Paste's Top 10 Beers: December 2016

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<i>Paste's</i> Top 10 Beers: December 2016

When it comes to beer, there are a ton of choices out there, with more being added everyday. This year we’re rounding up some of our fave new finds each month. Some of the brews we did full reviews on, while others are just special gems we found on tap while we were out and about that we think you should know about.

Check out our favorite beers from November here.

By no means a comprehensive list of everything new that came out in December (we can only drink so much!), here are some of our favorites that we’d recommend you grabbing a pint of while you’re out with friends, or picking up a few bottles of at your local bottle shop.

Discover something new this month that you absolutely love? Be sure to tell us about it in the comments!

Summit Unchained #23 Dark Infusion

In Summit’s ongoing Unchained series, the mission is to let a brewer play and create instead of focusing on the production brewery’s core line-up. While Summit hits on all styles of beers, for the most part they brew English and German-inspired styles. A coffee milk stout is a new direction, and using cold press from local Blackeye Roasting Company gives an added boost, as they make one of the finer coffees around.

TRVE Life’s Trade Review

This Farmhouse Ale is a light and easy drinking beer. There’s a lot of flavor in the 4.7% brew, with a really nice tartness that follows the nose. It’s not overly sour by any means. It’s more like a perfect blend of a Sour Ale and a Saison. I can still pick up some of that earthy Saison character on my palate and the flavors are balanced enough to not overwhelm you. TRVE notes that this beer is fermented in wine puncheons with a variety of yeast strains before blending and bottling. You can definitely pick up on some of the wine character in the flavor as well as subtle lemon, citrus and funky mango flavors as the beer warms.

Founders Lizard of Koz

Since 2011, Founders Brewing Company has been releasing 750ml bottles of some super limited and highly sought after brews under the Backstage Series label a few times a year. So far, only two beers — Blushing Monk and Mango Magnifico — have made an encore appearance, but the series continues to cover a range of styles and flavors. This year’s second release is Lizard of Koz: A bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout that’s brewed with blueberries, chocolate, and vanilla. If you’re thinking that sounds like liquid dessert, we completely agree based on description alone.

Bokkereyder Druiven

While Belgium has become known as the mecca for lambic, home to some of the most renowned breweries with long traditional histories including Brasserie Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen, Bokkereyder is quickly making a name for itself. With a capacity of about 80 oak barrels today, the one man show that is Bokkereyder has remained a mystery to many that aren’t engrained in the lambic scene. One of our favorite blends is Druiven, which uses Dornfelder grapes, harvested from a winery by the name of Hoenshof, just 20 minutes from Raf’s blendery. The beer pours a deep crimson color, almost like a thick puree with a medium white head.

Crispin Bourbon Char

Okay, so this one isn’t quite a beer. However, we think beer lovers will definitely enjoy this bourbon beauty by Crispin. Cracking it open, you get a hint of bourbon, but not overpoweringly so. Delicious, fresh apple flavor breaks through and is perfectly balanced with the sweetness of maple and just a touch of smoke and bourbon flavor. The sweet cider paired wonderfully with beignets at breakfast, but could also go great with something like pancakes to bring out that maple flavor even more, or even on its own by the fire one night.

Golden Road Back Home Gingerbread Stout

Gingerbread Stout is a holiday beer from sunny Los Angeles, a beer that replicates desserts and even includes a cookie recipe to highlight that fact. At 8.5%, it’s a winter warmer that goes heavy on the malt and even heavier on the spice. Pouring deep black with a brown head, Gingerbread Stout gives off an aroma that matches the flavor profile; Baking spices like cinnamon, ginger, and allspice rule atop a sweet and roasted malt base. Within the beer itself, the ginger snap undercuts the malt sweetness and makes it feel a little drier, but the cinnamon gets the tongue salivating and reignites a vanilla sweetness.

Noble Ale Works Nelson, She Wrote Triple IPA

Nelson, She Wrote weighs in at 12.3% ABV and features exclusively the sought-after Nelson Sauvin hop varietal, which is often described as having a complex blend of citrus, white wine and berry-like fruit notes. I’ve had it in single-hop beers before, but certainly never one this big. I was immediately excited to try it, given the fact that Noble Ale Works ended up in the finals of our last DIPA blind tasting for their Citra Showers brew. The result here is an interesting “TIPA,” one that retains the profile of a smaller beer in some ways while emphasizing its bulk in others.

Schlafly Noble Lager

Noble Lager is bright and refreshing to a “T,” really defined by the crisp finish. The malt sweetness hits the palate only mildly at the front of the profile and the beer grows continually drier through its progression. Ultimately this is one of the drier lagers we’ve had that still fits within the traditional style instead of blasting with a wallop of West Coast hop at the tail.
The clean and easy finish makes it a super refreshing beer that will both quench thirst and pair nicely with lighter foods, like a lighter soup or a number of poultry dishes.

Scaldis Noël

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Scaldis Noël took top honors this month in our blind tasting of 104 Christmas and winter beers. Last year, Scaldis Noël edged out St. Bernardus, Delirium and a few others to finish at #2, the highest of all the classic Belgian Christmas ales. This year, it dethrones the barrel-aged stuff to capture the overall #1 spot. If I’m going to compare it to any of the other classic Belgians, St. Bernardus is probably the closest example … except it’s a bit bigger, bolder and somewhat less balanced. Big, expressive Belgian yeast aromatics of banana and clove are a signature, but there’s also plenty of black cherry/brown sugar on the nose as well. Residual sweetness is right in the middle, as is booze—big enough for one of the tasters to describe it in his notes as “Bumble Sized,” but still drinkable enough to be on the dangerous side. On the palate, you get some nutty/toasted malt, toffee and tons of dark fruit, with plenty of spice: This is a beer with a high volume of flavor for folks who like to live large. It would probably age really well … but that’s assuming you were ever able to save any for next Christmas, when it drinks perfectly well when fresh.

Saint Bernardus Christmas Ale

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You didn’t think we could taste 104 beers and just put one of this list, right? Saint Bernardus Christmas Ale took second place in our blind tasting this year. Year in and year out, this previous #1 winner remains one of the very best Belgian Christmas ales. You could set your watches by it, and it’s especially impressive to see it continue to do so well on a yearly basis in a blind tasting environment, which removes the unwanted nostalgia factor. From one tasting sheet: “Big, creamy Belgian dark strong. Classic. Bready, with touches of licorice and spice.” The hallmark of this particular beer is pretty much always balance. It’s not the biggest in terms of ABV, or the most bombastic in terms of flavors, but it’s always among the most balanced and perfectly calculated. From another score sheet: “The Real Deal.” The bready malt character is to me one of the signatures of both Abt. 12 and St. Bernardus Christmas Ale; a lightly toasted, bread crust-like note that blends seamlessly with Belgian yeast esters less pronounced than say, the Delirium Noel. It’s just delicious stuff.