November 15, 2011

Corsendonk Christmas Ale

Brewed By: Brouwerij Corsendonk in Turnhout, Belgium
Purchased: Single bottle (8.5oz) from a Corsendonk Christmas pack from Friar Tucks in Urbana, IL; 2011
Style/ABV: Belgian Strong Ale
, 8.5%

It's not Christmas yet. Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, people have not put Christmas lights up. But that hasn't stopped stores from decorating with Christmas stuff. The radio is already raping my ears with overplayed Christmas jingles. And it was just announced that we are going to have a Black Thursday, because commercialism is awesome, that's why!

So I apologize in advance for reviewing a Christmas Ale way back in November. To be honest, it still feels closer to Halloween than it does to Christmas. But here is the beef: when the holidays roll around, I want to drink my Corsendonk Christmas Ale, I do not want to ponder it. That's a subtle admission of laziness, I know.

Like many Christmas beers, this beer is loaded with all sorts of fun holiday ingredients. According to Corsendonk, this is a reddish brown Christmas beer brewed with roasted malts, hops, yeasts, and coriander. Technically, the BJCP throws "Belgian Spiced Christmas Beers" into the Belgian Specialty Ale category. But both Ratebeer and BeerAdvocate have this beer pegged as a Belgian Strong Ale. Since it is dark in color and more malty, it does fit into the Belgian Dark Strong Ale category. All I want for Christmas is less semantics, but I feel some obligation to throw these facts out there. Clocking in at 8.5%, this is a big beer. However, this comes in 8.5oz bottles. Let's see if this beer brings the winter spirit.

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The bottle artwork and the glass certainly capture the Christmas spirit. I opted to leave the last centimeter of beer in the bottle, since I've had this beer for a while. I don't know how old this particular batch is, but the bottle has an August 24, 2012 expiration date. The beer pours with a big 5-finger, super foamy, tan head. The head has a ton of bubbles, and is root beer float creamy. The body of the beer appears to be a dark purple, brown, or black color in lower light. Held up against a bright light, the beer is a hazy reddish color. There is quite a bit of carbonation in the beer, and the beer appears to be slightly hazy. There is classic Belgian lacing lining the glass as the head settles down, but a good amount of head is sustaining. This looks a lot like a Dubbel - maybe a bit darker - so let us see how the aroma and taste hold up.

Corsendonk Christmas Ale
The nose is slightly faded. Or at least I am guessing it is slightly faded. There is a very refined but slightly vinous, musty, old-book quality going on. I'm actually reminded of the Corsendonk Dubbel as I smell lots of plums, sweet dark fruits (figs, prunes, NOT raisin though), light caramel, port, red wine, purple/grape candies, yeast, plum cake, a touch of alcohol, and maybe a distant touch of spice or hops. Very subtle, just like the Corsendonk Pater.

Very impressive head retention: there is quite a bit of head still hanging around. The first taste reveals a lot of delicious dark fruit notes, some sweet fruit cake or bread, and some candied dark fruits. The mouthfeel is thick and carbonated, and definitely extends beyond a Dubbel. There are some hints of spice, but I can't really put my finger on which ones. There quite a bit of malt which manifests as caramel. Figs, malt, yeast, big dark fruits, and a warming back end.

The mouthfeel is medium-full, with a slightly thick viscosity. This is slightly sticky, but finishes dry and warm. Yes, you feel the 8.5% on the back you damn well should. If I'm sitting by the fire drinking a beer in the middle of winter, it better warm me up! The front end is big dark fruits, slight spice; this rolls into a slightly spicy middle with more fruits, cake/bread, and malt. The back end is lingering fruit and spice, and big warming. Good carbonation supports the slightly thicker mouthfeel, so this remains very drinkable. This has a very subtle profile, and there are a lot of balancing flavors playing off of each other. Dark fruits, yeasty cake notes, malty caramel, and subtle spice. I would say this is very complex and refined, and I would put this beer up against a glass of wine any day.

Rating: Above-Average
Score: 87% 
Like the Corsendonk Pater, this is super mature and refined. There is a port or wine-like quality to this beer, and a very subtle touch of flavors. There are big dark fruits, but they are balanced appropriately by the malt, yeast, and alcohol. The dark fruit cake notes are fantastic, and instantly transport me to my Grandma's house during Christmas. She would serve cakes with dark fruit filling, and this beer instantly reminded me of those cakes.

This isn't burgeoning with spices, maybe because it is an older bottle. Still, after the Halloween spice-rape, I appreciate the subtle spices you get with the Belgian Strong Ale category. This is a fantastic winter seasonal beer. Not my favorite Belgian Dark Strong Ale, but certainly a top contender for an awesome winter brew. Check it out.

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