You can keep your Christmas beers brewed with nutmeg, cinnamon, candy canes, figgy pudding, sprinkles of reindeer dust, and scraps of lint from Santa's beard. My favorite Christmas beers are Belgians, and they have little to do with the spices that are typically associated with the holiday. Rather, they merely use the holiday as an excuse to brew another great Belgian beer.
One of my favorites is St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, a strong abbey ale that falls somewhere between dubbel and quad territory. (In fact, it seems to split the difference between St. Bernardus Prior 8 and St. Bernardus Abt 12). Last week I opened a 750-milliliter bottle of 2010 St. Bernardus Christmas Ale that I had cellared for a year, hoping some age would deepen its flavors. OK, I'm lying. I actually forgot it was there until last summer and then didn't feel like drinking a dark, 10 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) beer in the warm months.
The bottle, which was corked and caged, opened with a loud pop. Normally this beer should be poured into a Belgian tulip or a chalice, but I poured it slowly into a small snifter, and it didn't create the volcanic head I feared might spew. Instead a few-inches-tall, cafe au lait head sat atop the dark brown-ruby beer. The aroma was bready with notes of cherries and dried, dark fruits. The first taste was sweet up front, with a certain spiciness arriving toward the finish. The flavors seemed to grow more complex with every sip.
Away with those beers trying to be egg nog and liquified Christmas trees. Served at 55 degrees and sipped slowly, St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is the perfect beer for the holidays. (A 750 ml bottle costs about $12.)