Abominable Winter Ale from Hopworks came away with the top spot at the 2011 LeMonds Family Christmas Tasting. Holidays Suck from Lagunitas was second, followed by Dick’s Double Diamond.
Nine professional tasters were on hand for this year’s event, which included 16 entrants. All judges agreed that the overall quality of the beers was the best ever, which made the judging especially strenuous.
We adjusted the format a bit this year, breaking the beers into three flights for a general tasting before axing five in the first round.
Festivale Terminal Gravity earned the dubious distinction of being voted “worst beer,” although it was closely followed by Old Humbug from Southern Oregon Brewing.
Terminal Gravity has never fared well at any of our events, and this was no exception. One judged described Festivale as “light, carbonated, and unimpressive.”
The Old Humbug label features an illustration of a demonic character. I’m guessing he got that look on his face – which resembles the visages of those who’ve listened to Rick Perry during the Republican debates – after sampling this overly carbonated, poorly balanced brew.
Diamond Knot Ho, Ho, Ho Winter Ale and Alameda Papa Noel also failed to make the cut. The big surprise was the poor performance of Ninkasi Oatis – the 2008 winner – which was kicked to the curb in the first round as well. Judges liked Oatis’ big flavor but criticized the high level of carbonation.
The second round saw the elimination of Pelican Bad Santa, Port Brewing’s Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout, and Pelican Stormwatcher’s Winterfest. None of these were bad beers.
One judge described Bad Santa as “drinkable but a bit thin.” Stormwatchers is big and flavorful but some judges found it to be “too sweet.”
The real travesty came with the elimination of Santa’s Little Helper, a well-balanced, deep-flavored imperial that fell victim to the LeMonds’ family’s penchant for big hops.
Rounds Three and Four
Eight beers remained – A-Bomb, Lompoc C-Sons Greetings, Double Diamond, Holidays Suck, Southern Tier Krampus, Avery Old Jubilation, Fish Brewing’s Winterfish, and Fort George North the Fifth. There wasn’t a dog in the bunch. Serious tasting was required and the judges began to show signs of wear.
North, C-Sons Greetings, and Old Jubilation were next to go. C-Sons Greetings has a nice hoppy finish but simply couldn’t stand up against the IPAs that remained in the competition. Ditto for Old Jubilation, which is smooth and flavorful and packs a wallop at 8.3 percent ABV.
North the Fifth Strong Ale from Fort George was easily the most unique beer in the tasting and the most difficult to quantify. The FG website describes it this way: A mash of barley, oats, wheat, rye, rich caramel and honey malts are mildly spiced with Cascade and Saaz hops, fermented with Fort George House Yeast then allowed to condittion. A glase fruit concoction that includes cherry, pineapple, orange and lemon peel is dissolved into the finished beer to add the final touches.
Only five beerswere left, and we quickly reduced to two by jettisoning Krampus from Southern Tier and Winterfish, both flavorful, hoppy brews.
Karmpus was another unique entry – an Imperial Helles Lager. It was very smooth, with a nice hop finish. Winterfish, which was the 2010 winner and always a strong contender – was solid, though several judges said that it lacked the big hop wallop it packed last year.
Dick’s Double Diamond was a distant third in the medal round, but our hats are off to this local libation, which judges described as “smooth and flavorful.” Double Diamond was one of only a handful of industrial beers on the list, so its third-place finish was admirable.
Though not as heated as in years past, the final voting between Lagunitas Holidays Sucks and Hopworks A-Bomb was very tight, with A-Bomb garnering five first place votes to four for Holidays Sucks to take the crown.
Holidays Suck is a Double Imperial IPA that starts with a hit of sweetness and closes with a smooth, citrusy finish. At 7.85 ABV, it is well-balanced. We found it to be superior to Lagunitas’ usual winter offering – Brown Shugga.
Hopworks’ brew dog Christian Ettinger is known for consistently producing some of the Northwest’s best beers, and A-Bomb is no exception. Ettinger uses Simcoe, Centennial, and Cascade hops and six types of organic malts in this outstanding brew. Judges pointed to A-Bomb’s classic West Coast hoppiness and great balance as its highlights.
Get it while you can – A-Bomb has recently been on tap at Porky’s, Hop & Grape and the Backstage Cafe.
As you contemplate the possibility of incorporating a beer tasting into your family festivities in 2012, a reminder that we do this professionally. Proceed with caution.