by Kendall Staggs


Winter Solstice Ale
(Anderson Valley, California)

This beer has a beautiful, dark amber color and a chunky white head. My first impression is of an authentic English Old Ale, because it features a very rich, sweet malt profile. Yet this beer is delightfully complex. There are spice notes on the nose, and I cannot tell whether any cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg are actually added or whether the aromas come entirely from the fragrant hops. As the beer warms up, the hop flavors also become more citrusy and pronounced. Winter Solstice Ale, like a fresh-baked loaf of homemade bread, is simply delicious. (6.9 percent abv)


This is another of the perennial favorites among the area's winter specialties, and this year's version does not disappoint. There is a fabulous chocolate malt aroma and flavor profile and plenty of Pacific Northwest hops. It is well balanced and very drinkable. Jubelale features an especially nice label this year. (6.7 percent abv)

Alaskan Winter Ale
(Alaskan Brewing, Juneau)

This is one of the winter brew season's biggest surprises: a new beer from the brewery that usually treats us to its Smoked Porter this time of year. This brilliant orange-colored beer has a delightful malt flavor, rich and full. The hops are much more subtle than most of the other beers reviewed here. The label says that its brewed with spruce tips, but they are not obvious. (6.4 percent abv)

Our Own Special Ale
(Anchor, San Francisco)

This highly anticipated beer is always a sensory treat. It is a "spiced Porter" with undisclosed spices that usually include nutmeg and ginger. This year's version is definitely good, but the hop flavors and bitterness seemed a bit too high for a good balance. Perhaps it will mellow a bit with age. (alcohol unavailable)

Jingle Ale
(Orchard Street, Bellingham, WA)

This muddy brown ale tastes a lot like some good versions of a homebrewed holiday ale, complete with lots of honey, cinnamon, and ginger. In fact, when tasting it I was reminded of Mark Kowalski's version of the Charlie Papazian recipe, "Holiday Cheer." (alcohol unavailable)

Ebenezer Ale

This was a solid example of the Pacific Northwest holiday brew, with "more of everything" than the usual brews. Chestnut in color, with a tasty malt profile and hop flavor and bitterness that are pronounced but not overpowering. This is an excellent beer. (6.4 percent abv)

Snow Cap Ale

This dark amber beer is another perennial favorite, and this year's version does not disappoint. The hop aromas are outstanding. The malt flavor is great, with hints of chocolate, and the hop flavors and bitterness are also outstanding. For an added bonus, Snow Cap provides that little bit of extra alcohol kick. (7.0 percent abv)

(Full Sail)

This dark amber beer is hoppy, hoppy, hoppy. It should appeal to the hopheads among us (you know who you are), but I would have preferred a little more flavorful malt base and better balance. (5.3 percent abv)

(Widmer Brothers)

This light brown brew is advertised as a "rich, roasted ale." I was not impressed. It seemed to be rather shallow on the malt end and the hop flavors and bitterness, though pronounced, were not especially appealing. (7.0 percent abv)

Bobby Dazzler Old London Style Ale
(Portland Brewing)

This is another holiday specialty that seems to be too one-dimensional. In other words, it was almost all hops. It's not bad, but there are better ones available. (6.5 percent abv)

Winter Hook
(Red Hook, Seattle)

This is another "spiced Porter," I suppose. It is dark brown, and has some spicy notes in the aroma and flavors. Once again the hop flavors and bitterness are a bit overpowering, and don't make room for any malt qualities. (alcohol unavailable)

Tannen Bomb
(Golden Valley, McMinneville)

This beer was the biggest disappointment of the season. As Mr. Rogers would say, if he were a beer connoisseur, "Can you say beer with pineapple juice? Sure you can." I was unable to finish it. (8.0 percent abv)


Samuel Adams Double Bock
This is a good, strong beer, with plenty of chocolate malt character and a good Noble hop balance. Its roasty character is not perfectly true to the Doppelbock style, but it is a well-made beer, well worth a try.

Saxer Jack Frost Winter Doppelbock
This is a more authentic example of a Doppelbock, full of rich caramelly malt. It is aggressive in its hop finish, and obvious in its alcohol punch. Is this the last year we will see this classic beer from a now closed Oregon brewery?

