story that I am about to regale you with begins earlier in this year of
2009, back in January to be exact. Walking into Total Wine in search of beer
(what else), I was surprised to see a holiday seasonal ale just arrived on
the shelves. Now, lots of breweries produce holiday beers these days (in
fact most do, at least if they're smart). But what made this one so special
was that it was a collaborative effort.
Not by just two breweries, mind you, no, that would not suffice here. This
was a beer of three breweries, something new even to this storied and
traveled beer reviewer. And so, even though the holiday season was over, I
picked up a few bottles of this Special Holiday Ale brewed by
California's Stone Brewing Company, Michigan's Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales,
At $2.99 per 12-ounce bottle (or, just under $1 a brewery), I thought my
purchase a good deal. I scampered on home and tried a bottle that night, and
found it much to my liking. But, as I am often wont to do during the holiday
season, I socked a bottle away for imbibing during July. There's nothing
better than a beery "Christmas in July" celebration, after all, to break up
the heat of the summer months.
According to a story on the Stone Brewing blog, the idea for this
collaborative special ale was spawned after Stone's Greg Koch ran into
owner-brewer Kjetil Jikiun in Japan. A fast friendship was formed, and it
was decided that a very special holiday beer would be created, with the help
of yet another brewing concern, the highly regarded Jolly Pumpkin. The beer
would be a variation on a holiday ale already produced by
And so, with this much input on Special Holiday Ale, it would be a spiced
ale of epic proportions. Weighing in at a formidable 9% alcohol by volume,
it would be spiced with white sage from California and chestnuts from
Michigan. Norway was to be represented by juniper, although the actual
ingredient here was imported from Italy. Caraway was added, too, and the
traditional barley malt base of the beer was augmented by rye malt (making
up 25% of the grain bill) and malted oats.
Stone/Nøgne-Ø/Jolly Pumpkin Special Holiday Ale pours to a murky ruby
chestnut color with a light, ethereal head formation and a spicy nose of rye
bread and aromatic pine. Taking a sip, I find the body is full, but not as
rich as in some other spiced holiday ales (Anchor Our Special Ale comes to
In the flavor department, though, this one lacks for nothing. Right away I
am reminded of a thick slice of chewy rye bread, as the spicy rye flavors in
the brew and the pungent caraway combine to suggest. But there's so much
more going on, too: the aromatic, savory sage; the piney, fragrant juniper;
the silky smooth oats; the nutty chestnut.
In the finish, there's a gentle buzz of hops that are slightly minty and
balance off the sweetness The spices and alcohol warmth do the rest, and the
beer finishes dry despite it's heft. This Special Holiday Ale is bottle
conditioned, which makes it a prime candidate for aging, and mine, which is
at least 8 to 9 months old, seems every bit as robust as when I tried it in
January. It should hold up well if stored properly for several years, if you
have any yourself.
A fine brew for sipping, whether it be in July or December. If I could give
it a tiny tweak I might add just a bit more body, but only a bit.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For
reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.