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Taste of Empire
by Willard Brooks
A tour of winter beers
As the days shorten and the flurries are in the air we gravitate to the fireside, our ales and lagers become stronger, and we contemplate the burning Yule embers. These are the halcyon days of Winter Solstice when the Gods calm the winds to give a quiet time to take stock in the year that just passed and to ready ourselves for the year to come. With Winter Solstice, the daylight reaches a minimum and the light begins to return. This quiet slow time with friends and family gathered around a warm fire with a strong brew and some tasty nibbles is the essence of the Christmas spirit no matter your persuasion.
Christmas ales have a rich history and a diverse present with both spicy “Christmas beers” and often boozy “Winter Seasonals” appearing side by side on the shelves. Many expect Christmas brews to include traditional winter warmers like Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome, spiced beers like Anchor Steam’s Christmas Ale, and fresh hop beers like Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. These days though, every point has a counterpoint and Imperial Stout has truly seemed to enter the pantheon of winter brews that are great to imbibe when the mercury heads below zero. There are also bountiful Belgian brews brought out at this time of year—De Dolle, Stille Nacht and Fantôme De Noel come right to mind (though hard to obtain). Other great choices are the stronger Trappist ales, which, though not winter ales per se, have complex malt and yeast profiles that really hit the spot at this time of year—look in particular for Rochefort 10. Also look for Ommegang Adoration for an excellent Belgian style made in NYS.
For this tasting we assembled a panel of tasters and headed down to the brand new Moor Pat beer bar in Williamsville—owned by Buffalo’s well-known publican Mike Shatzel and his business partner Pete Braun. They have really outdone themselves with this space! It’s small with a top notch list of 100 percent craft brews and is a very beautiful interior with rich woods and lighting that really sets the mood. The craft beer bar has been raised in the village of Williamsville—be sure to get there soon.
In the meantime, get out to Premier Gourmet and grab yourself a sixpack and enjoy the spirit of the season with a flavorful winter-proofed craft beer. The brews tasted here are compliments of Premier Gourmet and are all available on their bountiful shelves.
1. Old First Ward & Community Beer Works Collaboration Rosemary Mint Porter—six percent mild rosemary aroma with pleasant rosemary/piney flavor layered with chocolate malts. Highly drinkable—available at Gene McCarthys. Leave this and a few cookies instead of hot coco for Santa.
2. Anchor Steam, Christmas Ale—5.5 percent. This is the fortieth annual Christmas Ale from the Anchor brewers. Quite nice: roasty caramel nose with lots of spice, juniper berry, and spruce tips. Complexity perfect for the holiday table. Deck the halls and drink this beer.
3. Flying Bison, Blizzard Bock—6.1 percent. Very drinkable bock—malt forward with an assertive hoppy after embrace. Pair with figgy pudding. Fa la la la. This is a real stay at home, get a six pack of this, and don’t drive after kind of beer. You will like this.
4. Sierra Nevada, Celebration Ale—6.8 percent. Brewed since 1981, an early example of American style IPA. Citrus and pine aromas with Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops. Made with fresh hops—same recipe every year. No spice. You know it’s Christmas when you see this on the shelves. Classic hoppy craft beer goodness. Get it now or it’s gone.
5. Dark Horse, 4 Elf—8.75 percent. Dark malty goodness on the nose with a wallop of hops at the end with a holiday spice middle and some kick to warm you to the bone. Great beer.
6. Choufe, N’Ice—10 percent. A dark brown Belgian ale brewed with thyme and curacao orange peel. Fruity and lightly hoppy with a kick to warm your winter and a fruity Belgian yeast character to amuse your palate. Excellent.
7. Hamburg Brewing Company, Oatmeal Milk Stout—5.3 percent. Added lactose gives residual sweetness that is balanced out nicely with dark roasted malts and oats. Though hearty this beer is also very drinkable—good all winter long or paired with your Christmas chocolate soufflé.
8. Great Lakes Brewery, Christmas Ale—7.5 percent. Annually brewed beer with honey, fresh ginger and cinnamon. Tastes like a Christmas Cookie—caramel nose, light color, highly drinkable. Good all around spiced Christmas brew.
9. Bells Christmas Ale—5.5 percent. Light color, no head, lightly spiced. Very smooth and drinkable—great après ski beer. Made with all Michigan malts, like a malt forward version of Celebration.
10. Gouden Carolus Noël—10.5 percent. This is filled with dark fruit and licorice goodness with lots of booze to bring you the joy of the season. Pair this with figgy pudding and crème Anglaise before you go out caroling.
11. Sam Smith, Winter Welcome—6.8 percent. Raisin-like fruity nose with good carbonation. Have a winter stroll and then sit down to enjoy this in front of the fireplace. Very drinkable—a classic winter warmer.
12. Southern Tier, Krampus—8.5 percent. Imperial helles lager...a contradictory style name for a beer that tastes more like a double IPA than a helles. Devilishly good—will be up your alley if you enjoy Jack’s Abbey’s beers.
13. Spider Bite, Boris the Spider Imperial Stout—10 percent. Very chocolaty and drinkable Russian Imperial Stout. Highly recommended winter drinking. NYS made.
All of these brews are available for purchase at Premier Gourmet.blog comments powered by Disqus
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