Andescher Doppelbock Dunkel
This is a good German example, brought to me all the way from Deutschland by my dear friend Dianna. It is rather sweet and rich, and in many ways a classic Doppelbock, with all the smoothness of a lager, a nice hop balance, and plenty of alcohol. (7.1 percent abv).

Doppel-Hirsch Bavarian Doppelbock
This is another German example with a very German malt profile, but it is not as rich and good as the Andescher. The most obvious characteristic of this beer is the alcohol strength, which seems higher than what is listed, 7.2 percent abv. The name means "double deer."

EKU 28
This is one of the world's strongest and best known Doppelbocks. Very strong and rather caramelly sweet in its malt profile, its flavor is balanced by citrusy hops. A rare treat, EKU 28 is definitely a beer to be sipped. "EKU" stands for Erste Kulmbacher Unionbrauerei, which means "First Union Brewery of Kulmbach." The 28 refers to the original gravity in Plato. Michael Jackson says that the original gravity of some of the recent "vintages" has been 30 Plato, and that its finishing strength has been as high as 12.5 percent abv. The version that I had listed its strength at 11.0 percent abv.

Samichlaus [1995]
Talk about rare, this beer is available only among collectors of old "vintages." This was my last one. Take heart Samichlaus fans, it is apparently going to be available again. Samichlaus is almost cloying in its sweetness, and it is extremely strong, finishing at over 14 percent abv. This beer is definitely for sipping only. Often compared to Cognac, it has aromas and flavors reminiscent of port wine, dark fruits, nuts, and bitter chocolate. It is truly remarkable.


Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest
Here is one that I purchased in Oklahoma (of all places). Currently it is not available in Oregon. It was the best Oktoberfest that I tasted this year. It was deep copper in color, and tasted caramelly and somewhat sweet, with lots of authentic German malt character. The noble hops were just right for perfect balance. Bring on the brats and kraut. (5.7 percent abv)

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
This was the second best Oktoberfest that I tasted this year. It was bright amber in color, with a big lacy head. It also featured plenty of Bavarian-accented malt flavors, plus a taste of homemade bread. This beer finished with gentle, floral hop notes and a spicy-dry aftertaste. Ayinger is one of my favorite German breweries, and its Oktober Fest-Märzen is available all year. (5.8 percent abv)

Goose Island Oktoberfest
This was my favorite American Oktoberfest this year (special thanks to Scott Caul for providing me with a sample). It was deep copper in color, and had a sweet, somewhat fruity, big malt character. The only "flaw" in this beer was rather generous amount of bittering hops, but at least they were noble hops. All of Goose Island's beers are exceptional. Look for them when you visit Chicago. (5.5 percent abv)

Full Sail Oktoberfest
This was the best of the local Oktoberfests this year. It was red-amber in color and moderately full-bodied. It featured a rich, toasted malt aroma, lots of malt flavor, subtle hop accents, and medium hop bitterness. This was a solid domestic interpretation. (5.4 percent abv)

Mt. Angel Oktoberfest
This was another good one, from the now defunct Nor'Wester / Saxer brewing organization of Lake Oswego. Did Portland Brewing brew this year's batch, or was it already brewed before Saxer closed? Inquiring minds want to know. Anyway, this was amber in color and with a moderately sweet malt character and a good hop balance. Very tasty. (5.5 percent abv)

Uncle Otto's Oktoberfest Märzenbeer
This is a respectable example of the style from the Portland Brewing Company. It was red-amber in color and medium-bodied, with mild hop bitterness and a subtle hop flavor. This was definitely a toasty version, and it had a hint of grain astringency. (5.7 percent abv)

Big Fat Tuba Oktoberfest
This is a mediocre effort from the Thomas Kemper Brewing Company of Seattle. It had a decent malt flavor but was not as lively as the better examples. (5.7 percent abv)

Widmer Oktoberfest
Widmer's Oktoberfest was only so-so. It was a drinkable beer, but it lacked the rich, sweet malt character of the tastier Oktoberfests. (5.5 percent abv)


Millennium Madness, Belgian Tripel
Snoqualmie Falls Brewery, Washington

This beer hit all the right notes for a Belgian Tripel, a tricky style for an American microbrewery to get right. It was golden in color and deceptively light in body. The spicy notes of an authentic Belgian monastic ale were there, along with the alcohol punch. I talked to a lot of people at the festival, and this beer was acclaimed by experts and novices alike.

