This year, I was fortune enough to fine two (two!) favorite Christmas ales: Red Brick’s Long John (reviewed yesterday) and Sweetwater’s Festive Ale—both brewed right here in my very own home town, Atlanta. As I mentioned, the annual arrivals of the Christmas/Festive/Winter ales at my local pubs are some of the most eagerly anticipated joys of the season for me. This is an especially good year for Christmas ale.
Sweetwater Festive Ale pours a dark, almost black color—unless you hold it at an angle so that it catches the light … then it has a very deep ruby red tint to it. The aroma is mild, with very subtle notes of dark chocolate, cherry, vanilla, molasses, nuts, and roasted malts. Those scents carry through in the taste, blending nicely like the notes in a symphony—although one played at low volume. Despite the complexity, Festival Ale is far from overpowering. Like most Christmas/winter ales, Festive Ale is sweet, although less so than Red Brick’s winter offer, and yeasty. Festival Ale has a decided Belgian flavor to its yeast—always a good thing in my book—and the malt flavor is tempered nicely with the roasting.
The mouth feel is light to medium, even mild, not nearly as robust as you might expect from the dark cherry color. Nonetheless, the flavors blend well, and the overall experience is wonderfully satisfying and quite delicious. It’s a worthy addition to an celebration—a sip or two will make you feel like you’re at the Fezziwig’s Christmas party in A Christmas Carol. It’s certainly a worth offer on the crowded shelf of winter brews.
While the 2010 bottles you’ll find at better stores are terrific, if you happen to be close to intown Atlanta, you are in for a special treat. The Candler Park Market put a few bottles of last year’s 2009 brew aside. A year of aging has mellowed and deepened the flavors, raising it from delicious to absolutely amazing. Give it a try if you can.
Be sure to let me know what you think, and cheers! Happy Christmas (or the winter holiday celebration of your choice) to all.