It’s been a while since I’ve done a commercial beer review, and this one is a little something different. Normally when I review a beer it is because I wanted to try it, went out and purchased it, and decided on a whim it was worth writing about. In this case I was contacted by the fine folks at Traveler’s and asked if I wanted free beer, an offer I would only say “no” to if it came from Heineken.
That said, when I wrote my Pumpkin Beer Ranking for Deadspin, I was pleasantly surprised with Traveler’s Jack-O Shandy. I’m not normally a shandy drinker – being that I am burdened with so much testosterone and machismo – but the Jack-O, and before it Narragansett’s Del’s Shandy, have flipped my opinion on the style.
This is all to say: Jolly Traveler was given to me by the company to review, I’m reviewing it with an improved eye towards the style, and since I make no money off this blog, I’m still just a poor dork like the rest of you. Now avert your gaze as I pour this beer into my crystal goblet…
Malt Varieties: 2-row malted barley, malted wheat
Hop Varieties: Hallertau-Hallertau
Special Ingredients: Holiday Spice, Orange and Pomegranate
Driven by a desire to embrace all things wintry, the Jolly Traveler warms the spirit during the months when it’s needed most. Embracing the flavors of the season, Jolly is the first-ever winter shandy with notes of orange, pomegranate and spice.
We proudly introduce the Jolly Traveler, a cool fellow with a WINTRY disposition.
A surprising clear brew given the added spice, orange, and pomegranate, Jolly Traveler is a looker with a burnt orange/copper color and a thin white head of tiny bubbles. There is a little haze, but not much and the head persists, with fine lacing, despite being diminutive.
Jolly Traveler smells amazing. I’m reminded of mulled cider (one of my favorite non-alcoholic beverages. Try it with rum), but fruitier. Orange is the most dominating smell, mostly due to familiarity but there’s hints of the pomegranate that give Jolly an almost tropical vibe. I don’t pick up on too much of the spice, though I’m guessing cinnamon and nutmeg with maybe clove and ginger. And of course, there’s hints of lemon as well. The beer smells sweet, but that’s to be expected with the style I’d think.
Jolly Traveler reminds me of fruit snacks, the ones shaped like sharks. This beer is sweet, like candy, but isn’t cloying. In fact, it’s actually quite pleasant. Fruit is the defining characteristic, unsurprisingly, but it is a dark fruit flavor – most likely from the pomegranate – that takes the lead. There’s nice hints of citrus that balance out the pomegranate’s slight tartness, but I think the combination is too strong to allow any of the spices through; though I do catch a hint of cinnamon on the finish.
Jolly is crisp with bubbly carbonation that is light, but about right. I might like a tad more effervescence but just typing that makes me feel ashamed. The body is light-to-medium, tending more towards light,1 and finishes dry and crisp like you’d expect from a lager (this is an ale). The overall flavor is almost syrupy without any of the cloying, syrupy texture. A neat trick at the least.
I’m going to knock Jolly Traveler for the same reason I knock most shandies: it doesn’t taste like beer. Of course that’s a subjective and ill-defined critique; after all what does “beer” taste like? ‘Craft Beer People’ – who I’m not a fan of – tend to like XXXTREME beers: the hoppiest IPAs, the heaviest stouts, the sourest sours, et cetera. I made the joke in the opening that I had too much testosterone to enjoy a shandy; sadly, for a lot of Craft Beer People that’s not a joke. Those assholes need to lighten up, because Jolly Traveler is delicious. I wouldn’t drink it in the shower after a hockey game, I wouldn’t drink it when I wanted an DIPA or a stout, but I would drink it at a holiday party (despite there being little about the flavor profile that says “holidays” to me, but I digress) as a nice reprieve from those stouts or winter warmers.
I wouldn’t recommend this beer to beer snobs whose blind devotion to ‘The Movement’ has them yammering about “whales” and “sell-outs”, but that’s because I tend to ignore those turds and their fedoras. More importantly, if you don’t like sweet drinks this probably isn’t for you. Jolly feels/tastes more like juice than a typical ale. It would not be my standard fare, nor probably something I’d have more than two of in a given drinking session.
I would recommend Jolly Traveler to anyone who appreciates something sweet, but without the heft of a stout or porter. If you’re into witbiers, hefeweizens, Harpoon’s UFO beers and that ilk, you should check out Jolly. This is fruity, juicy sweetness and not the vicious chocolate you’d usually expect from a sweet beer. I wouldn’t recommend trying to kill a six-pack by yourself; the ABV is low enough but that’s too much sweetness for one sitting.
Kudos to the Traveler’s folks; I’m pleasantly surprised again.