: there’s lots of cinnamon and ginger, paired with a light malty caramel sweetness. And being that this beer does use honey, I think you can smell it, too — most of the time, when beer employs honey, you just detect general sweetness on the nose. This has definite honey. Folks, this smells like Christmas, but there isn’t much else going on here. And that’s not a bad thing, because it does smell nice, but it’s just not complex enough to hold my attention past a couple of nose samples.

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On the taste, this beer has an excellent blend of cinnamon and ginger, even giving off some valentine cinnamon heart candy heat. Christmas Ale is fairly sweet, a touch bready, and brings on a twangy finish of faded cinnamon and ginger with a mild bitterness. In a way, it almost finishes clean and nondescript once you get past the spices, especially the cinnamon. The beer is medium-bodied, with a medium mouthfeel that was foamy when swished around.

No doubt, this is a highly drinkable Christmas brew that avoids the typical Winter Warmer flavors for something a touch sweeter and more intense. While a great alternative to eggnog or any other traditional Christmastime drink, it’s a shame this seems relegated to just one day out of the year.

Great Lakes Christmas Ale, 86 points. Price: $11.99 US for a six pack.

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