Special Holiday Ale | Stone Brewing

very good
322 Ratings
Special Holiday AleSpecial Holiday Ale

Brewed by:
Stone Brewing
California, United States

Style: Winter Warmer

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 9.00%

Availability: Limited (brewed once)

Notes / Commercial Description:
A collaboration ale between Jolly Pumpkin / Nøgne-Ø / Stone with chestnuts, juniper berry, white sage & caraway seed and 25% rye malt.

Added by BeerAdvocate on 11-23-2008

This beer is retired; no longer brewed.

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Reviews: 291 | Ratings: 322
Photo of Lunch
4/5  rDev +2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Served from a .5L bottle (2009) purchased at the Perfect Pour in Columbia, Maryland (12/25/09) into my Maudite snifter at the appropriate temperature.

A: Pours a very dark mahogany brown that is nearly black capped off with one finger of a creamy caramel brown head with decent retention.

S: This is quite a strong scent that this beer emits which is dominated by juniper. Tones of roasted malt and sage are there as well.

T: The juniper is toned down quite a bit in the taste, but it is still very much present along with a nice roasted malt containing a bit of coffee and chocolate. Seems to have a real porter or almost stout quality to it.

M: Medium-bodied with a nice creaminess that is heavy at times.

D: Good drinkability and not a hint of the 9% abv.

Overall this quite a collaborative effort from Jolly Pumpkin, Nøgne-Ø and Stone and is certainly a unique winter warmer. Recommended.

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Photo of goldbot
4.15/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2009 vintage, poured form a 0.5 L bottle.

A: Pours a deep mahogany with two fingers of foamy light tan head and a small amount of lacing. It seemed to be a bit hazy when held up to a bright light.

S: Blend of spices, which is good considering this is a spiced beer. Some roasted malt notes and a touch of floral hops.

T: Sweetness from the malts, balanced well with a slight bitterness. The spices remain from the aroma, but are a bit more subdued. Chestnut flavors with nice alcohol warmth on the finish.

M: This beer has a medium to heavy body, good carbonation, and a smooth, somewhat viscous feel.

D: It is a bit heavy, but actually went down pretty smooth. A good beer for a treat on a winter night.

I have one of these laid away for next winter. I will be interested to see what happens to the spice notes in theis beer after a year of age.

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Photo of robbyc1
4.22/5  rDev +7.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Dark murky brown, nice tan head. 2009 version from nogne 2 8.5 percent.

Huge juniper nose, spicy with good malt backbone.

Porter like with spiciness, big malt with notes of chocolate, nuts, and sage that's it. Very complex with a great balanced finish. For the season a great sipper, not unlike Anchors, but this has more kick and more sophistication. Flavors mesh very well, with the chestnuts supporting the spices well.

Round and full mouthfeel, a sipper for sure. Silky and smooth, carbonation is low. A solid seasonal with dinner or after.

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Photo of peabody
3.9/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Pours out a dark reddish amber with one finger of off-white suds and lots of lacing.
Smell is roasted malt and yeast followed by sugar caramel and honey.
Taste is caramel sugar and bitter dark toasted malts. Alcohol comes into play here. Not a lot more going on here.
Mouthfeel is slightly dry and just a tad sticky.
Drinkability is good for such a high abv%.

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Photo of pzrhsau
3.7/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: Good head, nice opaque black brown color.
Smell: Combination of juniper and hops to create an interesting scent.
Taste: Nice combination of spices with the yeast. They thought outside the box with their spice choices. It was an interesting flavor experience.
Drinkability and mouthfeel: Smooth and not too carbonated which made it very easy to drink. Very thick so it was hard to have something after this but it was a good beer on the whole.

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Photo of JoeyBeerBelly
4.5/5  rDev +14.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Vintage 2009 in a 0.5L Nøgne-Ø bottle, served in a tulip glass.

Dark brown with a creamy beige head that left a few patches of lacing on the glass.
Smell is full of Christmas spice aromas similar to ginger and nutmeg.
Taste is very well spiced with a hint of rye and a very light touch of bitterness on the back end.
Medium bodied with a smooth and creamy feel.
Very easy to drink.

Note: The 2009 vintage is 8.5% abv.

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Photo of Gmann
3.91/5  rDev -0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pours a very very very deep brown color with an incredibly tight tan head that settles into a light clingy cap. The aroma is quite light, a lightly roasted malt porter aroma with some sprucy characteristics. The taste is of a smooth roasted malt, a chocolate milk richness, some sweet spice, and a sour aspect from the juniper and rye malt; finishes with a grassy bitter hop. This is damn smooth. The feel is thick and chewy with soft carbonation, very silky feel, mellow. This is a very good beer, even though the flavor doesn't exactly jump out at you. Very smooth with a nice subtle spice profile. I could drink this all day.

