The 12 Beers of Christmas – Part 1

Tasting six aged bottles of Karl Strauss Brewing's dozen of unique yuletide beers

In 2010, Karl Strauss Brewing embarked on an ambitious, holiday-inspired mission to spend the next dozen years releasing “12 beers of Christmas”. Brewing beers is nothing new for a brewery, but Brewmaster Paul Segura and company endeavored to craft ales that were outside their company’s established wheelhouse while bringing in holiday-inspired touches, all while keeping this Holiday Series cellarable to be enjoyed as a vertical set in 2021. A couple of weeks ago, Karl Strauss released the last beer in this collection, so it was the perfect time to not only interview Segura about the decade-plus of creativity and work that went into it all, but also sit down with him, his 91X Beer for Breakfast co-host Danielle Stuht and San Diego Beer News contributor Colby Chandler, to taste through all of the beers and see how they held up.

How did you determine the styles of beer you would produce each year?

A small panel made up of Karl Strauss brewers and “beermagineers” would get together and toss around ideas. We knew the beers needed to be higher-gravity to be included in this series, so we took a hard look at beer styles over 8% (alcohol-by-volume) and asked ourselves what types of twists we could throw on them.

Were you concerned the styles might be a little out-there for average consumers?

Consumer education has been our MO since day one. We’ll never stop. This is just one small part of our DNA

What have been your favorite beers of the series, and, conversely, have any fallen short of your expectations?

We’re pretty stoked with the way most of them turned out. Two of my favorites were the first two beers, Parrot in a Palm Tree and Two Tortugas. Seven Sharks a-Circling was also super delicious. The third beer, Mouette à Trois, did not fully come out the way we’d hoped. The tart-cherry flavor seemed to dominate too much over all the other flavors we were hoping to see.

Now that the series is in its twelfth and final year, what do you plan to do?

My relatives are the only ones I’ve had the opportunity to do vertical tasting of these beers with over the last 12 years. I’m looking forward to sitting down with some industry friends and doing the full 12 years for this piece.

THE TASTING (2010-2015)

Parrot in a Palm Tree (2010)

Tawny Port Barrel-aged Baltic Porter, 8.5%

Paul’s Notes: This beer was named for the parrots that are all over Ocean Beach. We aged it for three months in tawny port-wine barrels from San Paqual Winery. It still has nice dates, figs, cherries and some toasty caramel flavors. I get a lot of raisins and a sort of sherry-like vious character from the port. There’s some cocoa after it warms.

Two Tortugas (2011)

Belgian-style Quadupel, 11.1%

Paul’s Notes: This beer went on to win a bronze medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival and a silver medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup, and we re-released as part of our portfolio at one point. It has brown sugar and syrup in the aroma, then more brown sugar and some dates on the palate. I get a lot of Sugar Smacks cereal and Grand Marnier flavors.

Mouette à Trois (2012)

Belgian-style Dubbel w/ Fruit & Spices, 8.5%

Paul’s Notes: We were trying to emulate fruit cake with this beer. It’s more fruit cake now than it was back then. There’s a little bit of the cherry left, but now they come across more like dark cherries than tart cherries. There’s a bready, gingerbread thing going on, and it’s less boozy now and more phenolic.

Four Scowling Owls (2013)

Belgian-style Tripel, 9%

Paul’s Notes: It’s dark for a tripel. I don’t remember it being so dark. There’s still some white pepper in there, but I mostly get honey and a little marmalade. There’s also some banana. I could have some Chunky Monkey ice cream with this!

Five Wee Heavy Bells (2014)

Scotch-style Ale, 9.5%

Paul’s Notes: There’s a lot of caramel and toffee, plus some smokiness. We used beechwood-smoked malt because it’s more subtle. The beer is meaty, hearty and chewy, but not cloyingly sweet.

Six Suits a-Hangin’ (2015)

Imperial Belgian-style Brown Ale, 8.5%

Paul’s Notes: This beer was brewed as a bigger version of our Full Suit Belgian Brown Ale. We used a lot of brown malt and added French oak chips to give it a toastiness. That Belgian yeast quality has kind of faded away. It’s not as tannic as it was but still has that Negra Modela thing with some roasted, nut-like flavors.

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