4.4AROMA 9/10 APPEARANCE 5/5 TASTE 8/10 PALATE 4/5 OVERALL 18/20
If you know me you know I’m a hophead and I love India Pale Ales as well as their cousin – the amber ale. The nice thing about amber ales is their more balanced flavor where malty sweetness is emphasized as much as hop bitterness. Rogue has pretty much perfected the style with their winter seasonal - Santa’s Private Reserve Ale. It’s intense in flavor from both sides of the spectrum, although it might be a little too intense for the more pedestrian beer-drinkers.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
I often wonder why amber ales are labeled as such they tend to be more red in color than amber. Santa’s Private Reserve is somewhere in the middle as it’s mostly dark amber in color, but with a reddish, cranberry-like hue to it. The body is a little hazy, with little carbonation evident. It forms a pillowy, almost yellow or beige head which never dissipates completely and laces the glass generously.
The aroma is very inviting with a strong hop bitterness. It’s a combination of floral and pine notes, but with a subtle sweetness like maple syrup. I suppose its what a maple tree might smell like in the winter.
There’s nothing quite like the joy of knowing a beer is outstanding on the first swig. I really couldn’t have drank Santa’s Private Reserve at a better time of year since this is indeed a gift in a bottle for me. My first sip was intense with a creamy, sweet head combined with the dense hop bitterness from the body. It’s very rich, intense, sticky and fairly heavy in the mouth.
The real flavor comes on the back end where the malts swoop in with a dull sweetness of maple syrup. I say “dull” because it’s not a super lively, candy-like sweetness that dances on the palate. This beer’s flavor doesn’t need a lot of fanfare to do its job properly.
It should be noted the palate here is noticeably dry and bitter. There’s a strong piney, resin-like palate and an aftertaste to match (which, as a hophead, I enjoy). Obviously, this flavor isn’t for everyone but for those that have acquired the taste it’s remarkable.
Unlike other winter beers, Rogue doesn’t empty the spice rack into the kettle for Santa’s Private Reserve. The hops alone carry most of the weight of the palate making for a bitter beer. However, as bitter as it may be, it’s actually quite easy to quaff. The mouthfeel is mostly soft, but noticeably viscous. It finishes smooth, although the hops do linger.
Rogue doesn’t list the alcohol percentage of their beers on their bottles or on the website, but reliable craft beer enthusiasts say this brew weighs in at only 6% ABV. Considering how hoppy this beer is that actually seems fairly light. I enjoyed it immensely as a stand-alone beverage but I could imagine this beer pairing very well with dark meat and anything loaded with spices.
A beer like this is hard to come by, which makes me appreciate Santa’s Private Reserve Ale all the more so. It’s also one of the few Rogue beers available in 12oz bottles in six-packs (approx. $13) instead of the usual stand-alone 22oz bomber (at least here on the East Coast). I’d highly recommend a sixer of this for your holiday meal or maybe for a marathon of football-watching.