From the Bottle Collection: 3 Days Before Christmas Beer

One Bottle Collection beer for every day before Christmas. Rating system: not actually meant as a “tense” comment. All these beers either don’t exist anymore, or I tasted in the past. Hopefully, if not so hot before, they’re better now. If they do still exist. Or hopefully, if not better they’re as dead as the… Dickens.

Note: the ghosts have varied a bit over the various versions, but even Mr. Magoo’s version the Future was bleak. In the pictures chosen for this series the most visually pleasing ghost was Present.

Ghost of Christmas Present… remember him? Jolly, fun: the kind of guy you’d invite to a party for the season, and the kind of beer you could bring to a festive affair and not be totally laughed out of the room by festive beer geeks. That’s the best a beer gets in this series. Now Ghost of Christmas Past isn’t a great award. You can see from the picture he can be a bit of a grump. Probably from mediocre’ beer. And best not bring a Ghost of Christmas Past Beer to a beer geek festive affair. You’ll be the limp wet noodle of the party. A Ghost of Christmas Future beer? You remember that guy, right? If you want to be laughed at, have to bring most of your offering home and feel like you’ve just attended your own funeral instead of a party, bring a Ghost of Christmas Future beer. Some Ghost of Future Beer might best serve as embalming fluid.

Written by Ken Carman

Abita Festive Ale

Festive, why?

I used to love Abita Springs. In the early 90s I used to hang out at what was the brewery, now the pub, and have beer handed out to me from the back fridge. As the years went on they moved the brewery, and the bottling operation, and turned the cute downtown Abita Springs facility into a small capacity brewpub. At first the food was good and they had, one year, a high octane “Santa’s Helper” that kept me there way the hell too long. Not quite a barley wine, perhaps a strong, strong ale? If only they had bottled that.

This, however, matches much of Abita’s unremarkable line up since then.

Festive: a totally unremarkable ale that was, perhaps, a weak brown at best. Enough fizz, enough everything for a bland brown ale. And I hated to type it, but it’s true: that goes for most of the product line too. This was the grandfather of all the Emerald/Mississsippi/Louisiana breweries and they gave birth to so many breweries. Did the birthing poop them out, or did moving the main brewery down the road do that? They can do better. Currently they bottle an Abbey Ale that’s not too bad, and a very good 25th Anniversary beer, but still seem way to reluctant to upgrade their regular recipes. I understand: what sells is what sells. But at least try to compete a little more than one or two weak attempts?

The brew world is moving on. At least try to keep up with your kids Grandma Abita!

I think this is all because they have been through a series of brewers during all this time. Their first “child,” McGuires in Pensacola, has pretty much kept up the quality with a few minor glitches now and then. That’s because they had the same brewer for almost 20 years who developed consistency, but not afraid to improve recipes, or create new ones. Abita mostly hasn’t, and when they have the attempts have been mostly weak.

An easy to forget seasonal, just like the Ghost of Christmas Past, but the pleasing memories do remain.

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Beer Here: Jingle Bells from the Grumpy Troll

Written by Robin Shepard for

Tis the season for those who like holiday beers. Brewpubs, which can make small batches of unique flavorful brews, are at the forefront this time of year for using spicy, minty, nutty and chocolate accents in their beers. The Grumpy Troll brewpub in Mount Horeb just tapped a little holiday cheer with its Jingle Bells holiday ale, an altbier made with wild rice.

What is it? Jingle Bells from The Grumpy Troll of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.

Style: Wild rice is not a typical ingredient in beer, and wild rice brews are not a style on their own, as the rice is a fermentable grain, much as malt is. For most recipes, it supplements other main ingredients like barley. When wild rice is used, it is usually by smaller craft beer makers looking for local natural ingredients. For most commercial brewers, it’s difficult to get in the quantities needed to keep the price within the range their customers are willing to pay. When done well, wild rice offers a nutty sweetness that complements the caramel tones of malted barley.

While wild rice beers are not common, a handful can be found around the upper Midwest where wild rice is available. Last spring, for instance, Capital Brewery in Middleton made a wild rice doppelbock.

Background: The base beer behind Jingle Bells is a German Altbier, a style known for its deep bronze color, hoppy enough for some balance, and just a hint of fruitiness. But the wild rice that brewmaster Mark Knoebl adds distinguishes it.

Northern Wisconsin-grown wild rice makes up about 10% of the total grist bill in the recipe for Jingle Bells. Because the rice needs to be cooked before it’s added to the mash in the lauter tun, it is prepared the day before the actual brewing starts. Knoebl doesn’t have a cereal cooker in his brewhaus, so he prepares the rice in the brewpub’s kitchen using a 10-gallon stockpot similar to what many homebrewers use.

Once it is cooked to a pregelatinized state, the wild rice is combined with Canadian-grown Pilsner, some German Munich and a small amount of caramel malts. The hops include Northern Brewer and Spalt. Knoebl uses a Düsseldorf Alt yeast and ferments the beer at a warm 62° F. Jingle Bells takes about three weeks to make, and finishes at 6% ABV. The beer sells for $4.50/pint in the brewpub, or $12/growler (refill) for take home.

Jingle Bells is expected to be on tap at the brewpub through the end of the year. Knoebl also just unveiled a new year-round beer, Hop Farm Pale Ale, made with all Wisconsin-grown hops.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: A light maltiness with a hint of spicy complexity.
  • Appearance: Hazy bronze color with a thin, bubbly, off-white head.
  • Texture: Medium and round mouthfeel
  • Taste: A mild, but firm maltiness with a faint fruitiness. But it’s the earthy and nutty background that makes it distinctive.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Spicy with a medium, dry bitterness.


Glassware: The Grumpy Troll serves Jingle Bells in the standard bar pint. If you bring home a growler, a footed pilsner glass or the Willy Becher, with inward taper near the lip, will focus the nose, hold the head and show off the beer’s bronze color.

Pairs well with: The light, sweet, nutty tones and the natural image of wild rice make this beer a nice match for sweet meat entrées and side dishes. The brewpub’s beer cheese soup is very good with Jingle Bells. Or try it with an order of the Grumpy Troll’s sweet potato tots.

Rating: Two Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Jingle Bells has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at either BeerAdvocate or RateBeer.

The Verdict: Jingle Bells is a nice seasonal treat. It’s medium-bodied and bears a holiday-themed name that seems just right for December. I liked the depth of the malty tones amid the nutty and earthy sweetness of the wild rice. However, I just didn’t get too excited about this beer. Christmas beers are a tough sell for my palate, and although there’s a hint of spice in the finish, I didn’t come away with the “Oh wow, I hear sleigh bells ringing” feeling.