Wixa Weiss, German Weizenbier
Wynkoop Brewing, Denver

Light gold in color, big white head, cloudy to style. Tons of banana notes and plenty of clove on the nose-the sign of real German Weizenbier yeast. Smooth, wheat beer flavors; fruity; substantial body. This was right on the mark for style, a good beer to accompany lunch, and one of the best beers in the entire festival.

Honolulu Helles, Münchener Helles
Fish & Game Brewery, Honolulu

This was one of the pleasant surprises of the festival: an authentic German lager from Hawaii. Bright gold color; very clear; thick white head. German malt dominates the aroma, along with noble hops. A slightly sulfury but not offensive aroma is present, characteristic of a real German lager yeast strain. A smooth, biscuity malt flavor is evident, and there was plenty of hops for balance. It finished clean and crisp, and was very drinkable on a hot summer day. Very well crafted.

El Hefe, Weizenbock
Pinnacle Peak Brewing, Scottsdale, Arizona

A good Weizenbock, that hybrid of a style between a Hefeweizen and a Bock. There were tons of fruity esters plus lots of clove in the nose, and a solid, malty body. This was an extremely well-made beer. Its only flaw was that it was a little too fruity.

Macadamia Nut Brown Ale, Brown Ale
Ali'i Brewing, Honolulu

Dark brown color with a cream-colored head. Surprisingly fruity (peach) aroma, with some slightly roasty, chocolate malt notes. Chocolate malt dominated the palate. There was also a hint of nutty flavors and slight note of diacetyl. This was a good, solid Brown Ale. It was very drinkable and refreshing, and one of my favorite beers at the festival. It could have been featured more macadamia nuts and been even more exotic.

Gandy Dancer Honey Ale, Specialty Ale
Flossmoor Station, Flossmoor, Illinois

This was a delicious, substantial beer made with orange blossom honey from the award-winning brewery in the train station in the Chicago suburb where I went to high school. (There were certainly no brewpubs, good or bad, there in the 1970s.) This sparkling, golden brew had obvious honey notes, a pleasant hoppy nose, and a higher than average alcohol level, but was still very drinkable on a hot day.

Lüvin, Belgian Dubbel
Bert Grant's Brewery, Yakima, Washington

This was another real surprise, especially given the sagging reputation of the Bert Grant beers. This was an authentic Belgian Dubbel, from its murky brown color to its extremely fruity nose and palate.

Longboard Lager, Bohemian Pilsner
Kona Brewing, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

A very drinkable Pilsner on a day that demanded a Pils. It had no serious flaws, a good malt character, and crisp hop notes.

Fourth Anniversary IPA, India Pale Ale
Stone Brewing, San Marcos, California

This beer was HUGE! A remarkably well balanced IPA considering how much malt and hops were present. The aroma was very fruity, with telltale hops. The flavor was dominated by sweet malt and hops, with a definite alcohol punch in the mouthfeel. It would qualify as a Barleywine in many circles, and I would have enjoyed it better by a fireplace on a rainy winter night. From the folks who make Arrogant Bastard, another big, hoppy beer.

Windigo Wild Rice Ale, Specialty Ale
Elysian, Seattle

Don't let the rice in the name turn you off. This was an extremely well crafted, well balanced beer. Its relatively light body and soft malt character were welcome on a hot day, especially given that many of the beers seemed to me to be too big, too dark, or too hoppy for the season.


Last month I traveled to Burlingame Grocery in Portland and gobbled up all the remaining bottles of four brands of beer from the renowned Broughton Brewing Company in Peeblshire, in the Scottish Borders. These beers are not normally available in Oregon, but a small, limited time offering arrived at Burlingame from Phoenix Imports of Baltimore.

