12/24/18: Braxton Brewing Company's Claus

1:06 PM

Last year, for New Year's, a buddy of mine came to visit. I hadn't seen him since he moved out west but, since he was in-state visiting his family, he asked if he could swing down to Cincinnati. "Hell yeah!" I said.

I took him on a short brewery tour of the area--some of the more popular spots. One of those spots was Braxton Labs (it was the first time I'd ever been), where they had Claus gift sets left over from its release. I bought one with the intention of doing a post about it this holiday season. I thought aging it for a year would be fun.

Shortly after making my purchase, however, I realized that I'd have nothing to compare it against after its year of aging. Luckily for me, Braxton released Claus gift sets again this year. I preordered mine online and picked it up from Braxton's Covington, KY taproom when it dropped. Problem solved.

I'm incredibly excited today, for my Christmas Eve 2018 post, to break this year's Claus to see how it is before finding out how well last year's held up. And, knowing Braxton, I think both discoveries will be positive ones.

Braxton's a frequent flyer around these parts. If you've been following the blog for a bit, odds are you're familiar with the Covington, KY brewery. Evan Rouse, Union, KY native and Braxton's founder, started brewing beer when he was only 16 years old. His setup was in his garage. His love of beer and, by extension, garages followed Evan into adulthood, leading him to start Braxton. Since then, he and his have been busy making damn good, innovative beers. If you need more details than what I've provided here, be sure to hit up Braxton's About page.

Claus promises to be one such beer, Christmas-themed as it is. This 5.5% ABV sweet stout is brewed with peppermint from Doscher's Candy. The peppermint is more subdued when the bottle is first opened but, as the stout warms, the peppermint becomes more pronounced. All told, it's a brew I'm excited to try.

2018, which I'm drinking first, has a mild bouquet. I get roasted malt (chocolate and slight toffee), I get powdered sugar, and I get just a touch of peppermint. I'll swing back to this later--I'll also swing back for the aroma of 2017 and the flavor of both--to see how letting the beer open up changes the peppermint quality. I enjoy that, for the moment, 2018's nose has a subtleness to it. Háma, the cat most available to aroma-test both Clauses with me, gave it seven whiffs, which, as far as he's concerned, is high praise.

The stout's flavor corresponds exactly with its bouquet. Chocolate, powdered sugar, toffee, with a little peppermint. It's sweet, but not overpoweringly so. It's a gentle holiday sipper that has enough flavor to keep me interested without knocking me upside the head.

I'm drinking both stouts from the glasses with which they were packaged.
The mouthfeel is definitely that of a stout: creamy, full, with a slight viscosity to it. It matches the ABV and flavor/taste profiles perfectly.

2017's nose is more mellow than this year's, which is saying something. The alcohol is a little more present and the peppermint is a tad more subdued--only a touch of a cold aroma is here to indicate the candy's presence. The powdered sugar aspect has disappeared completely. It smells like a good, slightly minty, stout. Háma is less of a fan of this aged bottle; he only had two whiffs to spare it.

That mellowness permeates the stout's flavor. It's as if all the individual qualities comprising it coalesced into something special. There's a strange butteriness here (which is nothing like a buttery merlot, mind you) into which all the flavor's culminated. It's a thing that most aged beers have but it's more pronounced here because of the direct comparison to this year's offering. Other than that, I do get the chocolate, the peppermint (more so here than in the nose), and the toffee. None of the powdered sugar survived, I'm sorry to report.

The mouthfeel is virtually identical to this year's. Were I pushed to say something, I'd say 2017 has a little more oomph. It's a little more viscous, a little more stouty.

I'll be finishing this post with 2017, but let's circle back to 2018 for a moment: Having warmed for a time (nearly 40 minutes; I've been taking my time writing this), the bouquet shows just a hair more peppermint. It comes through in spades in the finish of my return swig, however, but it's still not overpowering. It's super cool--I'm always a fan of when beers need to warm for a bit before reaching their full potential.

I'm listening to Harry Connick, Jr.'s When My Heart Finds Christmas album while writing this post. This is the Christmas album I grew up on, and it is my all-time favorite Christmas album. Anytime I hear a Christmas song from the album that's done by another artist, I always compare it to what When My Heart Finds Christmas offers and the version by another artist usually pales. This album is just that good.

I remember the moment I realized that this was my number one Christmas album. We were driving up to visit family in Michigan for the holidays. My parents had the CD in the car's stereo. I fell asleep to it and woke a short while later, watching the snow come down outside of the window while "(It Must Have Been Ol') Santa Claus" came softly through the speakers (my parents had realized that my brother and I had dozed off in the back seat and turned the music down for us). The music, the snow, the drive with my family, it all immediately added up to Christmas. When My Heart Finds Christmas is the absolutely best soundtrack for a couple of beers like Claus.

Before giving my final verdict on the stout, let me take a moment to revisit last year's. The peppermint in the aroma, similar to 2018's, is barely noticeably enhanced. Unlike this year's, the peppermint in 2017's Claus has become the primary flavor after the stout's warmed for twenty minutes. Still, it is not overpowering, and it enhances the rest of the stout's aged notes.

I went into this post to see what kind of quality Claus presents and the degree to which it holds up after aging for a year. My original thought that, given the stout's pedigree, both these would yield positive resolutions was spot-on, regardless of the fact the brew does not hold any of the spices that comprise what I look for in a Christmas beer. Braxton's Claus, as a fresh stout, gets a solid 8.5/10 from me. Should you manage to hold onto a bottle for a year before breaking into it, you'll find you have what I consider to be a 9.5/10 beer. I have no idea if Braxton has any of this year's gift sets left but, if you're in the greater Cincinnati area, it's worth dropping into their taproom to check.

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