Mmm … beer: Brews to put you in the holiday spirit

Cinnamon spice and everything nice … that’s what my beer is made of. Now is when seasonal beers hit the shelves and brew aficionados get goosebumps from the options. Pumpkin, allspice, chocolate and all things holiday spruce up ales and lagers to accent our numerous food options this time of year.

Most seasonal beers, called “holiday,” “winter” or something similar, are available for only a short time, usually from mid-November through February. They afford brewmasters the opportunity to cook up different recipes and use diverse seasonings.

Our founding fathers used a variety of these additions — like cinnamon — to create the first American beers in Plymouth, shortly after landing the Mayflower. In fact, after learning that the native Indians loved English beer and bartered with it, one of the first buildings the pilgrims constructed was a brewery. It has also been suggested — and this is difficult for a wine geek to swallow — that the first Thanksgiving, celebrated with 91 Indians and the entire pilgrim settlement, featured beer instead of wine at the table.

So perhaps this year we should all embrace our American heritage and drink a few craft-brewed holiday beers at parties, dinners and Festivus celebrations. Hoppy Holidays!

We assembled a panel of Creative Loafing beer tasters to give feedback on this year’s holiday offerings. In addition to these suggestions, other brews to look for are Rogue Brewery Santa’s Private Reserve, Bison Brewing Gingerbread Ale and Lost Coast Brewing Winterbraun.

Recommended Beers

Schmaltz Brewing Hebrew Monumental Jewbelation This holiday beer from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., was the inspiration for this column, since the name is hilarious and terribly politically incorrect (we love it!). Thick and powerful, it’s malty and salty with rich caramel and a bitter hoppy finish. $5/22-oz. bottle. 10 percent alcohol. [NOT AVAILABLE IN N.C.]

Anchor Steam Christmas Ale This is the San Francisco brewery’s 32nd year of making this heavy, warming beer, a recipe that changes every year. This version has cinnamon, maple syrup and a subtle chocolate aftertaste. $10/six-pack. 5.5 percent alcohol.

Shipyard Brewery Pumpkinhead Ale Flavors of cinnamon-y pumpkin pie ignite in your mouth when you try this light, refreshing brew. Unlike many other pumpkin ales, this one had just the right amount of pumpkin-ness. Really. $8/six-pack. 4.5 percent alcohol.

Mendocino Brewing Winter Ale Tastes like roast beef basted with a Starbucks latte. This beer is rich, dense and delicious oatmeal stout with chocolate and roasted barley flavors. A bit of a burnt finish. $8/six-pack. 7 percent alcohol.

Clipper City Brewing Winter Storm Ale This offering from Baltimore has a fruity, tropical nose, but the aroma belies the flavor of almonds and dark roasted coffee. Kind of a chick beer, but guys will assuredly like it. $8.50/six-pack. 7.5 percent alcohol. [NOT AVAILABLE IN FLA.]

Butte Creek Brewing Christmas Cranberry Ale The holiday beer for those trying to avoid anything heavy. It has a lovely flowery aroma. Tart cranberry, earthy cloves and crisp citrus flavors throughout. A fun sipping beer that’s also organic. Might be tough to find in some areas. $4/22-oz. bottle.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale Citrus and allspice make you think you’re drinking a spritzer. Well-balanced and no bitterness. A big hit with us. $9/six-pack. 6.8 percent alcohol.

Sam Adams Winter Lager We could drink a lot of this beer. The lightest and most approachable of all the seasonal beers we tried, with crisp, burnt caramel and roasted chestnuts. No lingering aftertaste. Yum. $8/six-pack. 5.8 percent alcohol.

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale Dark, caramel color, with loads of hoppy flavor and a dash of cedar. It has a weird, bitter aftertaste, but we still liked it. $10/four-pack. 6 percent alcohol.


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