This years Adventures in Food special Christmas beer comes from the Belgium brewery De Dolle and is called Stille Nacht. Apparently Christmas fire sales do not apply only to holiday decorations, apparel, and other Christmas themed items normally found in department stores. I walked into Binny’s to pick up some good wine for my holiday party and found their entire display of Christmas themes beers on sale on an end cap display. I had recently read about Stille Nacht as a faux holy grail to beer lovers around the world and felt that I was never going to get a better price.

Stille Nacht pours a beautiful cloudy, tangerine orange. This is another one of those impossible beers to pour and the head far outweighs the liquid and quickly fills your glass. What I did love, though, was that the head resembled fluffy mounds of snow. I’ve attached a movie below to show the sheer amount of carbonation that lifts from the glass after pouring only 6 ounces into a pint glass. The head is snowy white, but sticky and does not disappear for some time. I  wound up drinking several mouth fulls of head before I ever got to the beer itself. The aroma bursts of sweet malts with bananas, cloves, and tangerines. The first sip immediate burst of sweet malty goodness with a tinge of heavy orange syrup. The spice notes quickly take over and tantalize different parts of your palette until finally a taste of banana takes over before beginning to fade from existence. This is not a gulping beer, in fact, I’m embarrassed that I even poured this into a pint glass at all. This would be a fine sipper drunk straight from the bottle or poured into a snifter.

I want you to know that words cannot accurately describe everything that is going on with this beer. De Dolle clearly has an understanding of what it takes to make a good beer and this is near perfection. I have no complaints, nor any critiques. Any mistake in pouring to create too much head is my own fault. If this beer cheated on me with my best friend at our wedding, I would probably still take it back. It’s that good. However, perfection comes with a pricetag that many might be scared of. You can purchase a 12oz bottle of Stille Nacht only around the Christmas season for around $6 ($4 if you wait for the fire sale). The 12% ABV is prevalent while drinking this beer, but by no means is it overwhelming. I can tell you that you will feel it by the end of your bottle. You probably shouldn’t plan to drink more than two of these in one sitting. Stille Nacht is a perfect beer in my world and should be heralded and replicated year round. It receives the highest rating in my book.

Grade: A+

Why the nutcracker? I get the ballet thing and why it’s part of Christmas. I understand sugar plum fairies dancing in your head and dancing on stage, but why the nutcracker? Why do they sell through thousands of wide mouth, bearded, sometimes hand painted novelties? Do people actually use these to crack nuts or are they strictly decorative? I remember when I was a kid, I tried every year to cracked walnuts and almonds and whatever else comes in those variety packs without ever getting the tasty morsel within. Regardless of my relatively unhappy childhood experiences, I still appreciate a holiday beer during the Christmas season and I loved the idea of a Christmas themed Boulevard offering.

Nutcracker Ale pours a beautiful auburn/toffee color. I was able to get a fair amount of sticky head formed at the top of my glass which dissipated slowly and left a lacy mess on the sides of the glass. The nose of this beer reminds me strongly of a pale ale, but there is certainly some toasted notes and a bit of spice. Given this is holiday themed beer, this doesn’t surprise me. The taste matches the nose. I taste a bit of ginger alongside the toasted malt and a bit of nutmeg in the background. There is certainly a hoppy pale ale flavor going on too. I can feel my chest warming as I drunk my way towards the bottom of my glass.

I really like this beer and would gladly add this to my winter arsenal of favorites. There has been very little Boulevard beers that I haven’t liked and think this may be my favorite brewery. You can find this is the Boulevard variety pack or pick up a six pack for around $9. The 5.9% ABV is not too intense which I quite appreciated given the strong beers I’ve tasted in the past weeks. Nutcracker ale is something I would happily drink year round and recommend highly you get out and try some.

Grade: A-

As a general rule, I really dislike stout winter beers. Last year, I reviewed Magic Hat’s Howl and it reminded me yet again why I shy away from this winter dominating style. There is always too much malt, too much chocolate, or too much coffee flavors that I always feel like I’m eating dessert.

I love dessert. But I don’t want it bottled.

But that was last year and given that the world may be ending in a few short weeks, I thought I might as well give another stout an honest shot. I found a 6 pack of Two Brothers Northwind inside their variety pack sold at Cosco. I cracked open my first one later in the week and had an epiphany.

I really hope the world doesn’t end.

