We’re following up on our earlier Christmas beer review with Round 2. Today’s combatants are the North Island X’mas Beer Cinnamon Ale and the Baird Jubilation Ale.
North Island X’mas Beer Cinnamon Ale (ノースアイランド・シナモンエール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 16
Pour – Frothy, deep reddish-orange
Aroma – Sweet malts, caramel, a bit of earth, cinnamon gets stronger as it warms up
Flavor – Very malty, but nice cinnamon finish, as with the aroma cinnamon becomes more prominent as it warms up
The North Island X’mas Beer Cinnamon Ale is a relatively straightforward drinking experience, but a pleasant one. It can basically be described with two words: malts and cinnamon. That said, though, the cinnamon isn’t overpowering and the beer isn’t overly sweet, so with the noticeable malts it makes for a nice enough beer, if not too complex.
This is a fairly limited beer and is somewhat hard to track down. Last year I managed to find it at Liquors Hasegawa, but they seem to have cut down recently on seasonals from certain brewers (they used to carry Fujizakura seasonals but have not recently). Liquors Hasegawa still carry North Island regular beers from time to time but they didn’t carry the North Island X’mas Beer this year, although I did eventually find it at Tanakaya. A decent Christmas beer, although not as exciting as the Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale.
Baird Jubilation Ale (ベアードビール・ジュビレーションエール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 28
Pour – Cloudy deep red, moderate foam
Aroma – Very spicy fruity, fair amount of wood and yeast, but spices steal the show
Flavor – At first malty, but soon the spices kick in, with a very pleasant mix of cinnamon and fruit with a toasted effect, slight alcohol on finish
Along with their Dark Sky Imperial Stout, the Jubilation Ale is one of the two quite popular Baird annual holiday releases. As the brewing notes state, the festive ingredients here are locally grown figs and cinnamon twigs. Naming-wise they’ve also gone with the less Christmas-specific word “jubilation” (similar in spirit to Hitachino Nest’s use of the word “commemorative”, so don’t worry if you’re drinking this to honor the New Year instead of Christmas, I suppose.
The Baird Jubilation Ale is a very nice spice beer, and perhaps one of the best Baird brews out there. Starting with the aroma you get a nice combination of spices and wood/brett/yeast, and the flavors also prove to be complex. While the malts are definitely there, there’s also a slight toastiness to it that is nice, and the sweetness is provided by the figs and cinnamon. To be honest, I find this level of complexity and balance to be somewhat rare in Baird products, but this one really gets it – flavors are strong but work well together, and it doesn’t go too far in any single direction.
So today we’ve seen a North Island holiday beer with cinnamon that’s perhaps a bit one-dimensional with the cinnamon but still serviceable, and a Baird holiday beer with cinnamon and figs that really gets it right. I think I’d still put the Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale as the best holiday beer in Japan, but the Baird Jubilation Ale is just behind it. Fortunately this beer is not hard to track down – you’ll see it at Deguchiya, Tanakaya, Liquors Hasegawa, and even at Aeon Liquors at the usual very reasonable Baird prices.
Happy drinking and happy holiday!