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St. Arnold Christmas Ale

St. Arnold Christmas Ale

2.62 average, 8 votes
by Mark Stevens
2008 November 15

St. Arnold Xmas labelAt A Glance
St. Arnold Christmas Ale
Pros: Sweet with a caramel flavor and round full body.
Cons: Off aromas and unexciting flavor profile.
The Bottom Line: St.Arnold Christmas Ale is sweet and soft, but generally uninspired and it shows some oddities. Here’s why I’d pass on it and wait for better Christmas brews…
Recommended: No.

Every year, brewers create special seasonal beers to celebrate the Christmas holiday season. Often, these are very special beers — a little bigger, a little sweeter, a little richer than their normal brews.

Some brewers pull out all the stops, creating beers with very unique and distinctive flavor profiles — like Anchor Brewing Company’s “Our Special Ale” which often blends holiday cooking spices (like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger) into an amber ale. Like the huge uber-dopplebock “Samichlaus”. Like Blue Ridge Brewing Company’s “Snowballs Chance” which is a lusciously malty old ale. Or like the guys at Dos Equis in Mexico who put out their sweet malty bock/maerzen hybrid called “Noche Buena”. My mouth waters at the mere thought of all these myriad gifts of the brewer’s craft…

Tis the Season…
I look for all these beers — and their many kindred brews — every year starting right around Thanksgiving and going until just past the New Year. It’s like Santa stops by the beer retailer to drop off some gifts to take care of all his jolly beer drinking friends before heading over to the mall to deal with the lines of screaming children.

I was a little surprised yesterday when I strolled through my friendly beer store. There, bigger than life, was a display rack full of this year’s crop of St. Arnold’s Christmas Ale. A little early, but welcome nonetheless…

First Christmas Ale of the holiday season??? Let’s have at it!

I like using heavy glassware for hearty beers, and for evaluating this Christmas Ale, I’m pouring the beer into a big crystal mug…

Saint Arnold’s Christmas Gift

Big course bubbles form a thick but fleeting head. Coppery brown color (about 17 SRM) with good clarity. Similar in color to some of the Oktoberfest beers I’ve been drinking recently…

Sweet caramel and butterscotch — that’s what I think of when I smell this beer. The smell could be lots of crystal and caramel malts, but I think I’m actually get a higher than normal level of diacetyl in this beer (which I’ve picked up in some other Saint Arnold brews too). The beer also has an odd chemical note to it — much like the smell of iodophor solution.

Even worse, the beer seems yeasty. Especially when I breathe out through my nose after taking a big gulp of this beer. I smell a very strong yeasty smell — just like activated yeast before you dump into a batch of bread dough. At low levels, the yeastiness seems to almost be a house signature for Saint Arnold — I just wish they’d find a more enticing signature…

I don’t really like the aroma of this beer. While the initial sweet caramel smell could be appetizing enough in its own right, there are too many odd things in this beer’s aroma to keep me from really appreciating it.

Just as I got caramel in the nose, I also taste lots of caramel and butterscotch flavors when I take my first drink. This is a very sweet tasting beer with a bigger than usual body, although it’s certainly not what I’d call a “big” beer. I like the spiciness, which I initially attributed to the use of a peppery tasting hop variety, although it’s possible that the brewers used some type of pungent spice in the beer, since spices are always fair game for Christmas ales. It would be a mistake though to think this is a spiced ale — it’s really not. I’m pretty sure that it’s just good use of hops.

Overall, the taste is like a sweet amber ale. It’s fairly well balanced, and while a little on the big side, definitely a drinkable session beer.

About Saint Arnold’s Brewery
Saint Arnold is a microbrewery located in an industrial area on the west side of Houston. They brew mostly ales and have been in business for about seven years. The beers are sold throughout Texas. The brewery welcomes visitors for an entertaining tour (with free beer, of course) Saturdays at 1pm. More information about the brewery and their beers is available on the web at

Bottom of the Mug…
This was the first Christmas Ale I’ve seen out this year, and I expect it won’t be the last. Hopefully, the others will be more memorable and enticing. It’s not so much that Saint Arnold’s Christmas Ale is a bad beer, it’s just that it’s not great, and it doesn’t really bring anything special to the table. It’s a fairly ordinary amber ale with some brewing faults. My recommendation: Don’t bother Santa with this one…there will be better Christmas ales out in a couple weeks.

This review first appeared on Epinions.

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I find that the Christmas Ale starts to smell like asparagus after the second bottle. I agree with you that the taste is uninspired, in context with many other beers out there. Had this been the only brew like it that I’d ever tasted, I might have been pretty impressed. It does, in my opinion, still have a smooth– but not too smooth– rich body. The unmistakable alcohol aftertaste is a little distracting, but not a real problem for this retired scotch downer. I decided to have a bottle with my early thanksgiving lunch, and a pleasant connection was surprisingly… Read more »

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