12/11/16: Fat Head's Brewery's Holly Jolly

4:21 PM

Well, folks, Cincinnati's finally been hit by winter. Temperatures have been dropping. Snow's been falling occasionally. And I have that burning in my throat when I walk to work, which signifies that we're finally done with warm weather. Great.


At least I still have good Christmas beers to keep me company and stave off the cold. I also have cats, blankets, and a fiancée for that, too, but this post's about beer, dammit, so I'd like to keep it beer-centric. And the beer at the center of this beer-centric post is Fat Head's Holly Jolly.

I've only had Fat Head's a few times before, and the only offering of theirs that I made a point of remembering is Jack Straw, their summer pilsner (which is excellent, by the way). According to the history on the brewery's "About Fat Head's" page, the brewery started as a saloon (tap house + restaurant combination) in Pittsburg, PA in 1992. In 2009, they opened up a second brewery in North Olmsted, OH, which has won numerous awards for the beers it crafts. In 2012 they expanded their operation to Middleburg Heights, OH, and have also opened a brewery in Portland, OR. Their underlying mission in everything they do is to make good beer.

By reading the official spiel for Holly Jolly, located on their "Our Beer" page, the ale seems to be a direct extension of that mission. Brewed with nine different malts and two varieties of hops, the 7.5% ABV ale boasts the "...aromas and flavors of Christmas day." Those aromas and flavors can doubtlessly be attributed to the special ingredients Fat Head's threw in: honey, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, and cinnamon.

I have to say, this doesn't bear the aroma I was expecting. Instead of the spice-forward bouquet I've come to expect from Christmas ales, I'm finding something much more malty--nearly what you'd get from a Märzen. Which I something I like a lot. It's a refreshing, sweet scent for this time of year. Unfortunately, Purrl doesn't like it. At all. She barely gave it two quick whiffs before turning away to pursue other interests.


Whoa. I was expecting to rattle off what I found in Holly Jolly's flavor, and, yes, I'll still do that, but let me take a moment to tell you this: this beer is amazing. In the fore of my swig I'm getting honey, and it meshes perfectly, absolutely perfectly, with the malty sweetness of the ale. There's a kick of spice in the finish, I distinctly pick up on the ginger, that serves to put a cap on it all.

In my mouth, the beer sits pretty stilly, but there are minuscule bites of carbonation that peck away merrily at my tongue.

Holly Jolly reminds me of the day Michelle and I bought the (plastic) Christmas tree we use each year. It was a mid-November day and we were driving back to Athens, OH from somewhere in the vicinity of Columbus--I forget where we were and what we were doing. But, for some reason, we dropped by a Target. Being mid-November and all, the store had its Christmas display up and running in full force.

On a whim, we bought the tree. We knew we were going to get one anyway and Target had one that wasn't terrible for $20. Soon we were on our way home, with the boxed tree and the ornaments we bought for it (which we've since lost) stashed safely in the trunk of my car. It was a drizzly, cold, gray weekend day, but we found the sole station playing Christmas music and sang along to all the classics it played while we drove home.

Here's this: I'm giving Fat Head's Holly Jolly an excellent 10/10. Is it perfect? I don't know. If I've had a perfect beer, I haven't recognized it. But Holly Jolly gets my highest recommendation. Buy it. Drink it. Love it. This beer has become a permanent staple on my Christmas drinking list, and I plan on picking up more of it tomorrow.

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