Merlin's Ale
This is a golden, well-hopped (by British standards), Pale Ale. It is rather thin-bodied and lacks the rich, malt character of a Scottish Ale. Some of you hopheads out there might like it, but I found it rather one-dimensional. Its alcohol strength is 4.2 percent by volume.

Kinmount Willie Stout
This is a delicious Oatmeal Stout, reminiscent of Samuel Smith's and Young's. Like Merlin's, it is very English in character. It is silky smooth, but with plenty of roasted aroma and flavor to satisfy Stout lovers. Its alcohol strength is 4.2 percent by volume.

Black Douglas
This is a rich, ruby-colored, Scottish Export Ale, or 80 Shilling. It is one of my favorite beers on the planet, with all the delicious maltiness of a Strong Scotch Ale but not as overpowering. It features a lot of crystal malt and just a hint of peat smoke malt to intrigue the palate. There is also just enough hop bitterness for balance. Its alcohol strength is 5.2 percent by volume.

Old Jock
This is a gorgeous, amber-colored Strong Scotch Ale, or Wee Heavy. It is very malty and complex, with definite peat smoked malt in the aroma and flavor. There is also plenty of alcohol warming, but not as much as some examples. Its alcohol strength is 6.7 percent by volume. Lest you get the wrong idea from the name, I quote the label: "For centuries the soldiers of the Highlands of Scotland have been familiarly referred to as the Jocks—powerful fighting men who have enjoyed hearty beers in their off-duty hours."


Widmer Springfest
This is Widmer's original beer, dating from the opening of the brewery in 1985. It is an Altbier, all done up in one of their fancy new bottles. I always considered this to be Widmer's best brew, and until now it has only been available on tap. The Alt yeast, of course, is the one they use for all their beers, including the best-selling Hefeweizen. This amber ale is very well balanced, with a good malt profile (with a tiny portion of roasted barley) and generous, but not overwhelming portions of American Perle and Tettnang flavor and bittering hops. It is the spring seasonal, and is already disappearing from shelves to make room for its SummerbrŠu, which is a Kšlsch. The alcohol by volume of Widmer Springfest is 4.1 percent.

Bell's Porter
This is one of the mainstays of Michigan's Kalamazoo Brewing Company. Its owner, Larry Bell, a former jazz disc jockey and homebrewer, claims it was the first microbrewery to open east of Boulder, Colorado, in 1985. This is a very satisfying Porter, dark, rich, and roasty, with a tan head and reddish hues. I prefer a little more chocolate flavor to its roastiness, but this is a very good Porter. The alcohol by volume is 5.7 percent.

Bell's Cherry Stout
The Kalamazoo Brewing Company specializes in Stouts; in fact, owner Larry Bell claims that in November the Eccentric CafŽ will have ten different Stouts on tap from Kalamazoo Brewing. This is a strong Stout, with hints of tartness that as the beer warms becomes apparent to be from cherries harvested nearby in Traverse City, Michigan. Like all the Bell's labels, this beer is unfiltered and bottle-conditioned. The alcohol by volume of Cheery Stout is 8.0 percent.

Bell's Expedition Stout
This is a whopper of a beer, an affirmation of Larry Bell's claim that he wants to keep making big, flavorful beers. It is ebony in color with a thick, dark brown head. The aromas are full of roasted malt, chocolate, fruit, and alcohol notes. The flavors are reminiscent of espresso, licorice, and flavor hops. The finish is long. This beer is as viscous as motor oil; it is almost thick enough to eat with a spoon. It is my new favorite Imperial Stout: better than Rogue XS, better than Old Rasputin The original gravity of Bell's Expedition Stout is 1.126 and the alcohol by volume is 11.5 percent.