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Photo of jgasparine
4.47/5  rDev +14%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A- Poured from the bottle with 1/2" of tan colored head, which quickly receded to a skim-layer of foam. The body was an opaque dark brown. No carbonation was visible... not necessarily absent; the turbidity of the beer may have been hiding it.

S- Super spicy nose. Predominantly gingerlike aromas with a lesser background aroma of sweet caramel malts. Smells beautifully pungent and absolutely delicious...

T- An EXPLOSION of sticky sweet malt and spices (some significant juniper flavor comes-in on the palate to meet the anticipated gingerlike flavors). I feel like I'm also getting some faint barnyard flavors somewhere in the depths of the nuance... although, this could just be based on my preconceptions of Jolly Pumpkin's contributions to this collaboration... Finishes with a "dry" feeling from the spices. Not dry as in the lack of sweetness, but dry like the tongue smacks the roof of the mouth after each sip to wipe-off some tacky spicy resin. All in all, the spiciness of the brew is over-the-top, but not off-putting in any way... just delicious.

M- Big chewy body, packed with unattenuated sugar and soft carbonation. Coats the mouth wonderfully for extended gratification!

D- A wonderful Holiday Ale. I wouldn't drink it any other time of the year... but in the midst of December, it gets me in the Christmas spirit... and it goes down smooth... alcohol is very well hidden!

Note: As stated earlier in my review, the spiciness is over-the-top. Some of my friends, with whom I split the bottle, were turned-off by this. Therefore, I would call this a "chance" beer, where any given drinker could love or hate it... without much middle ground. Lastly, as John Michaelsen pointed out, the bottle I sampled had the Nogne label on it, showing three wise men with the Nogne O superimposed on it.

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Photo of JamnesCameron
4.32/5  rDev +10.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured into a Michael Jackson tasting glass. Big frothy head that subsides to a thin wisp.

A - dark, cloudy, chestnut color, with a tan head.

S - Juniper and sage come through on aroma, but are not overpowering. A little character from caraway. If I didn't know it was there from teh bottle description, I don't think I could pinpoint it in the aroma. Not much else comes through. No hop aromas evident.

T - Sage, and juniper. Caraway near the end. Lots of malty goodness to back it up. No hop flavor to speak of.

M - medium mouthfeel. Lots of spice/herb. Slight medicinal aftertaste. Screams winter. Would be interesting to try this warmed rather than chilled.

D - Not a session beer by any measure, but good overall. Worthy of a bottle on a cold winter night.

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Photo of biegaman
4.15/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The beer's somber, gloomy dark brown tone becomes a wholly festive poinsettia red as it's held to the light ('Holiday Ale with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight'). And you can bet this reindeer loves the look - sitting, its complexion is sleek like marble and its colour rich like lacquered wood; to the light it glows like the filament of a light bulb. Its head is piled high and tarnished like a curbside bank of snow.

The aroma is a smörgåsbord (or a koldtbord as Nogne's brewer would know it as) for the nose. Believe me, there's something for everyone; this thing is layered like an Arctic construction worker! 25% is a high amount of rye for any grist - and it shows. This heftily malty aroma exhumes stiff, tangy grains, to which the caraway seeds make a lovely compliment. Juniper adds a spike of gin and the sage a potpourri-type savoriness.

Of course, it's silly to go on trying to capture each and every individual ingredient (which, along with the aforementioned rye grain, caraway seed, juniper berry and white sage, also includes chestnuts). All these additives, surprisingly, piece together to make a beer as delicious as it is unique. I'm sure it took some tinkering to find the right blend and balance for this oddball cast of ingredients but the final result seems to have succeeded.

The brewers set no style, and, therefore, had no guidelines to follow; fortunately, these guys are adept enough to not need any. The beer is more than sufficiently malty to outweigh the spices but not to outshine them (remnants of chestnut and juniper are ever present). Also, the mouthfeel is velvety smooth (nearly creamy) and is at no point interrupted by any of the 9% alcohol. There is a long savory (almost bourbony) aftertaste.

