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While we’ve been looking at beer clubs for a while, we’ve long been intrigued by The Rare Beer Club, originally founded by the famed Michael Jackson (the beer writer, not the performer). We talked to the beer lovers who run this club and they’ve agreed to send us over a sample so that we can let you all know how it is. They don’t skimp on these beers and we’re happy to tell you all about them! Read on.

This month, The Rare Beer Club sends us two craft beers perfect for Christmas! Aside from the season, though, these two share almost nothing. One is the product of a crazy gypsy brewer who has been heavily influenced by the often hop-heavy American extreme craft beers, while the other is looking to revive a long-lived but dying tradition in his home country of France.

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Brasserie de Bourganels Bière au Nougat

While France is not known for it's beer, it has a long history of brewing dating back to the 1890s when it had almost 2,400 breweries. By 1945, though, this had fallen to a few dozen. The owner and brewer of this brewery, Christian Bourganel, started the company to provide beers that showcased the local ingredients of Southern France. Brewed with honey and almonds, this is a great first one to try.

Brasserie de Bourganels Biere au Nougat

With a name like Bière au Nougat, I’d expect to see a darker, maltier beer as the name conjures up sweet, caramel centers of candy bars...Conversely, though, this brew pours a crystal clear golden color with a quickly dissipating white head. Actually, now that I think about it, the beer does look a bit like honey, though, which could be sweet and nougat-like.

While it doesn’t look much like what you’d expect from the name, it smells just like what I expected! The aromas of candy, caramel, honey and sweet almond come spilling out as soon as you bring this anywhere near your nose. This is a beer that just smells like winter and the holidays! It seems like something you should drink while caroling or around a fire or something. It’s definitely different and I give them credit for executing something like this so interestingly!

It’s not nearly as sweet as I expected from the smell. The French nougat (made of chestnut honey and almonds) used in brewing gives the initial impression of nutty sweetness right at the beginning but as soon as it’s in your mouth, it’s actually dry and a little thin. It’s lightly carbonated, giving the beer a bit of slickness. In the middle of the tongue, you actually get a bit of clean, crisp malt but that turns right back into nougat as you swallow.

I’m impressed that they were able to incorporate the almond into this brew with it tasting so natural. Well done to Brasserie de Bourganels! This is an interesting, well executed beer. I don’t know that I’d drink a whole bottle myself, as it comes in a 750ml, but it would be a great beer to share with friends in the winter!

Mikkeller Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas IPA (brewed with ginger & pine needles)

Whereas our last brewer was looking to revive a long held tradition, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø (the gypsy brewer and owner of Mikkeller) is looking to take American craft brewing and make it even crazier! He is a Danish brewer who run all around Europe, renting time at several different breweries to produce his innovate beers. By pushing the envelope and continuously making boundary pushing yet delicious beers, he's become a darling of the American and European beer geek culture. And now you get to try some of this rare beer!

Mikkeller Hoppy Lovin' Christmas IPA

So the beauty from Mikkeller pours quite differently from the last beer. Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas is a hazy straw color that I can barely see the Drink Craft Beer logo on my glass through. It has a huge white head that is dense and just stays forever. I was able to get it nearly two fingers above the top of the glass, so it’s got stiffness to is! Be careful pouring this, it foams up a bit and that foam doesn’t go away.

HOPS! Wow! I don’t know that I’ve ever sniffed a beer that smelled so strongly of hops. This is intense. It’s tough to find it, but on top of the hops is a spiciness from the ginger in the beer and a piney from the pine needles. Both of these aromas complement the hops perfectly, this is a spiced Christmas ale that does it right! The spices are well incorporated and they really add to the beer.

WHOA! Just as the smell, so goes the taste in this one. There is so much hops in this beer that it’s crazy. The pine is but an afterthought to the hops, but the ginger spiciness is definitely there. This is an intensely flavored beer with hops riding driving and the other flavors riding shotgun...or maybe in the back seat even. It’s tough to even describe much beyond the hops. That said, it’s not a dank hop flavor, but a bright and crisp hoppiness that makes it easy to keep drinking despite the intensity.

Once you get through the bitterness, though, you find that there’s a great hop flavor in this one as you find orange and pine among a melange of other tastes. Luckily there is just a tad of malt to keep this one from being sheer bitter hop juice, but that’s really the only mention that the malt deserves. For me, this one ends on a note similar to grapefruit: dry, almost tart from the hops and refreshing. It’s great! This is a crazy beer that is really indicative of what the Rare Beer Club delivers; in the U.S. only 20 cases came into country that didn’t go out to RBC members. So enjoy!