Samuel Adams doesn’t brew any of my favorite beers (although I hear their Christmas brews this year are sensational). I don’t dislike Samuel Adams, mind—not by any means—they just don’t happen to make anything that makes my top ten list. Nonetheless, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Samuel Adams because, rightly or wrongly, I credit them for truly sparking the American craft beer revolution. Sure, there were other plenty of American craft beers on the market before Sam Adams burst on to the scene with a winning combination of excellent product and powerful marketing savvy. But I think Samuel Adams is the brewery that made truly fine, well-crafted beers and ales a part of the national mainstream.
More, I personally credit Samuel Adams (again, rightly or wrongly) with defining what has become the American “style” of craft brew—as opposed to, say, Belgian, German, Scotch, or English styles. If there is such a thing as a stereotypical American craft brew, it would be golden amber in color, offer a few waves of wheaty flavor, and finish a very distinctive hoppy signature after taste. That, in a nutshell, is Samuel Adams.
Abita, a brewery in the New Orleans area, follows in the Samuel Adams tradition, making bold, small batch beers and ales with very distinctive bitter, hoppy tastes that are both utterly unique and proudly American. Their Christmas Ale is no exception. My pal Mike Mikula, the brilliant cartoonist, introduced me to Abita Christmas Ale when he found Sweetwater Festival Ale a little too sweet for his tastes. While I am usually more fond of the sweeter and spicier winter ales, I have to admit, this is a mighty tasty alternative.
Christmas ales, in my experience, are usually Belgian or English style ales … brews that make you think of cozy seats by the fire in quaint, snow-dusted pubs with frosted windows. Abita’s offer is, again, distinctly American. It pours a nice amber red with a small and white head. It’s medium bodied and smooth, with very light carbonation. The signature taste comes mainly, but not entirely, from the malted grains and hops themselves, rather than from fruit or sweet notes—although very subtle hints of cinnamon and ginger are present.
My tastes tend more to the sweeter Belgian and Scottish style ales, but Abita’s Christmas Ale is a surprisingly nice alternative. I can also report that it pairs nicely with food—try it with a bowl of hearty winter stew or chili, or even with a nice Sunday roast. And while yes, I do own a calendar, I feel safe in declaring that it’s never too late for a fine Christmas ale. Especially when the temperature is still hovering in the 20s and 30s. Cheers, and let me know what you think!
More blogs are coming soon … hot chocolate (seriously) and book reviews. Stay tuned.