Continuing along with our exploration of winter ales, here are three more home-grown offerings.
Golden Valley Tannen Bomb
When I first encountered Tannen Bomb in 1998, Golden Valley was having a little trouble with its yeast. Something in the process produced excess diacetyl, which actually made for quite a beer. It was ultra silky and butterscotchy, and you could gobble down a pint without recognizing it was 8% alcohol ... and thus did you get (Tannen) bombed. The brewery has gotten things under control, and now Tannen Bomb is a more complex ale and not nearly so stealthy (probably good).
It is about the color of maple syrup, and only just slightly less thick. The main aromatic note is alcohol--it smells big. Golden Valley calls it a strong ale, but it also tastes big, with the body and alcohol of a barleywine. It could do with a month or two of age, when the roasted malts, alcohol, and hops blend more fluidly together. But even at this stage, it's quite nice. Sally keeps sneaking over for sly sips as I write this.
Hops: Chinook, Liberty, Fuggles, alcohol:8.0% abv, bitterness units: 50, Rating: Good.
Full Sail Wassail
Full Sail's venerable winter ale has been brewed since 1988, and--full disclosure--it's long been my favorite. It's another one of the beers that is released too early, and which I buy too early, with delight. As evidence of how things have changed, it appears the recipe is now fixed (Full Sail gives very little data about what's in their beers, though they used to give all the details.) Until a few years ago, however, they would mix it up every year, using different hops, slightly differing malts--just to shake things up. I guess we've come to a "mature" phase where that kind of variability is no longer considered good business.
Wassail is a deep brown, almost tending toward porter dark. It has a pronounced roasted aroma, a bit like fresh toast. The flavor is a deep, resonant mixture, the dark malts blending with the hops for a dark, satisfying winter warmer. It also has a sweet quality somewhat akin to Cola or chocolate, drawn out by the very dry, bitter finish. In fact, that's not a bad comparison--it's liquid version of very dark, artisinal chocolate. Rich and decadent. The version on shelves now is, like Jubel, a little green, and I'll have to do a fuller review in a couple months. Another incomplete.
Rogue Santa's Private Reserve
This is a beautiful red ale, and it packs a potent citrus candy aroma. I've been brewing with Chinook hops lately, and it has a particular quality of citrus that I recognized instantly in this beer. I imagine a lot of people will love this beer, and it reminds me of Sierra Nevada Celebration--a reddish ale (more copperish) made with Centennial and Chinooks, like Santa's PR. And, for the same reason I don't like Celebration, I can't fall for Santy. It's too thin, and the hops, even at 44 IBUs, overwhelm it. I also don't feel the warming glow I like from a nice winter ale. It's an icy, sharp beer. If you like Celebration, you'll probably like this beer. I don't.
Malt: two-row Harrington, Klages, Munich, Hops: Chinook, Centennial and a "mystery hop", original gravity: 13° Plato, bitterness units: 44, Rating: average.