Standing room only and a festive crowd at the Kerstbier Festival at the Trappist in downtown Oakland on a rainy but finally less frigid December evening. Many beers to sample—mostly Belgian winter seasonals/Christmas beers. The following beers are from Belgium unless otherwise noted and all were on draft (!). First up, the St. Feuillien Cuvée De Noël was yummy, creamy, and malty without being deadening. Full-on yeasty with warm tang and plenty notes of caramel carrotcake. The Slaapmutske Kerstmutske Christmas Nightcap was a beautiful red ale, crunchy with a world-class finish—scrumptious if not particularly suggestive of Christmas. The De Ranke Père Noël offered plenty of delicious bitter citrusy hops—but with some richness to them. Quaffable bitterness. Nice.
The Christmas theme was much more evident with the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale which was heavily fruity with plenty of gingerbread and fruit cake—and what a delicious nose! The Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux smelled of a classic hefeweizen (more Bavarian than Belgian to me, though my friend begged to differ), delicious dollop of acid as well, a bit strong toward the end for my tastes—but what focus! The Mikkeller From Via To is one of the winter seasonals from a Danish brewer (evidently they have another named To Via From depending on how the giftcard printed on the label is arranged). It smelled earthy but tasted of motor oil—heavily concentrated and quite delicious.
Back to Belgium, the Gouden Carolus Noël tasted like an alcoholic banana frappe—a bit too rich and sweet for me, but still pretty delicious. And back to the Danes for the Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper. Rubber on the nose met the road in the taste—specifically that of of an eighteen wheeler. Plenty of diesel, rubber, and tar. Fantastically different, my friend found it more to his liking—but I shared a fascination with how different it was. And back to Belgium for the Achouffe N'ice Chouffe which offered plenty of rounded malty goodness—more savory and vegetal on the nose. I really, really liked this approach to the malty style—could drink plenty of this.
Over to Colorado for some Avery The Beast smelled of butterscotch pie and continued with all-on sweet intensity but with some funk to refresh the palate. More interesting than I'd expect something intense to be. I wonder if they do bottle-conditioned versions as well—this is something I'd want to age for a bit. Back to Belgium for the Scaldis Noël which offered more hops to balance and refresh, but still had a bit of heavy intensity at the end. And, from our very own Bay Area, the Anchor Christmas got the award for standing so clearly apart from its peers as a radically different approach. Smelling of tight licorice spice and tasting salty, odd berry flavors, funkified bubble gum, dried apricots—tons of dried apricots (though my friend claimed rotting as opposed to dried). Almost over-the-top, but just outstanding to my tastes. A fun beer to drink. Also from California was the Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper which smelled of a smoky espresso and tasted soft, winey, dried plum, and dark dried fruits. A delicious tour of the Christmas season expressed in deliciously crafted brews.