Two Brother Northwind pours coal black and forms a cola like head on top. I’ve seen dirty white head before, but Northwind seems to extract color from the beer to color its foam.  Northwind poured very thin, almost watery. There was very little carbonation. Like other stouts, the aroma bursts of chocolate, coffee, and sweet malts. Already there was nothing that would indicate this was going to go any different than the stouts of the past.

I also want to take a side bar and get you on my side. Think about it. This potentially was going to be the last black beer I would ever try before the apocalypse and the watery appearance and familiar overwhelming chocolate/coffee aroma just made me sad.

I took a deep breath and sighed before taking my first sip. Yes, I’m not being melodramatic here. I actually sighed aloud. But something was different this time. Something was…good. Northwind tasted almost creamy and melted over my taste buds filling my palette with sweet malt and roasted mocha flavors. But this time, neither of these flavors overwhelmed the others. They worked together in a wonderful harmony.

This is without a doubt the best stout I have ever had.

Two Brothers North Wind can be found in 6 packs for around $9 in only in the winter months between November and February. Northwind is listed as a 9% ABV beer, but it did not feel nearly that heavy. Two Brothers is located in northern Illinois and currently distributes only to Ohio, New York, Minnesota, and Illinois only. This is the fourth Two Brothers beer I’ve reviewed and I have yet to find something about this microbrewery that I generally dislike. Northwind is another fine example of the high quality brews they continue to put out.

Grade: A

Don’t be afraid Sam Winter Lager haters, there is something different about this (and last years) Winter Lager. I typically like the seasonal beers put out by Sam Adams. I reviewed earlier in year the Summer Ale as well as Latitude 48, and the East West Kolsch. However, I had always avoided the Sam Winter Lager mostly because there are so many winter beers that I typically don’t like, that I didn’t want to take a risk. Winter Lager has disappointed me in the past and I’ve run from it in past holiday seasons. However, when a free one is placed in front of you by a kind bartender, you can’t turn it down.

Winter Lager pours a humble brown with a gold tinge to it. The head arrived two fingers tall, but quickly subsided, leaving a small amount of lacing around the glass. Like many winter beers, there was a traditional spice aroma lifting from the glass accompanied by a mild malt flavor. My first sip was pretty bland, but the flavors eventually collided together and I understand what they were trying to get at. Although ginger is the prevalent spice taste, I believe there are elements of nutmeg or perhaps allspice that linger in the background to remind you that this is not a simple beer. Winter Lager has a mild bitterness that is similar to orange peel and contains a pleasant malt flavor. Simply, there is nothing overwhelming about this beer, yet at the same time, there is nothing underwhelming about it either.

I’m from New England and I love Sam Adams. I’m still questioning their status as a microbrew given their mass distribution and seemingly endless production of barrels, but I can get past that because this is yet another example of the kind of high quality beers that they put out year after year in mass quantity at an affordable price. This beer can be found everywhere in New England and most regional areas. I’ve found it at many of the liquor stores, supermarkets, and yes, even drug stores here in the Chicagoland area. You can pick up a 12 pack of Winter Lager for around $15 or a six pack for around $9. You can also find this buried inside the winter variety back alongside the Boston Lager, Sam Adams Light, and another seasonal beer. This is a solid offering from a solid brewery that serves as a pleasant post Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas lager.

Grade: B

Call me crazy, but I think it’s rather strange for a brewery in Denmark to use hops from Washington to make a single hop IPA. Aren’t there plenty of quality hops to be found in Europe (many of which US breweries import) that they didn’t need to import the warrior hop? I checked out the Mikkeller website and discovered that several years ago, this brewery created more than 76 new beers, all of which were bottled and sold across the world. I find this incredibly impressive.

The warrior hop is typically used for its buttering qualities and used here to create that classic American IPA flavor. But as the name implies, the only hop used in this offering from Mikkeller is the warrior hop making this a true representation of the flavor inherited from this hop.

The pour is beautiful and reveals an orange colored beer leaning towards the brown side of the color wheel. After the pour, a thick, sticky white foam on top. The head dissipates quickly, but form the outside in, leaving a glacier of head that slowly melts until it eventually disappears. This left quite a bit of lacing all over the glass. The nose wafts clean, fresh IPA, hoppy flavor with elements of pine in the background to support the hops. What I appreciate most in this moment is the balance. Nothing is overpowering and there is not any other flavors trying to make their way to the top. There is just a nice balance.

