Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale
I'd seen a lonely case of Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale sitting at the very bottom of a mish mash of clearance seasonal microbrews about a month ago at my local beer distributor. I'd thought about buying it, asked the price and reasonably declined a purchase when I learned the asking price of $39.99. It was touted on the side of the case as a Gold Medal Winner, but at that price, I just couldn't go for it.
Well, just this past Saturday, the wife's there at the same distributor and calls me on the celly asking if there's anything I wanted her to pick up for me. Hmmm...let me think. "Yes, it's still here" she says and finding out that the bargain basement discount price has now dropped to $34.99, I couldn't resist and asked her to bring it on home for me (yes, a whole measly 5 bucks made the difference to me. How cheap am I?)
Once home and in the fridge a few hours, I pull out the first bottle only to find that it's empty. Yes, empty! Some punk, cheaper than I, at the beer distributor must've found this beer as intriquing as I, and not having the $35.00 to spend (and probably not the loving wife willing to buy it for him) discreetly popped the cap and quaffed it luke warm in just a mere minute or two I'm guessing. After the furor of the incident wore off, I actually felt bad for the poor soul reduced to such an action.
Anyway, I've still got 23 bottles left, so I still win, right? I'd seen a few beers from Anderson Valley Brewing Company's Northern California outfit and was anxiously looking forward to sampling this interesting looking selection. So I wasn't going to let anything ruin the overall anticipation for me ($35.00 and one empty bottle in the hole or not).
Cracking the cap off of my first 12 ounce bottle (as non-discreetly as I possibly could) I poured the sample into one of my trusty, unchilled 16 ounce pub glasses.
Visual of this brew is a rusty, ruby colored amber, slightly hazy with a very mild evidence of carbonation. Not a whole lot of bubbly going on here. The head rose up reluctantly to just about one finger, but quickly subsided into not a whole lot of anything.
Aroma was not present until bringing the glass almost right into my nostrils. Once there, a sweet, buttery aroma tweaked my olfactory nerve. Not real strong, but just subtle and present enough to tease a sip (like that's hard to do).
I admit I was extremely surprised to note that the most dominant flavor in my first taste was a very strong vanilla flavor. Was this brew aged on vanilla chips in oaken whisky barrels? Not that I'm aware of, but that's the impression I picked up right from the get go. It wasn't overall unpleasant. I'd say that it just wasn't expected. Maybe I was thinking more spicy, more ginger, more nutmeg, more honey. Something. Just not so much vanilla was what I was expecting.
This brew does go down easy. It's not hard to drink overall. But at 6.9 abv, as the label indicates, you'd probably not want to put back more than a couple at any one session. On the other hand, the sweet stickiness of the strong vanilla flavor kind of prevented me from wanting another right away.
I couldn't wrap my taste buds around this one entirely well I guess. While I enjoyed it overall, there was just something missing to keep this microbrew from being what would make it great in my humble opinion. I wouldn't say anything was specifically bad or uninviting about recommending it to someone. But when I think of holiday, or winter style beers, I think of either spicy, honey flavored ales or thick, rich and overpoweringly strong stouts or barleywine type beers. This just didn't hit any of those categories for me personally. It was kind of a beer without a country, so to speak, for me.
I've heard some really great things about Anderson Valley Brewing and have actually tried some of their other microbrews and really enjoyed them. But Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale just didn't click on all cylinders for me. I'd definitely recommend it as a better than average brew, but again, I'm looking for something a whole lot more in my search for the holy, microbrew grail.
I would rate Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale a 6.75 out of 10.00 total points. It's worth a try and, although it wasn't mine, it just might be your cup of tea. Nothing to sniff at, but if you can, try a single before buying an entire case if you can. I will follow my own advice next winter when I try the 2007 edition of Winter Solstice. I'll give it another try. That's only fair for a Gold Medal Winner isn't it?
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