EB Special Pils
Here is another one of the new wave of Polish beers that have recently become available in Oregon. This is a superior example of a Czech pilsner, with plenty of floral hop aroma and authentic pilsner malt flavor. I know I have been raving about Polish beers, but I can't help but recommend this one highly. I have asked the manager at Shop 'n' Go in Corvallis to stock this one. [4.5 percent abv]

Sinebrychoff Porter
This is easily the best beer I have ever had from Finland. All right, it is the only beer I have ever had from Finland. It is a very flavorful, very satisfying, strong brew. It is an excellent example of the style I call Baltic Porter (some other examples are from Sweden, Lithuania, and Poland). These beers are sweeter, more chocolatey, and smoother than Imperial Stouts, and they are bottom-fermented. [7.2 percent abv]

Saint Amand French Country Ale
The French are not known for their beers, and frankly, most French beer is not very good. But as some of you know, Bieres de Garde, brewed on the Channel coast very near the Belgian border, are exceptions. This is a good example of the style, with a deep copper color, an earthy, iron-like fragrance and rich, malty flavors. It is one of the better versions from Castelain, the brewer of most of the Bieres de Garde that are imported to the United States. [5.9 percent abv]

Ayinger Maibock
This old Bavarian specialty is familiar to many you. It is a favorite of mine, especially this time of year. It has a clean but rich German malt nose and palate, the perfect amount of noble hops for balance, and the thick mouth feel and evident alcohol of a classic bock. It is satisfying and almost dangerously drinkable, but I would not say that it has "suffigkeit" (see the Beer History article below for an explanation of "suffigkeit.")


Eye of the Hawk Special Ale
This is a wonderful, strong (8.0 percent abv) beer from the Mendicino Brewing Company of Ukiah, California. It is not really a Barleywine; it is more of a super premium Pale Ale, with lots of flavorful malt character and a somewhat subdued hop bitterness. The label is cool, too. This was one of the beers I sampled during last summer's Great California Beer Hunt, with John Lodge and HOTV members Joel Rea and Scott Leonard.

Roland's Red Ale
This tasty brew is from Chico, California's "other brewery," the Butte Creek Brewery. The brewer and owner once lived in Corvallis and graduated from OSU many years ago before brewing for Sierra Nevada for a number of years. Roland's Red is a fine example of the West Coast Red Ale style. It features plenty of hop character but has a maltiness that is very distinctive. It will not remind you of Sierra Nevada. This is a beautiful beer. I like to support the little guys.

Sweet Betty Classic Blonde Ale
This is a new offering from the Widmer Brothers in Portland. The beer comes in a very appealing, embossed long-neck bottle that is new for Widmer. I wish I could say that I was as impressed with the beer. Most "Blonde Ales" are pretty bland; this is no exception. It seems to be a crossover beer; it's more interesting than Budweiser but less interesting than McTarnahan's. Here is a slogan they will probably not want to use: Less malt, less hops, less flavor.


Cantillon 1900 Grand Cru
Cantillon 1900 Grand Cru is a new product on the American market. It is something of a rarity: a straight lambic rather than the more common gueuze (blended) or one of the fruit-flavored varieties. It is also a good one: very tart, with plenty of characteristic barnyard odors and flavors. In other words, only the true lambic lovers need apply here. This is one beer style that I never try to talk people into liking, one either does, or one doesn't.

Alaskan Smoked Porter
This perennial favorite from the Last Frontier is a great porter, first and foremost, with a firm smokey aroma and flavor that nevertheless is not overpowering. It is definitely not an everyday beer, but it is still very good with certain foods, or on its own, as a winter specialty brew.

Shipyard Brown Ale
This is a good solid brown ale from an outstanding brewery in Maine. This beer is a closer to the English style than the hoppy American style so common among the West Coast breweries. The hop flavors and aromas are more subdued; a slightly roasted, chocolatey flavor dominates. Thanks, Dianna.

Wolaver's Brown Ale
Now this is an American brown ale. Hop aroma, flavor, and bitterness are very pronounced, in fact a little too pronounced for my tastes. I would have preferred a beer with more malt character and bigger body to go with all those hops. This beer is organically produced, and is brewed in Fort Bragg, California (North Coast Brewing Company).


Lindemans Casis
Lindemans Casis is a rather sweet but still tasty version of a black currant-flavored lambic. (A more authentic, drier version of Casis is from Morte Subite.)

Red 5 IPA from the Bear Republic Brewing Company
is terrific West Coast India Pale Ale. It won the Gold Medal at this last fall's Great American Beer Festival.

La Rossa Birra from Italy's Moretti Brweing Company
is an amber-colored, malty doppelbock (7.5 % abv) that is reminiscent of the Vienna style.


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