Gouden Carolus Noel, Brouwerij Het Anker, Belgian strong dark ale, 10.5 percent alcohol. Named for Charles V, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, this is a kingly holiday ale. It's dark red and spiced with herbs, with a soft, creamy body that warms you from crown to toe. Serve with pecan pie.
La Binchoise Reserve Speciale, Brasserie La Binchoise, Belgian strong pale ale, 9 percent alcohol. Grab this bottle in spite of its label's dopey, omnipresent angels. You know the ones, taken from Raphael's Sistine Madonna that appear on everything from neckties to postage stamps. Inside, it's all about the flavor of sweet fruits to delicately bitter hops. Serve with Port-Salut cheese.
Affligem Noel, Brouwerij Affligem, Belgian dubbel, 9 percent alcohol. Dark brown and savory, it's like bread in a bottle. Pour a glass and dive into its foamy white head, and you'll get big, sweet chocolate and caramel flavors - a product of the malt that is grown the Affligem abbey's own fields. Serve with roast turkey and stuffing.
Scaldis Noel, Brasserie Dubuisson Freres, Belgian strong dark ale, 12 percent alcohol. This family-owned Wallonian brewer proudly proclaims its ultrastrong beer is "deliciously strooth" and "reassuringly smong." Though it's made with extra caramel malt and sugar, Saaz hops balance it nicely for an ale that's dangerously easy to drink. Serve with Belgian truffles.
6 Belgian wannabes
Inspired by Belgium's great ales, brewers from around the world are producing their own versions for the holidays.
Baladin Noel, Birrificio Le Baladin (Italy), Belgian-style strong dark ale, 9 percent alcohol. Dark and deep like a Barolo, this ale will dazzle you with flavors of dried fruit, cocoa, plum and pepper - the product of yeast fermentation. Serve with Hershey's Kisses.
Winter White Ale, Bell's Brewery (Michigan), Belgian witbier, 5 percent alcohol. Though its known mainly for "big" beers, especially rich stout, Bell's gift for the holidays is an effervescent, light-bodied white beer. With its aroma of coriander and citrus, this is the beer to grab before settling in for the more typical heavy ales of winter. Serve with steamed mussels.
Allagash Grand Cru, Allagash Brewing (Maine). Belgian strong pale ale. Plenty of fruit and spice aroma beneath a big, frothy head, it'll remind you of Belgium's Duvel. Serve with lobster.
Noel de Calabaza, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Michigan), Belgian strong dark ale, 9 percent alcohol. Up front you'll find an exceptionally complex range of flavors, of caramel, nut, chocolate and fruit. Then your mouth will pucker lightly with that classic Jolly Pumpkin sour edge, a product of wild yeast fermentation. Serve with Gorgonzola cheese.
Santa's Little Helper, Mikkeller (Denmark), Spiced Belgian strong dark ale, 11 percent alcohol. A deeply warming ale flavored with coriander and orange peel, it's a cross between a classic British winter-warmer and a Belgian head-banger. Serve with roasted goose.
White Christmas, Moylan's Brewery (California), Belgian witbier, 6.5 percent alcohol. Coriander and orange peel spice this beer, too, plus a nice hit of cinnamon and white pepper.
"Christmas Beer" is available in bookstores and online at www.joesixpack.net.
Look for many of these beers at the area's biggest holiday beer festival at the Penn Museum on Dec. 27. Details at www.phillybeerfests.com.
And, finally, stay tuned for a special Christmas beer "advent" calendar on my Beer Radar blog at www.joesixpack.net/blog. I'll be counting down my 25 favorite holiday beers starting Dec. 1. *
Joe Sixpack by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.