On Paste’s “Not Ranked” List, But...Great Lakes Christmas Ale

RealClear Staff


     Many a mash monger, cask craver and beer geek have more than gandered at Great Lakes Brewing Co.—they’ve been a central-US safety for 30 years. If the brewery doesn’t ring any jingling bells, surely their sauces, such as Eliot Ness Amber Lager, Dortmunder Gold, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and their Christmas Ale (brewed since 1992), come to mind.

That’s right. Their holiday hops have been around 25 years. But amazingly, there are those who’ve yet to experience this no-ale. While it’s distributed to 13 states, Vermont isn’t one of them. And while the northern nationals have plenty of local pints, this Midwest mash deserves the seasonal spotlight for all states to see. Being a brewery from the Midwest, they were more than welcoming when it came to kicking over some Christmas Ale.

When GLBC first started stirring up suds in 1986, they brewed less than a thousand barrels. Today, they’re tackling a whopping 160,000 barrels a year. The Brewers Association has given Great Lakes the 21st tier on the US top-50 craft-brewing companies—28th on the overall list.

That’s an amazing achievement for an ale outfit formed by two brothers in a questionable, Cleveland neighborhood. Pat & Dan Conway keep to a triple bottom line—looking to flourish in the face of economics, social responsibility and always staying environmentally sound.

It’s also clear these Cleveland kids slap a sense of humor on their suds—re: Burning River Pale Ale (see: Cuyahoga River). With the brewery burgeoning that kind of creativity, this puts Christmas Ale safely at the top of Santa’s suds list—as well as being one of the brewery’s best sellers. Heck, their in-house St. Nick taps the initial keg at the on-site brewpub (also housing a seven-barrel brewing operation)—block-long lines form for the foam’s First Pour. They had an October event where it was calculated that one pint of Christmas Ale was poured every eight seconds for 12 hours straight—if that’s not a tree topper...

The recipe itself speaks volumes—more like pounds and gallons. We’re talking some 6,700 pounds of cinnamon sticks. That weight was met with the same amount of fresh hand-cut ginger and 18,425 gallons of Michigan honey—maybe a gallon more or less.

But all that’s in the taste-buds background of a reddish-copper quencher made with a malty-sweet nose and muted effervescence. But give the beer a chance to warm a bit for the spices to shine. Perhaps it’s the honey that’s conducive to a velvety, whiskey-esque mouth varnish. All this might make you want a steak—but the brewers suggest sidekicking it with roast duck and spiced desserts (ugly, Christmas sweater’s optional). All in all, the foam has a light, puckering finish.

That’s nothing when basking in the brewery’s barrel-aged Christmas Ale, which Great Lakes places in Four Roses bourbon barrels for nothing short of six months. That effort avails a deepr color and energized effervescence to this ale—along with the oak and vanilla flavors, which accentuate the heavenly honey. It might have your puckering paired with sour.

[Photo: Great Lakes Brewing Co.]

And the little, neck label indicates the bottle number—they’re at 1,983,500—but good luck on obtaining this limited edition.

Name: Christmas Ale (and Barrel-Aged Christmas Ale)
Brewer: Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, Ohio
Style: Spiced winter warmer
ABV: 7.5%
Availability: 13 states and Washington, DC, November-December

[Video: courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing Co.]



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