Newcomer Edges Favorites to Win Holiday Beer Tasting

Old Humbug Winter Warmer from Southern Oregon Brewing edged Port Brewing’s Santa’s Little Helper and Fish Brewing’s Winterfish to claim the title at the 2009 LeMonds Family Christmas Tasting on Growlers Gulch Road in Castle Rock. The vote was the closest and most contentious in the event’s seven-year history.

Packing an ABV of 8.2 percent, Old Humbug is an English style winter ale featuring Castle B malted barley that delivers a dark, smooth, tasty brew. Please note that this is not Winter Humbug, a vile beer in the McTarnahan’s tradition that can be found at most supermarkets.

Santa’s Little Helper, an Imperial Stout with an ABV of 10.0 percent, is a keeper, smooth and rich with espresso and chocolate flavors. Those judges who preferred Old Humbug felt it was a bit better balanced. 

Winterfish continued its long run as a favorite at the annual tasting. With 70 IBUs and a 7.5 percent ABV, it is again smooth, hoppy, and very drinkable. Some members of the jaded Growlers tasting crew wished it had been a little bigger.

Opening Round
Eleven beers took aim at this year’s title. The opening round saw the rapid elimination of four contenders – Goose Island Christmas Ale, Lazy Boy Mistletoe Bliss, Lump of Coal Holiday Stout, and Elysian Bi-Frost.

Brewed at an unknown location in the United Kingdom, Lump of Coal touts itself as “Much more than you deserve for Christmas.” Trust me, this is not a beer you want to see in your stocking. Excessive carbonation and a funky aftertaste doomed Lump of Coal from the first sip.

Goose Island, which is produced in Chicago, offered a cool label and the promise to help spread “holiday cheer.” Packing a hearty flavor that rivaled Michelob Ultra, the Goose was dead from the get-go.

Washington brews Lazy Boy Mistletoe Bliss (Everett) and Elsysian Bi-Frost (Seattle) were disappointments. After a fourth-place finish in 2007, Bi-Frost was dumped in the opening round for the second year in a row. Once hoppy and flavorful, Bi-Frost was again tagged as “bland” by many judges. Likewise for Mistletoe Bliss, which also suffered from too much carbonation.

Round Two
Seven beers survived the elimination round – Lompoc C-Son’s Greetings, Lagunitas Brown Shugga, Ninkasi SleighR, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, Santa’s Little Helper, Winterfish, and Old Humbug.

Anderson Valley Winter Solstice and Ninkasi SleighR were immediately kicked to the curb. As was the case in 2008, Winter Solstice was plagued by a lack of flavor and could not survive the second round. The big surprise was the overwhelming lack of regard for SleighR, one of the only Ninkasi beers not to win positive reviews among Growlers Gulch tasters. Ninkasi Oatis was crowned the ’08 winner, but SleighR had limited flavor and little character.

Winterfish was temporarily eliminated in round two but was brought back to life by several judges who used a little-known parliamentary rule to resurrect this traditional favorite.

Round Three
Things heated up in round three, as Lagunitas Brown Shugga and Lompoc C-Son’s Greetings were axed. Several judges were especially bitter about the elimination of C-Son’s Greetings, an imperial pale ale with a ton of flavor and an ABV of 8.0 percent. Sporting the motto  “In hops we trust,” this Portland beer deserved better.

Brown Shugga is a barley wine brewed with brown sugar. The sweetness and big wallop of the 9.84 ABV appealed to most tasters, but those partial to big, dark beers preferred Santa’s Little Helper and Old Humbug.

Medal Round
The final group included Santa’s Little Helper, which finished fourth in 2008; Winterfish, which took top honors in 2007; and Old Humbug. The ten judges ranked the beers one through three, with low score being best.

Winterfish – which along with C-Son’s Greetings was the only legitimate IPA in the crowd – garnered three first-place votes and finished with 21 points. Santa’s Little Helper had four first-place nods and finished with 20 points. Old Humbug received three first-place votes but grabbed the title on the strength of five second-place tallies, while Santa’s Little Helper and Winterfish drew only two and three respectively.

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