Fun with Beer

This Week: Noel De Calabaza

Ah, wintertime. I do enjoy the brisk chill of the season as a welcome reprise from the long sweaty months before. Seasonal beers, however, are a double-edged sword.

Some brewers, both macro and micro, think they can toss in some nutmeg and slap a snowflake on the label and call it a winter beer. I hate to even make the connection, but the practice seems all too similar to the way certain light beers will add an artificial lime flavoring to coincide with the summer barbecue months. However, for the savvy enthusiast, there is certainly a beer of every breed that can compliment bundling up against the cold, including this lovely sour special ale from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Noel De Calabaza.

This is a bottle that has been put through its share of trials and tribulations on the way to your tulip glass. It goes through a second fermentation with wild yeast, in oak casks. The wild yeast has a bit of Lactobacillus, adding that lovely tart tang to it. For those inexperienced in sour beers, take note that the beverage has not gone bad, and is supposed to smell like that. I would recommend splitting this with someone, for more reasons than just the $15 damage. While a fine alcohol content at 9 percent will not interfere with how drinkable it is, an appreciation for sour will.

The shining reviews I’ve seen for it were met by my first impressions. It pours a nice murky dark, with just a bit of off-white head. The scent gave just a hint of that musty funk so characteristic of sours, distinctly yeasty with just a hint of vinegar. Don’t let that put you off though, it isn’t nearly so forward as to overshadow the more delicate flavors. Behind it all was a lingering fruity note, which with the sour component, reminded me of a Granny Smith apple. The interesting scent gave way to a very rewarding taste.

This beer isn’t shy about its sour moniker. The most immediate impression I get is a tartness almost identical to a Greek yogurt. A champagne like carbonation doesn’t really outstay its welcome, but gives a lively quality to its feel. The malt plays a good baseline to this, keeping the earthy hops in check with its smoky, chocolaty goodness. The funk is much less present than was indicated by the scent, replaced by a nice richness of dark bread and a host of holiday spices. The most prominent of these being clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Now, some of the more retentive of readers may think, “But Mitchell, did you not decry spicy seasonal beers just earlier in this very review?” Well, I appreciate the attentiveness, but the comprehension could use some work. The crafting of this beer was far from thoughtless or lazy, and the end product is a testament to that. Expertly balanced, artfully surprising and skillfully crafted, Noel de Calabaza is far from your typical winter ale, mainly because it so properly embodies the maxim for such beers. It is comforting, relaxing but invigorating and complex with the flavors of the season. I know I’ll be reaching for a bottle whenever I get into a cozy mood.


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