How many brewers does it take to make a fantastic spiced holiday ale out of an unusual, misfit cast of ingredients? The answer, apparently, is three. Having recently had Nogne's 'Peculiar Yule' top my lists of both favourite Christmas-themed beers and spiced beers - a list that already included Jolly Pumpkin's Noel de Calabaza - I had especially high hopes for this one. I'm happy to report that it did not disappoint in any way, shape or form.

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Photo of jpalarchio
3.73/5  rDev -4.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Can't believe I've had this cellared up for a year; where did the last year go?

Poured a deep ruby red, perhaps as red as any beer I've ever seen. Not too much head and bit of sediment in the bottom.

Some type of spice at the nose. Can't identify it but very holiday-like.

Taste includes that same spice, perhaps a chestnut flavor?

All in all, it's a good beer that I'm glad I tasted but it's definitely a special occasion type of thing. You're not going to sit down and drink 3 or 4 of these but it's a good treat.

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Photo of digr
4.2/5  rDev +7.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from a bottle at fridge temps....

A- Pours a thick liquid that slowly forms a thick light brown head.
Good it is cold as this could be a gusher.

S - Oddly not a lot of smell at first. slight malt, then spice. Would benefit from a slightly warmer temp to taste / smell.
Can barley make out the juniper, but only because the label says... Smell is subtle which is nice for a holiday ale.

T - hmm.. thick malty mildy spices and the juniper. well blended. Works as a winter ale. smooth.

M - I love the mouth feel. velvet silk IMHO. No, you can't tell in anyway this is a 9% ABV beer. At least not until you drink the bottle and then try to stand up :).

D - This is actually fairly subtle, however I still think it these types of beer in general are not easy to drink to much or too many.

Over all good, and subtle, which is rare in a holiday ale. Good work folks on this collaboration.

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Photo of ThreeWiseMen
4.57/5  rDev +16.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Got this in a trade last year with Arbitrator. Thank you sir!

2008 bottle poured into a standard pint glass.

Appearance: Regular pour (neither gentle nor vicious) leads to a gorgeous and slow-forming tan cap. This head took about fifteen seconds to reach its full height of one half inch. Retention is mild however, and the head exists as a creamy film for the majority of the tasting. Body is murky and reddish brown, but shows shades of caramel and crimson when held to light. Pretty good visibility, but it looks like there is a lot of suspended sediment in there; not much carbonation to be seen.

Smell: Spices are very assertive in the nose: juniper, sage, and chestnut really stand out! I think I get some peppery rye in the background, but I'm not sure. Citrusy hops can still be detected even at one year of age. I'm not finding any oats though, and I might be getting caraway seed (but I wouldn't know since I've never smeled caraway seed before). A very complex smell that's a lot of fun to dig into.

Taste: Chestnut, sage, and juniper greet the palate. Piney hops and rye then take control and lead to a pleasant bitter finish. Lots of different flavors interact nicely in the taste. Finish shows signs of alcohol, but it's really well-masked for being 9% ABV. Actually, the bit of alcohol that is there induces a cool rum-like flavor. This is a perfect Thanksgiving beer! I'm so happy I saved it!

Mouthfeel: Thick, malty, prickly and spicy with just a touch of dryness in the finish. Moderate carbonation boosts the palate activity. This one really puts on a show!

Drinkability: Fantastic! I don't know if there's a better holiday beer out there. This beer totally embodies Christmas/Thanksgiving. I wish this were available in my area so I could buy it every year (ISO 2009 Special Holiday Ale). Also, the ABV gives me a nice head start before the relatives come over ;)

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Photo of sgoodship
4.54/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Not much of this in Chicago but my good friend Brian picked some up and left one at my desk at work.

Poured out of a simple 1 pt 9 fl oz bottle. Wow. The smell is refreshing and definitely a seasonal mix. It's a medicinal in a good way. Like going back in time to an old apothecary. After it has been sitting in a glass for a while, it has a slight port smell but apart from that, alcohol isn't present.

The look is lovely. More dense than I expected. It has a beautifully creamy and soft tan head that poured 2 fingers easily. The color is a very dark brown that turns more hazy gold going to mahogany on the edge against the light. The final pour shows lots of yeast making it look lighter brown.

The taste is really interesting. Sweet, tangy juniper hit me first. There's a bit of a nut brown ale character there with it's chestnut and caramel malt. Then, right over the top of it came a refreshing cool sage that hit the back of my palate. The end is a bit of a hop bite leaving a sweet and sour anise type taste in the back of the throat that is probably the caraway. There is a slight warmth to it but alcohol doesn't seem to be present - quite surprising.

The body is medium but the smoothness and creaminess of the head make it seem fuller. It has medium carbonation that is gentle but lively.

