This past weekend a few friends (on Twitter: @RedTheTrucker, @thepegisin and @deniserat) invited me over to taste some beers. Big thanks to them, they provided all the beer, I owe them big time, and were great company to spend an afternoon drinking with.
Special Holiday Ale is a collaboration beer from Stone Brewing Co., Nogne Ø, and Jolly Pumpkin. Each brewery brewed a batch of the beer at their own facility, using the same recipe which included chestnuts, juniper berry, white sage, caraway seed and 25% rye malt. The first to be released was Stone’s in late 2008. I haven’t verified it with Nogne Ø but the general consensus is that they brewed 2 batches, one released around November of 2009 and one released around November 2010. Jolly Pumpkin brewed three batches, one in April 2009 and two in late 2009, all were oak aged and blended together before being bottled in late December 2010.
The Stone and Jolly Pumpkin versions were listed as 9% ABV while the Nogne Ø version was listed as 8.5%. I’m not sure what accounts for the discrepency since all were brewed from the same recipe.
The Stone and Nogne Ø versions were very similar but I preferred the Nogne Ø beer. At a little over 2 years old the Stone version may have been past it’s prime. It was a bit nutty (the chestnuts?) and much sweeter than the other, the sage seemed to have faded quite a bit but the juniper was still very strong in both the smell and taste. The Nogne Ø version had much more sage in both the smell and the taste, it was much less sweet and seemed to have more balance between the spices and the sweet malt flavors.
The Jolly Pumpkin version is the most different, oak aged and soured (with Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces) it was obvious this was the same beer, just with a lot more going on. The smell was very tart and sour like many of Jolly Pumpkin’s other beers. The taste wasn’t nearly as sour as the smell let on. It had a very bitter finish, not from hops but from the other spices used, possibly from the caraway.
As far as appearances go, the beer from Jolly Pumpkin was the darkest while Stone’s was the lightest with Nogne Ø’s version in the middle.
My favorite of the three was Nogne Ø’s version. I enjoyed the Jolly Pumpkin version quite a bit, but would have preferred it to have been more tart and sour. I remember liking Stone’s version quite a bit when it first came out, and it’s still not a bad beer but it has change considerably. If you’re sitting on any bottles of Stone’s version I would say drink them soon.
This post was updated 3/23/11. Thanks to Jeff below in the comments on clarification on a few points I was unsure of originally.