The bottle is pinkish which is why I post this during breast cancer awareness month. My Aunt Elaine passed away from breast cancer after nearly a ten year battle a couple years ago – a life cut far too short. After her diagnosis, she wrote a bucket list of everything she wanted to experience and completed everything except for one thing – to swim with sharks. For all my readers and for everyone you love and care about, we have to continue to raise awareness for this disease and keep the world informed of preventative measures as we continue to strive towards a cure. Only together can we overcome this.

You can find a 12 oz bottle of Mikkeller Single Hop Warrior IPA for between $4 – $6 at fine microbreweries. Warrior has a 6.9% ABV which makes this a bit heavier than it’s cousins across the pond, but the alcohol does not stand out or cause any kind of burn. This is quite a sticker shock, but something I am glad I experienced. This is a well balanced beer and one I would happily purchase if I ever find myself in Denmark. As for now, I’ll let American breweries make my American IPA beers and leave the europeans to other beer they do best.

Grade: B

Taken with flash in a dark room. Colors are not accurately portrayed.

For lack of a better term, I’m going to treat Gordon Biersch like a microbrewery for just today. The restaurants themselves are owned by a multi-brand restaurant operator called Craftworks which also runs Old Chicago, Rock Bottom, A1A Aleworks, and a slew of other regional chain restaurants. The brewery, however, is located in San Jose, California, and produces all the Gordon Biersch beers as well as contracted brews for Kirkland (sold at Costco) and Trader Joe’s. Given their distribution, they probably produce more barrels than a “microbrew” is allowed to, but I’ll forgive that for just today.

The Czech Style Pilsner pours a beautiful golden wheat colored. The head is sticky and left quite a bit of lacing, but did dissipate quickly. There was very little aroma wafting from the beer. It smells fresh and clean, but I could detect very little hops, alcohol, malt, or any other flavor. My first taste revealed exactly what my nose was expecting. Clean, fresh, immature hops with a little bit of alcohol burn. There were no complicated flavors, no waves of flavor. This is simple pilsner that could probably be produced using a home brewing kit.

I do also want to mention that Gordon Biersch serves their fries covered in parsley, salt, and minced garlic. This beer reacted pretty violently with the garlic aftertaste and my mouth felt like it was on fire. I’m attributing this to alcohol burn, but also the idea of serving fries with minced garlic, not cooked down, also kind of bothers me (even though they were delicious). At Gordon Biersch, this was not a beer to eat with a burger and fries. That in itself is a problem.

As far as pilsners go, this is another fresh, clean beer. The 5.6% ABV is not too harsh making this something you can sit down and have a few of without overdoing it. You can buy Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner for around $10-12 for a 12 pack. At this price point and quality, I would happily buy this by the case and serve it at barbecues or family parties. This is a good beer, but nothing extraordinary or something worth going out of your way to find.

Grade: C-

Half off all draught microbrews at redFlame Pizzeria in beautiful Lincoln Park, IL gave me an opportunity to try Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. There was a host of other breweries on the menu ranging from the well known (Dogfish Head) to the local (Goose Island), but I wanted to give Sumpin’ a try mostly because it gave me an opportunity to be completely lame and mention to the waitress “Can I get a little sumpin sumpin.” White men around the world are all slowly shaking their heads in shame.

Sumpin’ is a beautiful reddish orange color and is described as an American wheat ale. I know those of you who have tried Sumpin’ are thinking that this is an IPA and I did at first as well due to the weight, feel, and taste. But Lagunitas has a trick up their sleeve which makes this an incredibly unique and tasty beer. There was a nice frothy head on my draft and it was bursting with grapefruit aromas. The taste maintains the flavors of the aroma with subtle hints of grapefruit and the bitterness of the peel. It finishes clean and makes for a very easy drinking beer.

Sumpin’ is a beer that I would gladly throw into my summertime and fall rotation regardless of the $11 per six pack price tag. The 7.3% ABV packs a nice punch as well, making this is a better value, similar to other beers at this price point. According to the Lagunitas website, you can now find this year round, so ensure that you’re favorite distributor has this on its shelves or can get it for you. I couldn’t imagine drinking this beer out of a bottle and I would highly recommend it be poured into a proper pilsner  glass with a narrow mouth to capture the aromas. Do yourself a favor and go get yourself a little sumpin’ sumpin’. You’ll be glad you did.

Grade: A-