Holiday Beer Showdown

Holiday Beer Showdown

It was billed as The Battle Royale of Beers, a “smackdown” between Chanukah and Christmas beers. The only ones smacked down were those who drank them all.

The location was The Collins Bar, a specialty beer pub in New York City. On hand to represent Chanukah beers (probably the only Chanukah beer in the world) was Jeremy Cowan, founder, owner and macher of Shmaltz Brewing San Francisco, New York and Beyond. The product line is called He’Brew: The Chosen Beer. The flagship beers are Genesis Ale (Our First Creation) and Messiah Bold (It’s the Beer You’ve Been Waiting For!). The shtick is heavy from Shmaltz.
He'brew Beer

For the holidays, each year Cowan brews a new recipe for Jewbelation. The 2006 version, Monumental Jewbelation, is 10% alcohol by volume and comes in 22-ounce bottles and a limited amount of draft for select bars, such as The Collins. Monumental was poured at the smackdown along with the 2005 beer, Jewbelation 5766 (the date comes from the Jewish calendar).

These are both powerfully flavorful beers. Monumental Jewbelation is brewed with ten malts and ten hops. Cowan calls it “the most extreme Chanukah beer ever created.” Jewbelation 5766 contains a mere nine malts and nine hops and is a paltry 9% alcohol by volume. Both are delicious, complex, malt-driven dark beers. Other He’Brew beers on the market include Genesis 10:10 and Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A.

On the Christmas side of the aisle at The Collins was founder, president and brewer Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing Portland, Maine. Tod specializes in brewing Belgian-style ales such as Allagash White, Dubbel, Tripel, Grand Cru and Four. All his beers are bottled-conditioned in the méthode Champenoise. For several years Tod has also been successfully experimenting with barrel-aged beers, using both used bourbon and wine casks. These beers have names such as Curieux, Odyssey and Musette. And there are other beers in the Allagash line.

At the Collins, Tod was pouring Allagash White (5%), 11th Anniversary Ale (9.2%) and Triple (9%) that was aged in wine casks. This beer has never been given an official name, but is unofficially called Bacchus Triple.

Bacchus Triple was aged for one year in used French oak casks from Napa’s PlumpJack Winery. Tod chose barrels that had previously held Merlot and Syrah wines and then blended the casks 50/50 to create Bacchus. He wasn’t sure how this would work, although he had been successful with Curieux, which was Triple aged in used Jim Beam barrels. He needn’t have worried. Bacchus is delicious, with subtle oak flavors beautifully interlaced with the strong, sweet, yeasty Tripel.

Allagash white

For 11th Anniversary Ale, Tod used Champagne yeast for both the primary and secondary fermentations. This ale is garnet colored with a malty palate, a full body and traces of hops on the finish.

But these weren’t the only Christmas beers on tap at The Collins that night. Also available were:

Goose Island Christmas Ale, 5.6%, Goose Island Brewing, Chicago, IL
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, 6.6%, Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, CA
Anchor Christmas Ale (the recipe and abv are always a secret), Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, CA
Southampton French Country Christmas, 7.2%, Southampton Publick House, Southampton, NY
Chelsea Hoppy Holiday, 8.4%, Chelsea Brewing, New York City
The so-called smackdown at The Collins never occurred. There were no winners or losers. Brewers of all faiths intermingled and drank together. Is this proof that beer can change the world?

Gregg Glaser is the Editor of Yankee Brew News and the News Editor of All About Beer Magazine. He writes about beer, saké, spirits, cider and mead for many other publications.

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Published on December 19, 2006
Topics: BeerHolidays