This is the time of year that the winter seasonal beers start appearing in earnest, just in time for the holiday season and chill weather to roll in, and many of these holiday beers are favorites for me—I always look forward to them coming out (though not too early). Accordingly, last night I opened up the two Kris Kringles that I picked up on Friday from McMenamins Old St. Francis School, to do a side-by-side tasting comparison.
The growler was brewed here in Bend at the Old St. Francis School by brewer Mike “Curly” White; the bottle is from the Edgefield brewery in Troutdale. They are brewed to the same recipe (presumably!) though you have to expect there could well be differences in ingredients (depending on the malt and hop availability) and of course there will be differences that stem from the brewing process itself—the same recipe brewed on different equipment will definitely have different characteristics.
Here’s what McMenamins says about this year’s batch, along with the ingredients and stats:
This year’s version of Kris Kringle is a hearty and robust ale with a big and bold malt complexity as well as an intense and flavorful hop profile. This “winter warmer” highlights the rich, toasty, aromatic and chocolaty malt flavors as its very sturdy foundation. Generous amounts of four different hop varieties were added in five different additions that delivers a magnificent and massive hop assault. There’s still some ginger and cinnamon added into the batch but the spices are a little more subdued than in years’ past.
Malts Used: GWM Pale Ale Malt, GWM Munich Malt, GWM Wheat Malt, GWM 15L Crystal Malt, GWM 120L Crystal Malt, Baird’s Chocolate Malt
Hops Used: Centennial (Bittering & Flavor), Santiam (Flavor), Cascade (Flavor & Aroma), Sterling (Flavor & Aroma)
Alcohol: 6.84% by volume
OG: 1.068 TG: 1.015
(“GWM” in the malt list refers to Great Western Malting.)
Both beers pour about the same color (though my wife pointed out the draft version looked darker), with the local draft having a hazier, less-filtered appearance and the bottled version being visibly more carbonated.
On the nose the draft version definitely smells fresher; the Kringle from the bottle is malty with a hint of roastiness, and a grainy aroma that reminds me of dark crystal malts and the grain dust that gets kicked up in the grain room at the Brew Shop when crushing malts. There’s a touch of lightly spicy hops that are a bit herbal. The freshness of the draft beer is definitely in the hops, with a green fresh quality that’s peppery and zesty like mustard greens or arugula. It reminds me of the same herbal fresh hop character than Curly’s Golden Sparrow Fresh Hop Ale exhibited.
I think the aroma is where the differences are most pronounced, though you can find some differences in the taste and mouthfeel as well. From the bottle the beer comes across to me as a malty brown ale with earthiness and a bit of spice and some leathery molasses character. The draft version is maltier with a creamier, softer base that’s smoother and maybe even slightly more warming (as in, higher gravity/alcohol, though this is pure subjective speculation). It’s less earthy and spicy with more dark sugars. The higher carbonation of the bottled Kringle must come into play here as well, as it has more of an “edge” to it and feels a bit thinner.
Overall I’m impressed with how close these beers are in character, and some of the differences are pretty subtle. The (local) draft version is interesting in that it seems to be more pronounced in hops in the aroma but less in the flavor in favor of creamy maltiness, but because of that I think it’s more balanced in the end.
Hat tip to McMenamins for generously providing the beer. If you get the chance, pick up a bottle of Kris Kringle and try it side-by-side against a locally-brewed draft version, and see what you think.