Liquid Sweater from Ex-Novo Brewing in Portland took the top spot at the 16th annual LeMonds Family Christmas Beer Tasting. This tasty winter brew – described as “warm and cozy” by one judge – was followed by Everybody’s Imaginary Friends, Great Divide Hibernation, and Pfreim Winter Ale.
My tasting abilities must have been affected by my recent back surgery because my voting seemed completely out of whack in comparison with other veteran tasters. A big thanks to Dave, who not only selected and purchased the 17 beers but also MC-ed the festivities. We are an unrepentant family of hop heads; IPAs almost always rule. Dave’s choices provided tasters with a wide range of options and got people to step outside their comfort zones a bit.
Round #1: We tasted Stormbreaker winter warmer, Double Mountain FaLaLaLaLa, and Pfriem Winter Ale, which has been the winner at past events. Stormbreaker was a little thin and too carbonated. I thought Double Mountain was a nice winter warmer with an interesting malt-hop combination. However, those two beers were quickly jettisoned, and Pfreim advanced to the next round.
Round #2: Liquid Sweater was matched against Lompoc C-Sons Greetings and Crux Sno-Cave. The Sno-Cave was the first belgian we’ve had at a tasting, and I was impressed by the big, full flavor. While most belgians seem to be too carbonated, that wasn’t the case with this beer. C-Sons greetings, which was 100 IBUs, was a little maltier than Pfreim but had the same big, hoppy hit. The fact that Liquid Sweater came away the winner in this round was a predictor of things to come. The warmer it got, the more the flavor came through.
Round #3: Burnside Permafrost, Great Divide Hibernation, and Everbody’s Imaginary Friend got the call in Round #3. Permafrost, which has not fared well at past tastings, was flavorful but suffered from too much carbonation. The fact that tasters were very complimentary about Hibernation and Imaginary Friend told me that I was not on my game. Hibernation has huge flavor, but I thought it was unbalanced and pretty harsh. Imaginary Friends was a good IPA but I did not think it was in the same league with Pfreim or C-Sons Greetings. So much for my opinion. Imaginary Friends easily won this round. Hibernation was supposed to be eliminated, but the Patterson Rule was invoked and it was resurrected in a later round.
Round #4: This was an interesting match-up. Dave tossed two industrial winter beers – Sierra Nevada Celebration and Deschutes Jubelale – in with Lagunitas Sucks. Celebration was a nice beer but too carbonated. Jubelale was flavorful and smooth and nearly edged Sucks. Again, the fact that nearly half of the voters chose a more traditional dark winter brew over the hopped up Sucks was an indicator of how this year’s results differed from the past. If you are looking for a good winter ale that is easy to find, I definitely recommend Jubelale. Give it a minute to warm up after you pop it and the flavor will really come through.
Round #5: The final elimination round matched A-Bomb, a traditionally high placer at our events, and Lagunitas Brown Sugga. I thought the A-Bomb was good, but the Brown Sugga was bigger and overpowered it.
Bonus: Dave surprised everyone by adding a special tasting of two huge beers – HUB Kentucky Christmas and Laurelwood Santa’s Woody – that we did not include in the voting. The Woody is a 10.5 barleywine aged in bourbon barrels. The Kentucky Christmas began as A-Bomb and was then aged in freshly-emptied whiskey barrels. It had big flavor and was highly touted by several tasters.
The Finals: It came down to Pfreim, Imaginary Friend, Hibernation, Brown Sugga, Lagunitas Sucks, and Liquid Sweater, with judges selecting their first, second, and third choices. The Sweater topped the list with 13 points, followed by Imaginary Friend with 11. Pfreim and Hibernation tied with 10 points apiece.
We are already looking forward to 2018!