Man, there is a lot that can go wrong in a beer like this but it doesn't. It comes together very nicely. The flavors were well balanced and it was a nice taste progression. Really enjoyable beer. My wife thought it was like drinking Christmas stuffing. I don't know if it was partly because it was a rough day or because of the "tis the season" bollocks but I could really do with more of this. It is truly seasonal with smells and taste that put you in the right spirit. You couldn't drink too many of these but that's not what they are designed for. Nice work to all three breweries and thanks once again to my friend Brian for letting me try it.

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Photo of Mistofminn
3.88/5  rDev -1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Got this bottle from Beerlando. Thanks a bunch Bryan for the sweet brew.

Pours a dark murky brown color. In the glass it looks black, but when held into the light, I get a brown colored ale, with ruby highlights. A tan head is produced, about two fingers in width. Doesn't stay long and shrinks to a small ring. Doesn't leave much lacing.

The nose is lightly roasted malts, light warming alcohol, molasses, chocolate and brown sugar. It has a malt bill of an English Barleywine.

The taste is pretty much everything described in the nose with spices added. Very strong and sweet malt bill, chocolate and molasses, spices and alcohol.

Mouthfeel is medium bodied with a slightly high carbonation. Drinkability is ok, nothing special.

Of the Stone collaborations I've had, this isn't my favorite. It's not a bad Winter Warmer, just not one of my favorites.

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Photo of BEERchitect
3.9/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

A fimly malted English base with a lot of odd and interesting spices that, together, remind me of pine.

A structured and sturdy malt bill runs the gammot of medium toast, caramel and toffee, molassas, fruitcake, brown sugars, and kettle caramelization. Breads give a lot of weight and creaminess to the mouthfeel.

Hops give an earthy and resiny balance to the malts, but the real story here are the spice additions. Juiniper berries give a lightly tart complexity and a bit of a fruity note to accompany the esters. Sage gives a large pine impression that hinges on rosemarry. Caraway soft spiciness adds another layer to the beer without bringing attention to itself. A light nuttiness is present but this could easily be accomplished by the malts rather than the chessnut additions.

This is a fantastic Winter Warmer that doesn't shy away from the winter time spices. However the spicy boldness wears on the palate quickly.

Thanks Clvand0!

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Photo of qchic
3.9/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Pours a rich chestnut/mahogany brown capped by a creamy off-white head. The aroma is unique, featuring a balance of malts and hops along with spices. The caraway is recognizable since I've had that in other beers, but the other ingredients are a little foreign to me. There is malt sweetness at the beginning and then the flavor becomes earthier with herbs and spices, then finishes with some drying bitterness. Reminds me a litle of a manhattan, but I digress. This full-bodied beer is interesting and worth trying if you come across it, but not earth shattering. I do admire this kind of experimentation, and in a 12 oz. bottle makes it all the more approachable.

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Photo of Rayek
4.09/5  rDev +4.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured into a snifter.

A: Murky maple, with a fizzy almond cap that starts small and quickly retreats to a ring at the beer's edge. Leaves a smattering of lace.

S: The bottle says juniper and caraway are in here, and I believe. The juniper pushes the hardest. The overall effect is of earthy mint and fresh twigs. A maple sweetness resides in the background. Alcohol adds an extra flare.

T: Again, the juniper and caraway are front and center. A maple and toffee sweetness add a nice malt backbone for them to stand on. An alcohol warmth rounds things out.

M: The ample body is somewhat syrupy and has a nice amount of soft carbonation.

D: The overall beer reminds me a bit of the Nøgne-Ø Sahti I had awhile back. That's a good thing in my book. This was a welcome change of pace, and a great addition to the upcoming holiday season.

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Photo of mtstatebeer
3.97/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 oz. bottle. Pours a coca-cola brown with a bright reddish hue, decent light brown head with good lacing. Aroma is caramel and roasted malts, nuts, sage, a big amount juniper, citrus, and a touch of pine. Flavor is more caramel and roasted malt, wintergreen, licorice, nutty, and pine. Mouthfeel is medium, pretty creamy, and finishes with a good amount of bitterness on the tongue. Good beer, really spicey, very complex, warms very well.

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Photo of ricke
3.75/5  rDev -4.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

A: Dark brownish ruby color with a medium-sized dense pale beige head. Some lacings.

S: Lots of big aromas. The spices, sage etc that they used in this brew are really prominent. Sweet caramel, wood chips, juniper twigs, holiday spices and a honey-like note.

