Monday, 29 November 2010 17:01

Ten Reasons - I mean, Beers - To Drink, During the Holidays

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As the festive holidays arrive, let us not forget one of the most celebrated reasons of family gatherings, to drink. Let us count the ways… mulled wine, spiked eggnog, hot buttered rum….but don’t forget the awesome winter and Christmas ales.  No preparation needed.

‘Tis the season for small production seasonal barrel-aged stouts and winter warmers.  While there exists no precise definition of what constitutes a Christmas beer, St. Nicholas, among his many patronages included brewers.  Yep, the Saint of Suds became a protector over travelers and brewers in the first half of the 4th century.  So, therein lies reason number one to drink during the holidays!

But let’s move on to the malt of the article and that is, WHAT to drink during the holidays.  The ancestral, seasonal tradition of feasting has evolved.   Holiday beers or Winter ales typically contain more than the usual amount of alcohol and are usually available from November to February.  Many have hints of oatmeal and nutmeg, cinnamon and/or ginger.  Unlike the weather outside, these beers should not be served ice cold. Let these beers warm up a minute or two before getting into the craft beer holiday spirit.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. Pouring copper, orange in color - like most of the "cast" of Jerseylicious  - Samuel Smith Winter Welcome (Samuel Smith Brewery, England - about $4 per bottle or $11 for a four-pack of 12-ounce bottles) is a classic British Christmas ale.  Open-top fermenting vats made of slate and its proprietary yeast lend to its balance and rich complexity. Hearty malts really take command in this Winter Warmer, while toffee, dried cherry and cranberry flavors show up for the festivities.  And they’re welcomed, indeed.

2. RogueSanta Rogue Santa's Private Reserve (Rogue Ales, Oregon - about $6 for a 22-ounce bottle or $11.00 for a six-pack) - Rogue's annual holiday offering, this beer is not for lilac scented Nancy boys (or girls).  Santa’s Private Reserve is a double-hopped Red Ale that pairs nicely with pork or beef. Few American beer labels portray Santa because of our Puritan beliefs and label laws (don’t get me started there).  Grabbing the silver medal in the 2010 World Beer Championships and the gold in the 2009 World Beer Championships, this seems to be the perfect combination of hops, spice and malt.  With flavors of nutmeg, cinnamon and orange zest, it’s complex but balanced. This is one beer I would want Santa to leave under my tree….and not just because it’s a picture of himself that he could autograph (it could happen, right?).  If you’re reading this big guy, a six pack is preferred.

3. Okay, so, this next “beer” actually constitutes for six beers.  It’s like celebrating your birthday for a week!  Or, celebrating ….Hanukkah.  Samuel Adams Winter Classics Mix Pack - This is an easy and great way to try some unusual winter beers during the holidays. It can change from year to year, but usually contains Boston Lager, Old Fezziwig Ale, Winter Lager, Holiday Porter, Black Lager and Cranberry Lambic.  Old Fezziwig Ale is a Winter Warmer coming in at 5.9% ABV that just oozes Christmas.  A candied sweetness comes through, as flavors of sweet raisin and caramel are tasted.  Reminiscent of gingerbread, cinnamon lingers with a heavy malt backbone.  As it warms up, it tastes more like a porter spiced with cinnamon, chocolate, ginger and nutmeg, with a touch of orange zest. Taking notes from Sam Adams, try pairing this with carrot cake. The cinnamon and ginger found in both will go together beautifully.  Another noted addition to the pack is the Holiday Porter.  Pours nearly pitch black, it’s deliciously creamy.  In total, four types of malted barley are used in the brewing process including a variety of German malt called Carafa®*.  With the awesome concoction of malts used, this would be a great dessert beer.  With notes of coffee, I can visualize sitting by the fire with a few of these….probably because I have.

4. Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to drink you again.  Deschutes Jubelale is a dark number lending flavors of brown sugar, dark fruit and piney resinous character.  Chocolate, cinnamon and molasses notes explode in this strong ale’s festive winter ale.  Another reason to pick this up during the holidays?  You’ll seem cool and artsy.  For the past 16 years, Deschutes Brewery has selected a local Oregon artist to create an image evocative of the season’s festive atmosphere.  This year, Oregon artist Natasha Bacca’s unique “creation of light” adorns the label.  Bacca says, “This piece illustrates a cold winter night in the background with a dynamic warm fire in the foreground. I wanted the composition of the work to exhibit a balance of cool scenery elements with the warm and energetic celebrations of the season, exemplifying this festive time of year.”

5. Smuttynose Winter Ale (New Hampshire), is a Belgian Dubbel, which is typically a rich malty beer with some spicy characteristics.  This winter beer is a sweet beer with notes of cherry, chocolate and brown suger.  It’s a full-bodied, amber beer brewed with a special Trappist ale yeast.  The crystal hops balance the malts.   This beer will take your mind off the blustery cold outside , when you taste the toffee, before the cocoa notes take over. Pair with snapper soup, roasted meats, or maybe an Italian biscotti, yeah, definitely an Italian biscotti.  This winter ale is available in sixpacks and on draft from late October through February.

6. No one does malted, holiday, cult beer, unabashed, deceptively smooth, citrus, schnockered, complex and warming like De Struise Tsjeeses.  Translating to Jesus in Dutch and coming in at 10% ABV, this Belgium Strong Pale Ale is sure as hell a strong ale!  Boozy esters, Christmas spices like clove, anise and ginger dance in the mouth like ballet dancers with flat feet, ya’ know, beautifully awkward.  As Jesus would say, this one is for savoring.   

7. Mad-elf-webpage-pic Want to make your mother-in-law more tolerable?  Just share a bottle of this 11% Belgian Strong Dark Ale of Troegs Mad Elf and toast to cherries, honey, and chocolate malts.  She’ll forget any reason to harp on you and you won’t care! The high abv is hidden well with the fruit flavors and just enough spice, so respect the Elf.  Pair with bacon quiche or molten chocolate cake, but not together, that would be weird. This Pennsylvania ale is available from mid October through December.  

8. Embrace your inner mountain man or woman with Odell Brewing Isolation Ale from Colorado.  Highly acclaimed by beer experts, this is a perfect cold-weather beer.  Isolation Ale is a traditional winter brew made with premium malts imported from England.  Cookie like and caramel malt aroma indicate a rich holiday beer.  A sturdy hoppiness, esters full of plum, citrus flavors, great drinkability, toasted grain and hints of clove verify it’s a world class holiday beer.

9. I’m saving one of the best, for almost last.  Anderson Valley Winter Solstice from California, is a spiced winter warmer with warming vanilla notes.  Layered caramel, dark fruit and toffee blend beautifully with vanilla and cinnamon.   It’s not too filling, but creamy enough to feel like it’s a treat.  Pair it with something else slightly creamy, like pumpkin pie.

10. Sierra Nevada Celebration is like a little celebration in a bottle.  This American IPA smells delicious.  If they sold this as an air freshener, I would totally buy it. Fresh juicy hops make more than an appearance, while grapefruit , notes of apple cider and resin balance with tempered sweetness.  With this beer, I think I can safely say, whooooo hooooooo!!!

As Charles Schulz would say, Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.  There are countless ways to get into the holiday spirit, but start by doing a little something extra for yourself and enjoy some of these great seasonal beers.

Merry drinking!

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