A few weeks ago, I stopped by The Marlay House Pub on a cold Winter night to hear the Tuesday traditional Irish/Celtic music jam. Speaking of, if you haven’t given it a try lately, you’re in for a treat. The music is nothing less than legendary. Legendary. As I said before, I’ve paid serious money to hear bands that weren’t nearly as tight. But I digress. The Marlay had local brewery Red Brick’s winter ale—Long John—on tap, so I decided to give it a try. I am glad I did.
I’e always had a fondness for the winter ales … Samuel Smith, Sierra Nevada, and Anchor Steam make especially good ones (and my pal Steve Scheer assures me that Samuel Adams has some terrific ones this year). In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the annual arrival of the festive and winter ales at my local pubs is one of the highlights of the Christmas season for me. Most of them are hearty, yeasty, and slightly sweet, and feature subtle hints of spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, and fruit. Pouring one is like breaking open a loaf of liquid Christmas bread—it just makes you feel warm and merry, somehow.
But even allowing for regional bias (Red Brick is brewed here in my hometown of Atlanta), Red Brick’s Long John is one of the best I’ve tried. It pours a nice deep burgundy color, ruby brown, with a nice two-finger head that thins to a nice lacing … like frost on a window. The scent is bready and rich, and the taste is, well, festive. There are hints of cocoa, almonds, and fruit, raisins, figs, and banana, and spices. The body is medium and smooth.
I’ve heard one or two people complain that Long John is a bit too sweet for their tastes, even when compare to, say, Sweet Water’s equally delicious Festive Ale. If sweet isn’t your thing, you might want to stick with something like Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, an always amazing treat. But c’mon. It’s Christmas. Indulge a little. Cheers!