T: The taste is very sweet and malty with a powerful musty spicy character. I get the same note of honey as in the smell. Fudge, cola, a quick hint of leafy hops and a herbal freshness. The finish has a nice herbal bitterness to it, lingering sweetness and a sudden punch of warming alcohol. There's a lingering spicy note (probably a combination of caraway and sage) that isn't too pleasant.

M: Full bodied and very smooth. Medium carbonation. Very easy to drink.

D: First of all, I had kind of a hard time to review this one. It's not the ordinary set of flavors and it got me quite puzzled. Anyhow, a good and very interesting beer, but not great. It's slightly too sweet and the spices in the finish get a little overpowering. But still, an interesting beer worth a try.

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Photo of SeanRedd
4.02/5  rDev +2.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Complex as expected, delightful for a style I cringe when sipping. Smells like the tree I smashed into when skiing. Twig and berries. Spiced chocolate, mulled wine, ginger, and pie crust. Cocoa, tea, nutmeg, cinnamon and backyard barrel booze. Hefty body; low and dark on flavors. Well balanced, elegantly spiced, not too sweet, not too boozey. An upgrade of expectations from the warmers. Its pretty damn good.

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Photo of JRed
3.88/5  rDev -1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Deep, dark red, almost amber-brown topped with fleeting white head. Almost sour in scent of cranberry, syrup, pickles, spice, juniper berries. Pleasant taste of juniper berries, dark fruit juice, a bit medicinal, raisins, and molasses. Thick body with medium carbonation. A winter warmer that is sweet and spicy. A thick medicinal brew worth the pickup. One good all-star team of beer.

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Photo of SpeedwayJim
3.86/5  rDev -1.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a bottle into a Blue Point Snifter

A: Poured a vigorous 3.5 finger fine, brown head that really lingers. This brew was deep dark amber and left layered lacing so thick I could see how deep each sip went.

S: Brown sugar, caramel, pumpkin spice, and a trace of hops.

T: Deep brown sugar and caramel opening and develops into an earthy sweet pumpkin and some other type of dark fruit. Ends hoppy, spicy, and heavy.

M: Silky and deep and ends clean with almost no aftertaste though it leaves almost an oily, filmy feeling in the mouth.

D: This is real tasty and worth a try.

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Photo of akorsak
3.7/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Thanks to qchic for this 12 oz bottle at the Baltimore BA Gathering in June.

A: The winter warmer is a dark crimson red that could pass for brown. A bright orange-red radiance at the bottom of the glass stands out. A finger of off-white head dissapated with no trace.

S: Caramel and winter spices are strong, as is a sweet toffee presence. Cinnamon, pine needles, sap and molasses also feature prominently.

T: The ale has a sharp roasted presence, driven by the blackstrap molasses sharpness. Caraway, ginger, juniper and cinnamon are spicy elements over the molasses. A hoppy pine presence has decayed a bit, mellowing out from what must have been pretty strong. The blackstrap and roasted malts linger in the finish but the spices are still there.

M: The spices, caraway and ginger in particular, are a nice pairing with the blackstrap. The sharp semi-sweet flavor partially hides the alcohol.

D: At 9%, the ale is a little too strong to drink regularly and the spice profile wears out the palate over time.

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Photo of laituegonflable
4.07/5  rDev +3.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Dark red-brown colour with a slowly-forming beige head that sticks around pretty well once it appears. Leaves some very fine, very sticky lacing, and seems to have a slight haze in the glass. Pretty good, I like the colour, but not a cover-of-Vogue beer.

Nose is rich and malty, lots of toffee on that with a slight roasted character, hint of pine bark and some figs. A nuttiness to it as well, with a slightly acrid bent, just a hint of sourness. Mostly deep and malty throughout, pleasant, yes.

Taste is very similar to the smell, only far more intense. Impressive. I am suitably impressed. A deep, thick and rich malty character with a toffee edge, but far darker, and more bitter, than I would expect, with a large hit of red grape tannins and a hint of espresso and pine resin, quite bitter for what it is. Ultimately tastes a lot darker than I'd anticipated, with a Brazil nut bitterness and a burnt edge to it. Nice though, nice.

Mouthfeel is a moderate thickness, a bit of texture but not very obvious. Good for the flavour though, great match.

This is an interesting drop, tastes darker than it looks and is quite brooding and sullen. But, when it comes down to it, I like it and I like it a lot.

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Special Holiday Ale from Stone Brewing
3.92 out of 5 based on 322 ratings.
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