The holidays are my favorite time of the year to settle down with a seasonal brew. The flavors are rich and spicy, while the beers themselves are stronger, more filling and more decadent. A couple of Christmas ales next to a fire always beats hefeweizens on a 100-degree day.
Bars have been showcasing the latest winter and Christmas ales at holiday tap takeovers in recent weeks, and I’ve been approaching them academically, ordering tasting flight after tasting flight, comparing and contrasting Great Lakes Christmas Ale against Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale against the Brewers Art’s St. Festivus. But it doesn’t matter whether I’m sampling at the Black Squirrel or Pizzeria Paradiso: I keep coming back for another taste of one particular beer.
Scaldis Noël, from the family-owned Belgian brewer Brasserie Dubuisson, is the quintessential Belgian Christmas beer. The mahogany-colored ale smells of candied fruit, peaches and baking spice, and its sweet, malty body is packed with raisin, dried fruit and more spice: It’s almost fruitcake-like in its complexity. There’s a noticeably boozy haze in the finish that’s welcome on chilly winter nights.
Many Christmas beers have a reputation for potency, but at 12 percent alcohol by volume, Scaldis Noël was easily the strongest beer at both tap takeovers I went to last week; only a handful of others even breached 10 percent.
Too many beers I’ve tasted recently seem to reflect the idea that making a holiday beer is as easy as throwing a ton of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice into a malty amber ale. But there’s far more to it than that. For balance, flavor and overall warm-and-fuzzy feelings, I don’t think holiday beverages get much better than Scaldis Noël.
Brasserie Dubuisson Scaldis Noël. www.dubuisson.com/en. Expect to pay $9 to $10 per glass in bars or around $21 per four-pack of 11-ounce bottles in liquor stores.