No, I really don’t mean the fabled reindeer at the end of the line, though that’s a good bit of trivia for your “holiday” potluck this month. What we have here is another of the quirky productions from the Barrel House, of which we’ve previously looked at their Hommelbier, Imperial Pilsner, and Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout. In other words, these ain’t your grandpa’s happy hour specials. Now we come to the “Bière de Noël,” or what the French call a certain…I don’t know what. I first discovered this particular brew not at the Barrel House tap room but at the main Blue Mountain brewpub. Both times I’ve visited there was prior to a UVa basketball game, so I thought it only proper that this review comes as I’m watching the ‘Hoos struggle in the 2015 Jimmy V Classic. I did not struggle to get through this beer, though, oh no sir!
Blitzen, Blue Mountain Barrel House (Arrington, VA)
Bière de Noël, ABV 7.0%, IBU 24
Presentation: Bomber pour into snifter.
Appearance: Like a bowl of fire roasted chestnuts with a mild, swiftly dissipating head.
Taste: The nose borders somewhere between oaky and fruity, with the former becoming more assertive in the body. There are some definite roasted malt flavors but they’re sweet more in the sense that yams are sweet rather than the sugary caramel of other heavy malt beers. Barrel House notes that some of the sugars are from beets, which will be what you’ll have issue otherwise identifying aroma-wise. The finish is deep and earthy which due to the biscuit malts, which was a delightful first for me.
Mouth Feel: As with other winter warmers the Blitzen packs a bit of zest alongside those oaky malts, but it’s more a playful aside on the tongue than a robust part of the overall profile. Very little bitterness, and the carbonation is well balanced. So while deep and heavy, it’s not overpowering to the palate.
Overall: I have a thing about well-executed beers. There’s very little here to criticize, and plenty to enjoy. Though advertised as a Belgo-French style, the flavors are more indicative of American cold weather styles so it’s an interesting blend of ingredients to get these specific flavors. Then again, Barrel House goes out there without bringing back a lot of the funk that other Virginia brewers are trending towards (looking at you, Strangeways). If you want a lot of spice in your winter warmer this may not be the one for you, but the oakiness and the malts really do make this a beer to enjoy by the fire – while wearing a hideous sweater, of course.