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Holiday Craft Beer for Beer Dummies
Have you noticed over the past few years that more and more of your holiday guests are turning up their noses to the Budweiser and Heineken you normally offer?
They go on and on in a strange language about something called "Dogfish Head" or some rapper named “Arrogant Bastard". They gather in small groups in corners and whisper, glaring at the Bud drinkers warily.
They are a new breed of craft brew enthusiast called "Beer Geeks", the sudsy equivalent of a wine connoisseur. They would rather drink water than the carbonated urine being poured down the throats of America with a funnel by evil corporate macro breweries.
If you found yourself in the middle of your local liquormart in a state of confusion and decided to consult the internets instead you are in luck. Here is a basic list of some of the styles and examples of beer appropriate for the holidays and the colder seasons in general.
The first few on the list are maybe a little more appropriate for the fall months during Halloween and Thanksgiving but still acceptable and normally available through Christmas, Hanukkah, etc and beyond.
This is one of the few types of beers I haven’t tried yet. Nothing against pumpkin ale, I am sure it is delicious I just haven’t gotten around to it. I assume that most are a brown ale with spices and a strong aroma and flavor of pumpkin. I do know that one of the most popular and best selling brands is Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.
Festbier is the official beer of the German celebration Oktoberfest. It has gained in popularity over the past few years in the states. It is also known as Marzen or simply Octoberfest. Festbier is a light brown lager with a dominent malt profile, which translates to sweetness. It will pair well with a wide range of foods. If you wish to converse with the beer geeks you could say something like,“Did you know that 20% of the Marzen produced in Germany annually is drunk during the two weeks of Oktoberfest?“ Be prepared for a lengthy response. A few of my favorite German Festbiers are Weihenstephaner and Spaten. A few more easily pronouncable American versions are Victory Festbier and the more readily available Sam Adams Octoberfest.
Closely related to the Festbier is the Bock family including Bock, Maibock, Dopplebock and Eisbock. For the season Bock and Dopplebock should suffice. Eisbock would as well but good luck finding one of those. I can’t. A Bock is darker and even sweeter than a festbier. The Dopplebock is a “Double Bock“ and even darker and sweeter. Just for fun the Eisbock is a Dopplebock that is lightly frozen to remove excess water and raise the taste and alcohol content. They do this in America as well with much poorer ingredients. It is called Ice Beer. Don’t serve that at your party or baby mama fights may ensue. Some German Dopplebocks of note are Paulaner Salvator and Spaten Optimator. An Italian Dopplebock of note is Moretti La Rossa. In America we have Yuengling Bock and the readily available Shiner Bock.
Another malty beer style with a minimal hop profile. Will range in color from light brown to deep black. Many brands are brewed with various spices asscociated with the holidays. We happen to have one in the house now. The Four in Hand Winter Brew has a nice malty backbone with some subtle spice notes thrown in for good measure.
They have made it easy for you by brewing, labeling and marketing ales for Christmas sale and consumption. These ales range in style but are usually (but not always) bolder and brewed with various spices associated with the holidays. Some notable brands are Rogues Santa’s Private Reserve, Troegs Mad Elf and the readily available Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.
Belgian Ales are strong, spicy and if it is labeled as trappist it is brewed by monks. There are many styles of belgian ale but a safe bet for the holidays may be the Dubbel. It is dark and spicy yet somewhat fruity. There are some Belgian Christmas ales on the market as well. A few dubbels of note are Chimay Red and Westmalle (the original dubbel). A few christmas ales of note are Corsendonk Christmas Ale and Delerium Noel.
Flavored Porters and Stouts
After dinner you can’t go wrong with a chocolate stout or a vanilla porter. A few notables are Rogues Chocolate Stout, Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, Breckenridge Vanilla Porter and Atwater Block Vanilla Java Porter. I once had a Cottonwood Almond Stout from Carolina Brewing Company in an airport. I think it would make a great holiday beer but I’m fairly sure that it is regional to the Carolinas. If you know otherwise please let me know. Southern Tier Imperial Creme Brulee Stout is the ultimate dessert beer.
Barley wines are normally very strong in flavor and strength. They are certainly not a good choice if you aren’t purchasing a variety of beers. This is best left for after dinner or as a night cap and definitely in moderation. Some notable brands are Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale and Victory Old Horizontal.
And now for the Christmas beer of all Christmas beers.
It will make even the most hardcore beer geek giggle with delight when you serve this one. It is brewed once a year on December 6th, aged for 10 months before bottling for the next Christmas. The Guinness Book of World Records has it listed as the strongest lager in the world. At 14% ABV it surpasses most wines in strength. It is best served with dessert or as a night cap and definitely in moderation.
My advice is to purchase at least two different beers. A more conservative ale or lager for before and during dinner and something a little bolder for after. Holiday beers, craft beers and German and Belgian Ales in general are much stronger than their American macro counterparts.
Always serve and drink responsibly and have a wonderful holiday season. NEVER drink and drive.
- Beer Tasting and Review - 2011 Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop Ale
A fine ale for all holiday occasions.
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