I'm not a fan of what most people around here consider a Christmas beer. The supermarket highlights a stronger and sweeter pilsner, while the craft breweries have traditionally opted for the occasional addition of various spices. None of these really call out to me, although I can enjoy a few each year around Christmas.
One Christmas beer serves as the exception though. It's basically the Orval of Christmas beers. Loved by most, and always worth a sip or three...
Although, let's be honest, usually more than three sips!
I'm obviously talking about Stille Nacht from De Dolle in Belgium - and this season I found myself invited to a vertical tasting ranging from 2005 through 2016. We started off with the latest and worked our way backwards to see the evolution of sugar.
It was an interesting journey right from the beginning as we started with a young, pungent strong ale. It's surprisingly hoppy from the Nugget hops and it leaves the beer with an overall floral and herbal feeling. The booze is very present in both taste and aroma.
As we get served 2015 it feels a bit too cold. The aroma and taste are at a standstill. The finish is classical Stille Nacht, but it's hard to find a deeper meaning at the bottle of this particular glass.
As we reach 2014, we're back on track. The booze is still present, but the herbs have mellowed out a bit and let some vanilla and caramel shine through.
All the way down to 2010, we seem go the same route. Everything gets a little softer, a little smoother and a little more subtle. I guess it's called well rounded. Oddly enough 2012 seems more herbal and boozy than its fresher counterparts from 2013 and 2014.
2010 also marks the clearest of the Stille Nacht from tap. From here on out, we're drinking vintage bottles. Slight changes are expected...
However, as we let out 7 year old oxygen from the bottle, we can tell we're in for something very different. 2009 gives notes of toffee, oak, prunes and raisins; it makes it seem like a completely different beer. In a blind tasting I would guess it was a barley wine.
As we dive further in we're again looking at something unlike our previous glasses. 2008 is much clearer and lighter in color; it almost resembles a whiskey more than a beer. Both the nose and taste bring similar notes to 2009, but it comes off a bit thinner and my mind wanders towards a good port wine.
As we're starting to see the end of our journey, so is Stille Nacht. 2007 and 2006 both seem to have faded past their peak. It could be due to storage, but they seem dustier and lighter. The booze seems to have returned as well and they generally don't seem as well rounded anymore.
At the final stop, the grand finale, 2005, we're sipping one of the easiest drinking 12% beers. It could be that we've been through ten other vintages, but it seems easier on the palate. Less booze and more mild vanilla, prune and oak characters than we've adjusted to by now, although still with a little dusty edge to it.
So, what's the moral of this story?
I have great friends?
Stille Nacht is a great beer?
I'll go with both! And then I'll advise to go for either a three year old Stille Nacht if on tap or a seven year old in bottles.
Next year I hope to try 2008-2010 to see if I'd still pick the same as my favorite. For science, of course!