Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Meaning of Christmas (Beer)

For this month's Session, Ted at Barley Vine has selected the theme of Winter Seasonal Beer, and this is my contribution to the cause.

What is Winter? Clearly, the temperature has dropped, and now as I sit here on my couch I can hear the rain falling. The air this morning was foggy and the morning commutes are sloppy at best. This is winter, we all know that. What we can't seem to figure out, however, is what the heck Winter Beer is.

Holiday Sweets
A-B has released their Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale again this year, an horrifically sweet beer made with too much vanilla and too little balance. Should we take our lead from these guys, you might get the impression the Winter Beer is sweet beer, thin and shallow, the 'white elephant' gift of the season of specialty beers. While A-B's has the sweetness and lacks the character, there are several beers out there right now that lean on the sweets, but offer a bit more depth: Brown Shugga by Lagunitas, Winter Solstice by Anderson Valley and even Alaskan's Winter Ale can be considered among this category.

I don't dislike these beers, some of them I quite enjoy. However, when I look outside and as I avoid the malls of the region, these just aren't what I dream of having at the end of the day. So, no, not Winter Beers in my book.

High Hops & Deep Snow
A staple of in my home each and every winter is Sierra Nevada's Celebration, a brilliant beer for certain. With hops bursting through the aroma and taste there is little doubt in anyone's mind that this is a wonderfully crafted American IPA. Among the beers in the aisle this time of year, there are a few who take the high-hopped road, seemingly giving the glass-lined gift to the hop heads of the world. Among the hopped beers of the day: New Belgium's 2 Degrees and Avery's Hog Heaven.

Yeah, I love these kind of beers, but I'm a fairly proud hop head so that shouldn't be a major surprise. That said, there's just nothing about these beers (apart for the pleasure I have each time I open one) that defines the holiday season.

Getting Close To Home
There's something comfortable about a big beer, with its warmth and full body you can easily find yourself longing for this in the cool and dreary nights of winter. It seems that Belgian brewers know a thing or two about brewing comfort, with beers like Scaldis Noel, Affligem Noel and Gulden Drak on the shelves proving their abilities. In fact, beers like these are great gifts this time of year, if you're looking to give the gift of beer. That said, for all the comfort and warmth each bottle offers, the beers just aren't the quintessential Winter Beer in my book.

Christmas in a Bottle
Every year the masterful brewers at Anchor Brewing release their ode to the holidays. Not only is the beer excellent tasting, but every year their beer undergoes a recipe change - making this a surprise every year for those who find the beer. This year's version is among my favorites they've offered, with smells and tastes like... Christmas.

Now, I can't think of a beer that is like Anchor. Sure, there are beers that have spruce, juniper and spice... but nothing like this. This isn't a beer you long for in the heat of summer, not something that goes well with sushi or hot dogs. This is, however, the beer you'd be proud to serve to eager and loved guests, or bring to your friends' holiday parties. The aroma, the taste and comfortable body are the best beer way to say "Merry Christmas".