Round two of tasting Christmas and winter beers, and still no St. Bernardus or Corsendonk in sight. I know I’m headed straight for hell for that sin against the beer gods, but I was more interested in trying locally made brews than the already established kings of the mountain. Not all of these are strictly local—it’s more of a midwestern beer round-up than a Chicago one—but with the exception of Hoppin’ Frog in Akron, Ohio, all the breweries are within about a 30-mile radius of Chicago. I got all the rambling about what defines a Christmas beer (or winter beer) out of the way with last week’s post, so here are the contenders—listed from least favorite to most.

Hoppin’ Frog Frosted Frog Christmas Ale: I expect lots of spice from a Christmas ale, but drinking this beer is like sucking on a cinnamon stick. The first sip wasn’t too bad, but it’s so aggressively spiced that no other flavors than cinnamon come through, aside from a little maltiness.

Two Brothers Peppermint Bark Porter: Another example of too much of a good thing, this porter tastes like a Thin Mint with double the peppermint extract: chocolatey and very, very minty. It’s nice at first, but the more I drank it, the more I was reminded of toothpaste.

  • Santina Croniser

Spiteful Jingle Balls: Spiteful is one of my favorite breweries, but the label is the best part of this one. The beer is amber-colored and highly spiced up front, with lots of cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel. I liked that it wasn’t too sweet, but it heads too far in the other direction with its bitter, astringent finish, reminiscent of oversteeped black tea.

Three Floyds Alpha Klaus:
This is an excellent porter, very roasty and just a little sweet, with lots of dark chocolate and coffee followed by toasty marshmallow and a bitter, hoppy finish. There are no spices, but the hops impart some piney notes that remind me of a Christmas tree.

Lake Effect Kiwi Snow: The label specifies that no kiwi fruit is added to this pale ale (or kiwi birds, presumably, though there’s one skiing across the label). It’s a bright, lemony wheat beer with grassy notes, a bit of grapefruit, and a savory, herbaceous finish that lingers on the back of your tongue.

Ten Ninety Milk & Cookies: An incredibly creamy, chocolatey, sweet (but not syrupy) milk stout with just a hint of ginger—I could smell the ginger, but couldn’t taste it over the roasty malt and milk chocolate. Very easy to drink.

Pipeworks Santa vs. Unicorn: The label identifies this as a barleywine-style ale, so I was surprised by the unmistakable bouquet of hops when I first sniffed it. I shouldn’t have been; Pipeworks rarely does the expected, and the fine print on the side of the label notes that the beer could also be called an imperial red ale or a red double IPA. Whatever you call it, it’s a wallop of piney, grapefruity hops followed by toasty malt and a sweet, caramelly finish that balances the intense bitterness. There’s a little heat at the end, but less than you’d expect from a beer that’s 10 percent alcohol.

Slapshot Daddy’s Gonna Kill Ralphie: A near-perfect balance of flavors, with toasty spices up front followed by raisins, chocolate, and creamy vanilla. It’s sweet but well-rounded, with enough roasty bitterness at the end to balance the sweetness.