Earlier in the month when I was traveling in Ohio, I got to drink some of the first Great Lakes Christmas Ale of the season. I've always been intrigued by its popularity. Even though it's a seasonal beer and only sells for two months of the year, it's the second highest selling beer in GLBC's entire portfolio.
For a beer that popular, it must be good, right? I've always thought so; but I recently looked it up on Beer Advocate, and found that the reviews are not nearly as overwhelmingly positive as I might have expected.
(from The Cleveland Kid on Flickr)
The primary complaint appears to be that it's overly spiced. Beer fanatics, it seems, don't like a lot of "stuff" in their beer. I get that. It's much like a coffee fanatic who doesn't want sweeteners, dairy or other flavors distracting from the taste of the drink.
Even so, I do think the seasonal scarcity is what makes a beer like Christmas Ale so good. You really can only drink the stuff in late fall and winter, which is why I've never found the "Christmas in July" events at bars in Cleveland appealing. Christmas Ale is good because you only have it for 2-months out of the year, then you stop. If it were around for any longer I suspect it would probably start to taste not-so-good and its popularity would wane.
In a way, I feel the same way about pumpkin. When September rolls around, like many others, I'm gung-ho about pumpkin - pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies... but by November I'm pretty sick of it. I don't eat any pumpkin for another year, and then the cycle continues.
Some foods and drinks are seasonal because of mother nature. You harvest certain crops at certain times of year. Others are seasonal because it makes more sense to consume them when the temperature outside is a certain way. Christmas Ale falls into the latter category; but in a way it's also artificially seasonal, in the sense that the brewer decides to stop selling it on January 1st, rather than February 1st or March 1st. That's probably a smart move on their part, at least in terms of keeping the mystique and allure alive.