Wine and the bubbly get a lot of attention and love during the holiday season, but beer geeks know this time of year also brings lots of great craft brews out of the woodwork. In addition to a bevy of "winter only" offerings and special releases, 'tis the season to explore darker and heavier brews. A personal favorite would be Bell's Brewing's excellent Expedition Stout, though for purely selfish reasons, I hesitate to encourage South Florida shoppers to clear it out of local stores. (Note to self: Stock up on that during lunch.)
To help narrow the field and give you some guidance in planning your holiday shopping lists, Clean Plate Charlie reached out to local beer guru, John Linn, of Brown Distributing Co. for his take on great winter beers that are locally available. Find his suggestions, after the jump.
Holy Mackerel Mack in Black: "Every winter, Holy Mack does this Imperial Black ale, I think this year's version is better than ever. Think of a stout brewed with Belgian yeast so it's a bit lighter but heavily carbonated," Linn said. "There's a nice sweetness on the front followed by some dark fruit from the caramel malts and an addition of pomegranate juice. The finish is full of chocolate, coffee, and a long, dry roastiness. Comes in four packs for a very reasonable $7.99."
Cigar City Brewing Warmer Winter Winter Warmer: "All but gone at this point as it was released a month or so ago," Linn said. "If you can find it, you'll be treated to a strong old ale, which is high alcohol, very caramelized, and rich with toffee notes and a defined hop flavor for added fruitiness. It's moderately sweet and sticky and the alcohol (11%) is easily hidden within the beer. Nice." (Clean Plate Charlie's note: Got a bottle of this chilling in the fridge for Christmas Eve. Stoked.)
Due South Cafe Ole Espresso Porter: "For a more Florida-style winter seasonal, Due South's Cafe Ole features lots of coffee and roast in your face with a slightly thinner body and sessionable ABV," Linn said. (Clean Plate Charlie's note: This is a great local beer. Super drinkable and tasty.)
Out-of-State Craft Options
Dogfish Head Birra Etrusca Bronze: "Dogfish's latest in its ancient ales series," Linn said. "It's essentially a strong ale made with heirloom Italian wheat and flavored with hazelnut flower, honey, pomegranate, and myrrh. To me it sort of tastes like an imperial Belgian wit with dominant notes of red fruit and honey."
Magic Hat Heart of Darkness: "Magic Hat hasn't made this beer since 2002, but I'm glad they went back to it in place of Howl (their old winter seasonal)," Linn said. "For only 5.7%, it's very thick, rich, and smooth, owing to a generous helping of oatmeal in the grist. The creamy smoothness is finished by a very pronounced cocoa and roast flavor. I was very impressed, and you can't beat the price, usually $7.99 a six pack."
Ayinger Celebrator: "Ayinger makes their doppelbock for the winter time, and it's probably the best doppelbock available," Linn said. "Deep and rich (especially by doppelbock standards), but with a cleanness that isn't found in a stout. An unbelievable malt flavor dominates the beer, and the flavor is so authentic to the barley it's like you can taste every individual grain. That's German brewing prowess right there."
Penn Nut Roll Ale: "A brown ale themed after the popular northeastern dessert," Linn said. "Cakey, bready, and sweet flavors with prominent spice and a nutty, hazelnut, vanilla flavor that lingers into a dry finish. Tasty."
Penn St. Nikolaus Bock: "Penn also makes a delicious winter Bock, more brown than black, with more of an amber/caramel/fruit thing going on," Linn said. "Complex and refined beer in the typical doppelbock style. The reserve version can be found at Total Wine and is definitely the way to go."
What winter brews will you be serving at your holiday party or putting under the tree this season? Leave your suggestions in the comments. Cheers!
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