Great Lakes Christmas Ale: Disappointed by a favorite
It’s no exaggeration to say that I waited all year for this beer. I discovered it a little late in the game last year, but it was my favorite beer from the first sip. I remember liking everything about it. The flavor. The balance. The alcohol. Perfection in a glass, I thought. I was disappointed I only had a few quick weeks left to enjoy the stuff.
Maybe it could never have lived up to the anticipation I foisted on it this year. Maybe the recipe has been tweaked. Maybe my taste buds have been.... No, it’s definitely nothing to do with me. For whatever reason, the Christmas Ale from Great Lakes isn’t quite doing it for me this time around.
I’m admittedly not a ‘winter’ beer person. I generally feel a ‘winter’ beer needs to just be a good, strong ale with a bit of backbone. Not crammed full of every spice left over after doing the holiday baking. Still, once a year, a change to something a little out of the ordinary and special can be nice.
The Christmas Ale I remember seemed to be toned down a bit. This year the honey, ginger, cinnamon, etc. all seem to stand out much more. Great Lakes, being Great Lakes, has kept it as balanced as possible and it is still a little more subtle than most of the holiday brews on the market, but it definitely seems to have much more of the festive flavor about it now. Less is more with me in that department. This Christmas Ale is no longer anything near my first choice beer this season.
All Great Lakes beers are solid. It’s almost nitpicking to pan any of them. Some you’ll like more than others just according to your personal taste, but they’re all well-made and worthwhile.
The Christmas Ale pours a clear, rich-looking amber with a sizable early head that fades. The taste and smell match perfectly. No surprises. The various holiday spices -- some pine, a bit of fruitiness, maybe some bread -- are all in the wash. So there’s plenty of complexity to mull over. At 7.5%, the alcohol content is rather hefty, but doesn’t give that burn. It’s as creamy and smooth as you could want.
While chugging these at the office Christmas party wouldn’t be wise, sipping on one with the big dinner is fine. But, for me, it goes particularly well with the various cookies and pies that abound this time of year. Not many beers are able to pull that off, and none probably do it as well. I recall it being more versatile, though. These aren’t the type of beers you’d want to chug all night anymore. And, I just don’t eat all that many Christmas cookies, whether I have a beer that goes well with them or not.
It’s still a good enough ‘cold day by the fire’ beer. It leans a little too much to the syrupy side for me, and a little more of a crisp bite from some hops might be nice. I also don’t recall it going for $10 a six pack, a full couple dollars more than their usual (and better) brews. But, it remains a decent beer. Just, like many things, it doesn’t seem quite as good as I remember it being.