It's possible this
beer will never be brewed again. The Catamount brewery has fallen victim to
overzealous expansion, they've built a new brewery in Windsor Vermont and
unfortunately can't sell enough beer to pay for it. There have been rumors
that other brewers in Vermont and Massachusetts are interested in acquiring
the brewery and perhaps the brands. That being the case, there is a chance
this beer will be back. So for future comparison or for history's sake, here
are some of my thoughts on the beer:
Catamount has brewed a Christmas Ale at least since 1990, the first year I ever tasted the brew. An India Pale Ale by style, the 1996 version is deep ruby red in color with a very slight head. The nose is loaded with hops with a hint of malt in the background. The first sip reveals a rich malt base that is quickly dominated by a floral, citrusy hop character. The finish explodes with hop bitterness. When I was a child, I always associated Christmastime with the wonderful toys that Santa Claus brought, now that I am an adult I'm much luckier: Santa brings beers like Catamount Christmas Ale.
In July of 1996 I wrote:
Another great IPA
is Catamount Christmas Ale. Though this beer has varied
slightly from year to year in terms of fruitiness and maltiness, an
intense hop bitterness has always been omnipresent. I was once able to
stash a few bottles for an entire year, and upon comparing with the next
year's batch found a slight mellowing, but the beer remained robust and
compared favorably with the new batch. Truly the sign of a great beer.
This beer was not brewed in 1999. It always held up nicely with age. Christmas 1999 I wrote:
the beer fridge I found a lone bottle of this beer from last year. Given the
current state of the brewery and the fact I have not seen the beer released
this year, this may be the last bottle of it I drink. Very depressing
thought, this beer brings back very nice memories, buying many cases in it's
early years when it was a malty, fruity-hoppy delight. That character
subsided somewhat over the years but it was always a delightful brew, and
for a few years we would see it released again in July at about $10 a case.
I'm sipping the beer from a Catamount shaker glass and it's a bright orange color with a vibrant head formation and a subtle malt nose. Great malt body after all this time, big and chewy, hop bitterness doesn't seem to have subsided much, there is still a respectable bite in the finish that lingers gently on the tongue. This beer will be sorely missed.....
Update, October 18, 2009: Sadly, I'm not here to tell you that Catamount Christmas Ale is back. But as I found myself thinking upon it, I happened upon some old Usenet posts concerning this old friend. I can still recall to this day sitting in my basement in Rhode Island and immensely enjoying the fresh, fruity hop and chewy malt flavor and aroma of a stubby, cone-shaped bottle of Catamount Christmas Ale. I can still see the lights shining brightly on the tree and recall the moment to this day, more than a decade and a half later. Catamount Christmas Ale will always be one of my very favorite beers, period. It was a beer that aged nicely, too, as evidenced by this passage I wrote in August of 1997:
OK, the title may be a bit melodramatic, but this beer is a veritable Rasputin. This being late August, catamount Christmas Ale 1996 is approaching it's first birthday. In late June/early July, a Massachusetts beverage retailer I sometimes visit had cases of the stuff at $10.99, a buy back then since it was still a quite tasty brew. They quickly sold out of all they had, but when I visited this week they had replenished their supply, and at $6.99 a case to boot. What a buy, what a bargain. Granted, I'm always leery of reduced price beer, but I figured I'd gamble $7 since it seemed to be in such good shape back in early July.
Now, I'm not sure how long this beer has spent in a hot warehouse somewhere, but i did notice that the labels had changed color for some reason. Not a good sign. If that weren't bad enough, the wife took off with the car before I could get the case out of the trunk, and It sat in there in 80+ degree weather for a day and a half before I got to it. It was done for, I was sure. Well, I was wrong. I'm sipping a bottle now, and it still has a nice malt body, a touch of fruit, and a remnant of the hops it displays when fresh. No oxidization. Still a great beer, after all this time.
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.