The Good, Bad, and Undrinkable
It's time for Dan's long awaited beer ratings
Christmas Cheer and Beer
It has become somewhat of a tradition over the past
few years that, between Christmas and New Year’s,
some friends drop by to sample the latest available
Christmas, “Holiday”, and Winter brews. While this
little session pales by comparison to Christmas itself
or to my other passion, the New Year’s Day
Philadelphia Mummers Parade, it certainly beats the
hell out of the other activities that occur during the
week between those two big events: the returning of
un-wanted and ill-fitting Christmas gifts and
attempting to figure out in what order I accumulated
the reams of credit card receipts stuffed into my
jacket pockets during the preceding month.
This year four of us , all named Brian or Dan,got
together on December 30th to sample twenty five
different holiday beers. First, my brother, Brian
Hodge, a “Draught Board 15 Certified Beer Judge”,
which, if the truth be known, is not the equivalent of a
genuine certified beer judge. Brian’s qualifications for
this designation stem primarily from three factors:
One, he clerked part- time in a liquor store in his
youth and can distinguish Miller Lite from Sierra
Nevada Bigfoot every time. Two, he was given a
supply of “Certs” breath fresheners for the ride home,
hence his “Certification” and most importantly, three,
he had nothing else scheduled that evening.
Also in attendance was Brian Lynch, nationally
acclaimed “Beer Poet”, so known because at one time,
while seated at the Gaslight bar, he recited a limerick
having something to do with “a man named Jock”,
“drinking a bock”, and another word which completed
the limerick rhyme scheme correctly.
A welcome newcomer to the event was Dan Soboti,
gracious host of the Gaslight Brewery and
Restaurant, and world renowned beer taster. Dan is
primarily noted for for his love of cask conditioned
ales, and , although there were none on the list of
beers to be sampled, he displayed his dedication to
the serious work at hand by making the sacrifice and
forging ahead to render an opinion on all twenty five
Finally, yours truly, a man who has happily dedicated a
good portion of his spare time to appreciation of the
brewmaster’s craft. In spite of the fact that I have
rarely met a beer I didn’t like, I promised to be as
objective as possible in order to pick out a couple of
bad ones. It wasn’t easy, but it was with a great
sense of accomplishment that I finally managed to do
As in previous years we used our own rating method
in which we scored each brew 0-3 for appearance, 0-4
for aroma, 0-10 for balance, mouthfeel and aftertaste,
and 0-5 for our personal overall impressions. With
only two exceptions, we all knew what we were
drinking. Six of the beers were”vintage”. Eventhough
some of the panel are not professionals, they still
knew what they like.
For the second year in a row we found Sierra Nevada
Celebration Ale to be our favorite, with all of us giving
it perfect scores in three categories. Although we
thought it maybe a little too hoppy for our “session”
tastes, we gave it a near perfect in that department ,
A very close second was Clipper City’s Heavy Seas
Winter Storm Ale, which was new to all of us. When
the significantly lower price is figured in, it’s probably
the equal of the Celebration in value.
The two blind tastings were Sam Adams Winter Lager,
which finished 16th and my own homebrewed Winter
Wheat Doppelbock, which tied for 9th with Otter
Creek Alpine Ale and Stoudt’s Winter Ale. Last year
the Stoudt’s was rendered undrinkable, due to
Gales’ 12% Golden Jubilee(2002) and Thomas Hardy’s
(1995) were two vintage beers that scored pretty well
at 4th and 6th, respectively. The other vintage beers
didn’t fare so well. Brooklyn Chocolate Stout(2000),
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (1999) and my own Hodge’s
Hoppy Holiday (1998) had all seen better days and
finished toward the bottom. There was some
discussion as to whether or not Sam Adams Triple
Bock was even beer. It certainly looks and tastes like
sherry and that being the case, why not just drink
sherry? It’s a lot cheaper and you don’t have to keep
it for ten years!
The two beers that finished way behind the others
were Saranac Season’s Best and Samuel Smith’s
2004-2005 Winter Welcome. The Saranac was very
out of character with the usually outstanding Saranac
portfolio, having been judged to have no discernible
bouquet and a bland appearance and taste. Nobody
seemed to like it…..it was just “beer”. A Coor’s Light
fan would probably love it. The Sam Smith’s was dead
last and practically undrinkable because of skunkiness
, probably caused by the brewery’s insistence on
using clear bottles. If you can procure this beer in
good condition, it’s usually excellent.
One interesting result is that five Sam Adams beers
were tried and they all finished exactly next to one
another in positions 12 through 16. I guess that
must be some sort of tribute to the brewery’s
I haven’t had a chance to give some of these beers a
second shot as yet, because as of January 2nd, I’m
attempting to shed a few pounds. I'm on a diet that
is popularly known as the South Beach Diet, but
which I refer to as the (expletive deleted- you can't
say that Dan...editor) Diet since the first two weeks
of which allow for no beer at all. What was I thinking
Seriously , after twenty five beers, even though the
samples are only two or three ounces, I wonder how
objective an opinion can be? They probably begin to
taste alike. Therefore, I’ve come up with an innovative
solution to this distressing problem. Next year ,
perhaps we should schedule three nights, reversing
the order of the beers to be tasted on the second
night and and starting from the middle on the third.
Sounds like a workable plan! Cheers!
The complete results:
1. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Chico, Ca.
2. Clipper City Heavy Seas Winter Ale, Baltimore, Md.
3. Anchor, Our Special Ale 2004, San Francisco, Ca.
4. Gales’ Golden Jubilee Ale 2002, United Kingdom
5. Snow Goose Winter Ale, Frederick, Md.
6. Thomas Hardy’s 1995, United Kingdom
7. Tie: Bad Elf, Ridgeway Brewing, United Kingdom
Snowball’s Chance Winter Ale, Frederick, Md.
9. Three way tie: Stoudt’s Winter Ale, Adamstown, PA
Otter Creek Alpine Ale, Middlebury, Vt.
Hodge’s winter Wheat Doppelbock, home
12. Sam Adams Old Fezziwig, Boston, Ma.
13. Tie: Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic
Sam Adams Holiday Porter
15. Sam Adams Triple Bock
16. Sam Adams Winter Lager
17. Three way tie: Gales’ Christmas Ale, United Kingdom
Flying Fish Grand Cru Winter Reserve Cherry Hill, NJ
20. Tie: Hodge’s Hoppy Holiday 1998, homebrew
Brooklyn Chocolate Stout 2000
22. Shipyard Winter Ale, Portland, Me.
23. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale 1999, Chico, Ca.
24. Saranac Season’s Best, Utica, NY
25. Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome 2004, United Kingdom
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by Dan Hodge