Editor's Note: To help you get in the spirit, we'll spend the first 12 days of December sipping Christmas beers and winter warmers and reporting back on how they taste. Got a favorite wintertime brew? Add your recommendations in the comments.
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Here in New York, we can't buy Bell's beer. So every time I visit my in-laws in Virginia, I find some excuse to go beer shopping and pick up a Two Hearted or six. But on a recent trip, I was drawn to Bell's Christmas Ale, a malty winter seasonal from the Michigan brewery.
Unlike many winter warmers, this beer doesn't have wintry mulling spices added, which is ok by me; I hate when beers have a dried-spice flavor that masks the essentials. The malt in Bell's Christmas Ale offers brown sugar, toffee, and stewed-prune flavors, and there's a delicate hint of cardamom and cloves, plus an earthy herbal hop bitterness that keeps the beer from getting sweet. There are flavors that suggest orange oil and cocoa powder, but this beer isn't heavy or super-rich, just comforting in days of cool weather, and tasty with a bowl of chili or a carrot-studded beef stew. I don't think this beer is anywhere near the superstar that Two Hearted is, but it's a good beer nonetheless.
Have you tried Bell's Christmas Ale? What do you think of it?