You know what the arrival of the holiday season means, right? No, not gifts or decorations or quiet reflection. It means seasonal beer!
You'll find plenty of namesake beers out there like Port Brewing's Santa's Little Helper, Troegs' Mad Elf Holiday Ale, SweetWater Brewing's Festive Ale, Rogue's Santa's Private Reserve Ale, Ridgeway Brewing's Reindeer's Revolt and aptly named brews like Pickled Santa and Delirium Noel.
One of the most popular seasonal brews is Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale. It was first brewed in 1975, and is made with a recipe that changes each year. If you've got a beer-drinker on your gift-giving list, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better choice than the 1.5 liter magnum bottle.
Before Great Lakes Brewing Company entered the North Carolina market, I had to rely on my sister, who lives in the brewery's home of Cleveland, to supply me with their Christmas beer: a spiced ale featuring cinnamon, honey and ginger. One year it was so in demand she had a 12-pack stolen from her shopping cart. Neither of us worries about that now thanks to their expansion. If spice isn't your style, both Bell's Brewing and Samuel Smith's eschew that approach for malt-forward brews such as Bell's Scottish style Christmas Ale and Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome.
Here in North Carolina craft brewers are delivering some delicious seasonal drinks. Fuquay-Varina's Aviator Brewing Company's Frostnipper is their entry into the spiced winter ale style, while Highland Brewing over in Asheville just released its winter warmer ale Cold Mountain.
Hillsborough's Mystery Brewing chocolate breakfast stout Six Impossible Things, Charlotte's Birdsong Brewing Co.'s winter seasonal is Mexicali Stout, which features the four Cs (coffee, chocolate, cinnamon and chili) and Triangle Brewing's simply named Winter Stout are all good choices this holiday season.
Durham's Fullsteam Brewery releases First Frost this time of year in 22-ounce bottles. The ale is part of the brewery's Forager series and is made with indigenous persimmons, which gives it a flavor profile akin to dried fruit (think date, mango or apricot). This year marks the debut of a brandy barrel-aged version. Over in Kinston, Mother Earth Brewing offers up Silent Night, a coffee-and-molasses-kissed, bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout available caged and corked in a 750ml bottle. Charlotte's NoDa Brewing released Monstro, 22 ounces of an imperial stout aged in Pappy Van Winkle Reserve bourbon barrels. These all would be welcomed under any beer fan's tree.
Of course, nothing warms the heart of a beer geek more than receiving a bottle of a beer that you don't have already. My wish list includes Alaskan Brewing Company's Smoked Porter—the smoked porter by which all smoked porters are judged. Also on the list from Alaska is Midnight Sun Brewing Company's CoHoHo Imperial IPA, brewed with honey, brown sugar and juniper berries. From warmer climates CoCoNut Porter from Hawaii's Maui Brewing or some Pliny the Elder, a double IPA from Northern California's Russian River Brewing, are appealing.
But because nothing says winter to me more than a bourbon barrel-aged beer, Santa, please bring me some bottles of Firestone Walker Brewing's Parabola (barrel-aged imperial stout), Lost Abbey's Older Viscosity (stout aged for 12 months in new bourbon barrels). I'd also gladly accept from Founders Brewing Co. their Canadian Breakfast Stout (brewed with coffee and chocolate and aged in maple syrup bourbon barrels), Kentucky Breakfast Stout (aged in oak bourbon barrels) or Backwoods Bastard (a Wee Heavy aged in oak bourbon barrels). Shoot, toss in Three Floyd's Brewing Co.'s Dark Lord Imperial Stout for good measure. Just leave them by the hearth. I'll take care of the rest.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Holiday cheers and beers."