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December 7th, 2005 Jeff Alworth | Featured Stories
 

Hoppy Holidays

WW tastes the micro and the macro of seasonal brews.

     
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As a contented citizen of Beervana—a.k.a. Portland—you do not fear any beer. You sip from Oregon's rich, hoppy tapestry as well as indulge in case after case of macro suds. But what if the boys from, say, Budweiser tried to muscle in on traditional micro turf and brewed a couple of winter seasonals? With the vast teams of Ph.D. chemists and unlimited test markets at the St. Louis-based company's disposal, would Bud be able to brew a better seasonal beer than our Northwestern brethren?

Well, now we face that very question. This year, Anheuser-Busch has unveiled two winter seasonals—Budweiser Brew Masters Private Reserve and the "oak-aged dark vanilla" Michelob Celebrate.

To address this bold development, we assembled a panel of local hop-heads and held a 100 percent blind tasting of a few seasonal, regional brews (plus one Belgian for fun), as well as Busch's two new offerings. Last Friday evening, as rain pounded the city, we sat down to see whether these macros deserved to take an honored place next to our beloved micros. The panel consisted of three ringers: celebrated brewmasters Alan Sprints (Hair of the Dog Brewing Co.), Christian Ettinger (Laurelwood Brewing Co.) and Matthew Williams, a bartender at the local pub the Green Room. To be fair, we also included average Heineken drinkers like WW Calendar Editor (and former McMenamins bartender) Amy McCullough, News Editor Hank "the Tank" Stern, and two thirsty interns, AP Kryza and Michael Byrne.

The results? Although drinkers differed on their faves (Hair of the Dog's Doggie Claws barleywine and Pyramid's Snow Cap Ale garnered the most soused appreciation), the panel was unanimous on one thing: Sadly, Bud's nicely packaged holiday presents ain't all they're wrapped up to be. The chart below includes some of our more inebriated revelations, from the oddball flavors we tasted in each brew to which holiday shopping destination each beer would be a perfect match for this season. Drink up!

All the seasonal beers we taste-tested are available at local grocery stores.

Holiday Beer scorecard

THE BREWKEY FLAVORSGUT REACTIONRETAIL DESTINATIONBEER GEEK FACT
Sierra Nevada "Celebration"Chico, Calif.—Chico is totally NW, people. ($6.99 for a sixer)6.8 percent alcoholHerbal, citrus, crisp"Goes down smoothly—I could accidentally drink 17 of these." —APAbercrombie & FitchSierra Nevada is the second-largest craft brewery in the nation, behind Sam Adams.
Michelob "Celebrate"St. Louis, Mo.($5.70, 750 ml bottle)10 percentMarshmallows, Peeps, cough syrup"I can't finish this." —MichaelRite-AidLabeled "ale" on bottle, but "lager" on the glossy, black gift box—they're two distinct brewing processes, people.
Pyramid"Snow Cap"Portland, Ore./Seattle, Wash.($8.50, sixer)7 percentChewy, dark, robust"Toasty!"—MatthewColumbia SportswearBrewed in Portland at the MacTarnahan's plant.
Budweiser"Brew Masters Private Reserve"St. Louis, Mo.($8, magnum)6.5 percentTasteless, sweat-socky aroma, pale"If you're having a crappy holiday, this Bud's for you."—MatthewForever 21After tasting the beer, the panel felt its huge, 46.5-ounce bottle screamed, um, "overcompensation."
Full Sail"Wassail"Hood River, Ore. ($8.50, sixer)6.5 percentWiney, strong, berries"Makes me think of the kids-in-the-bed, post-holiday mellowness." —HankGoodwill (in a good way)A "wassail" is a drink traditionally made of ale or wine, and prepared during the holidays.
Brouwerij Huyghe "Delirium Noël" Ghent, Belgium($10.45, 1 pint,9.4 ounces)10 percentPeppermint, cloves, inexplicably meaty"I'm a vegetarian, and this beer makes me worried." —MichaelGood Dog, Bad DogYears by which Ghent's oldest brewery exceeds Portland's in age: 330.
Hair of the Dog "Doggie Claws" Portland, Ore.($18, sixer)10.5 percentPine boughs, warming, alcoholic"It tastes like home."—AmyREIHair of the Dog's "Fred" is named for Fred Eckhardt, a Portland brewing icon.

All the seasonal beers we taste-tested are available at local grocery stores.
 
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