From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.
Brewing beers for the winter holidays is a time-honored tradition harkening back to the medieval period, when beers were made with a varying mixture of spices, herbs, and fruits generally referred to as gruit.
These beers were sometimes literally heated, much like a hot cider. A few centuries later, 19th century England gave rise to the barley-wine, often in excess of 10 percent ABV, allowing the substantial alcohol presence to warm you. Thankfully no one heats up their barley-wine as far as I know (I would hope they don’t anyway!).
To be sure, American craft brewers are increasingly rolling out seasonal offerings, and winter holiday beers are certainly no exception. Many of the same warming spices used centuries ago, such as ginger and nutmeg, still find their way into beers today. “Holiday” beers do not adhere to a particular style, but are generally malt-forward beers with modest hopping rates, the occasional inclusions of spices, and a warming alcohol presence.
A Few of My Favorites
- St. Bernardus Christmas Ale – Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 10 percent ABV – Brewed in the classic “Quadrupel” style, this marries characteristic Belgian spice and with dark fruit flavors such as raisin and plum. While it’s substantial enough to quaff on its own, this beer with something like smoked duck breast pushes it into the “revelatory” category.
- Rogue Mogul Madness Ale – Winter Warmer, 6.6 percent ABV – If were to enrobe a citrus hop blast in a subtle interplay of English toffee, milk chocolate and faint coffee, you might end up Rogue’s Mogul Madness. Orange-infused dark chocolate and this beer would be a great way to end a meal.
- Great Lakes Christmas Ale – Winter Warmer, 7.5 percent ABV – This beer pours a rich, brilliant copper; it’s a veritable stunner in the glass. Thankfully, it’s mighty tasty, too. Bready malts underlie the cautious use of fresh ginger, cinnamon and honey, rendering an aroma and flavor highly evocative of the holidays. Great Lakes list pairing ideas for each of their beers on their website; for their Christmas ale, it’s “toasts and cheers.” Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.
This coming Monday, Borderstan mainstay Churchkey will perhaps have the widest swath of holiday beers the District will see all year during its second annual “Holiday Ale Total Tap Takeover & Canned Food Drive.” From 4 until 9 pm, you can stop by and sample a varied collection of holiday elixirs from all 50 draft lines. Most of all, any canned food item or cash donation you bring benefits Martha’s Table and gets you 10 percent off of your bill for the evening. I’ll see you there.