Today’s qualifying round for the Winter Ale BeerSport Championship features Great Lakes Christmas Ale (8.52 BAR, 115 Style+) up against Harpoon Winter Warmer (1.13 BAR, 100 Style+). Technically Great Lakes is listed as a ‘Winter Ale’ but they’re both spiced beers coming in a little above average ABV. The winner of this matchup faces Smuttynose Winter Ale in the championships, live on the Drinking With Shirt Podcast.
These beers are virtually identical. The Harpoon is ever so slightly darker, but not enough to award it a victory. Instead I’m going to refer to the label art as a tie breaker, and I have to give it to Great Lakes’ wagon full of Christmas balls over the simple red and green harpoon imagery.
Winner: Great Lakes
You get some spice on the aroma for the Harpoon. Pumpkin Pie smell, mostly nutmeg with a little bit of underlying fruit scent. The aroma isn’t as powerful on the Great Lakes, you get more malt aroma and maybe a whiff of cinnamon. I prefer the beer smell to the strong spice one.
Winner: Great Lakes
Harpoon doesn’t taste as spicy as it smells, and most of the spice comes through in a lingering mouthfeel afterwards. I get some belgian character with some cinnamon. I’m tasting a little bit of a fruitiness or juiciness in the malt and there’s definitely a little spice burn when you take a bit sip.
The Great Lakes is richer, with more flavor. It’s much dryer too, from the honey. The spice is stronger too, definitely some ginger. This would probably go well with a gingerbread if I had any. The dryness feels overwhelming at times, obscuring the malt I smelled. You get just a hint of it before the drying effect on your tongue leaves the spices.
I have to go with Harpoon here. The taste is crisper whereas the Great Lakes feels like a slog.
The Harpoon is a light, more effervescent. The spice sticks on the tongue a little, but not too much. The Great Lakes is pretty thick, almost cloying. The sharp dryness from the honey sticks around to coat your tongue and really has some staying power. I prefer the more in and out nature of the Harpoon.
This has been closer than I expected, or what BAR would suggest. I honestly expected Great Lakes to win because I have a better general feeling about that brewery and a lesser expectation about Harpoon. Both of them are older breweries founded in the 80s and both are some of the bigger craft breweries in the nation. In the end, Great Lakes Christmas Ale is just a little too big for my taste, and I suspect the sweetness I taste wouldn’t pair well with all the sweet Christmas cookies I usually eat So the winner, by a shiny red nose, is Harpoon.
Harpoon Winter Warmer takes this contest and will advance to the finals. However, we have breaking news regarding its opponent. Smuttynose Winter Ale won the other qualifying round, but we’ve received word that it’s going to the disabled list with a cracked bottle. We’ve scrambled and set up an emergency BeerSport match to determine a new challenge. Sly Fox Christmas Ale will face off against Anderson Valley Winter Solstice for the right to face Harpoon in the finals.
Michael can be found on Twitter and Untappd where he's learned he's not a huge fan of the Winter Warmer style. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.