After some delay I was finally able to track down a bottle of the 2012 Great Lakes Christmas Ale at a local bottle shop in Philly. Unfortunetly Great Lakes, along with many other fine Midwestern craft brewers do not distribute to New Jersey, but thats a topic for another post.
For this set of tasting notes I will be comparing the Great Lakes Christmas Ale Clone (clone) to the original Great Lakes Christmas Ale (GLCA) and highlighting the biggest perceived differences between the two. After tasting the first sips of the original in close to a year I quickly remembered why this has become one of my favorite Christmas beers and I decided to brew a 10 gallon clone batch in the first place.
Tasting Notes Comparison:
Appearance: GLCA pours a dark orange, copper with a swiftly dissipating white head. Clone pours a deeper shade of orange, bordering on brown with a much thicker head that dissipates just as quickly.
Biggest difference: GLCA pours much lighter and has a subtle head that lasts well after the initial pour while the clone appears at least two shades darker and the head is non existant after a few minutes.
Smell: GLCA: swift pungent aroma of sweet malt and honey dominate. Clone: subdued honey notes mixed with mild caramel and malt undertones.
Biggest difference: Depth of flavors, the GLCA is much more pungent most likely because it is fresher than my clone.
Taste: GLCA: Starts thin with a bready malt notes. Finishes sweet with lasting notes of honey. No hop flavors or bitterness present, mild carb bite. Extremely sweet. Clone: Starts much thicker, strong malt backbone dominates initial sip, English malt notes are evident. Carb bite about the same as the original with restrained honey flavor lingering on the palate after the finish.
Biggest difference: GLCA is much, much, sweeter with a malt profile that is much more defined and bready. When the clone was younger the sweetness was much more defined but I do not think it ever reached the level of the original. I prefer the clone in this regards as the GLCA is so sweet it boarders on being cloying.
Mouthfeel: GLCA: Moderate carbonation, thin mouthfeel extremely sweet finish. Clone: Moderate carbonation, much maltier, much less residual sweetness.
Biggest Difference: Mouthfeel and sweetness
Drinkability & Notes: Both beers are extremely enjoyable and drinkable and they do a great job of masking the 7.5%-8.2% alcohol content. I think the clone recipe is pretty close to the original, the substitutions I made to the original clone recipe are part of the reason some of the differences in my opinion, specifically the addition of the Golden Promise malt. Furthermore the honey and spice flavors of the clone have faded over time and are much less than they were originally at the time of this tasting and comparison. Overall I think the clone is very close to the original, especially if consumed fresh, as I remember the honey and spice being much more pronounced when fresh as they are in the original.
Biggest Difference: GLCA is brewed by a top notch professional brewery, however because of that it also is quite pricey. While the clone recipe has its short comings it still produced a hell of a beer that I have thoroughly enjoyed drinking over the past few weeks. When you take into consideration the fact that you can brew a 10 gallon batch for the price of a case of the original, if you can find it that is, the clone becomes that much more attractive in my mind.