I don’t want to give you the wrong impression of my family, but the holiday season for us is really about lying around the house and having a few good drinks. We wake up in the morning with some irish coffee, have a few beers in the afternoon and usually end the night with some fancy, albeit sometimes regrettable cocktails.
With Thanksgiving out of the way and Christmas approaching fast, its about time to start planning which beers I’m going to bring back home for Christmas to share with the family back in Toronto and here’s five picks below to help you do the same.
The Fridge Beer: Sierra Nevada Celebration
For me, this seasonal fresh hop ale from Sierra Nevada is the first official sign of the holiday season. While many get excited about winter warmers and spiced dark beers this is the only holiday beer that I keep readily stocked in my fridge throughout December. Lets be honest, IPA are anytime beers – both weather and season agnostic – and for this classic Sierra Nevada beer (originally brewed in 1981!), the Chico brewery adds an extra charge of caramel malt giving it a rich malt backbone to help warm those in northern climates and provide this beer with its trademark deep red color.Sierra Nevada sticks with some classic Northwestern hops – using only centennial, chinook and cascade in the brew giving it a classic citrus and pine aroma – but the added freshness of the recently harvested hops definitely makes it stand out. If anyone at the brewery is reading this – a cask of Celebration is at the very top of my christmas list.
This one is a little more traditional for the season, but not at all less impressive. I’ve got to be honest here – I’m a little apprehensive about these flavored stouts that seem to be tied to every season of the calender. Too often they are overspiced and showcase a cloying sweetness – imbalanced and better used for baking holiday treats, but Jesse Houck & Co. at GRB really did wonders with this holiday special edition. Back Home is a wonderfully balanced stout, dialed in to give you just enough Christmas spirit without going totally overboard. Back Home comes in Golden Road’s trademark 4-packs of cans, which makes it the perfect beer to bring to a holiday party and share with friends.
The Holiday Tasting Room Visit: Smog City Chipshot Coffee Porter
More than gingerbread or egg nog, the flavors that scream Christmas-time to me the most are chocolate and orange. Growing up, I came downstairs on Christmas morning every year to find a Terry’s Chocolate Orange in my stocking, so its one of those taste combinations that immediately puts me in the holiday spirit. Smog City managed to take their practically perfect Coffee Porter and twist it into something that brings about that same feeling. With the additions of orange zest, cinnamon and vanilla bean, Chipshot becomes something entirely new and something you cannot possibly pass up. Including it on this list is a bit of a cheat, as its only available on draft at the tasting room and isn’t even available in growlers, but if you find yourself having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit, make sure you swing by the Smog City taproom to grab a glass of liquid holiday cheer.
The Perfect Giftset: Eagle Rock Brewery Stimulus Giftpack
Eagle Rock’s Stimulus has become one of their releases that I look forward to every year. Its a wonderful tight-rope walk of a beverage. A belgian amber with coffee, there’s so many things about this beer that could totally overwhelm, but instead perfectly compliment eachother. The coffee never overpowers the malts, the belgian yeast esters don’t clash with the roasty vanilla flavors, and the relative high ABV (almost 8%!) is hidden in all the beautifully layered flavor and aroma. To be totally honest, I don’t need pine or cinnamon smells in my house during the holiday season – just give me a big breath-full of the incredible coffee aroma from Stimulus. Eagle Rock very cleverly has released a special gift set that includes a tasting glass, a bottle of Stimulus and a 12 oz bag of the Intelligentsia coffee beans that are featured in the brew. Its a pretty fantastic gift for either a beer or coffee lover, and I’m definitely going to pick up a few of them myself.
Christmas-spiced beers can be a bit like Pumpkin beers – overly spiced and totally ubiquitous come the holiday season, but this dark belgian strong ale from Monkish somehow shines through the clutter. Magnificat is everything you want from a holiday beer with beautiful layers of cinnamon, nutmeg, plums and a great roasty malt backbone to carry it all through. Its a big beer at 10.1% but the folks at Monkish are able to keep the booziness down, leaving just enough warming character that’s kind of perfect for the winter seasons. These are available in 750ml bottles so you will likely want to share with the family. Right now at the taproom, you can get tastes of both the current 2014 edition of Magnificat as well as last year’s version for comparison – which will undoubtedly lead you to buy a few bottles to cellar for Christmas’ to come.
This year we get a special bonus with the first release of Bourbon Barrel-Aged Magnificat which shows off Monkish’s incredible attention to detail as the bourbon and barrel qualities are perfectly in balance with the rest of the beer. The earthiness from the wood gives an additional layer of complexity that rounds out those spices, while also boosting the ABV to above 12%.