December rocks! Whether you are preparing to celebrate Samichlaus Day, Chanukah, Christmas, Dongzhi, Kwanzaa, or Boxing Day, you may get momentarily distracted searching through the rows of tasty craft beers that add color and warmth to your winter holidays. A good bottle shop at this time of year is an absolute necessity … and it doesn’t hurt to have a beer cellar filled with finely aging brews to celebrate the Winter Solstice.
Goose Island in Chicago has gorgeous big bottles, suitable for gift giving or a winter white party. Dressed in elegant black labels, they stand side-by-side: Pepe Nero, Sophie, Matilda, Big John, and Bourbon County Stout. Each one is exclusive, handsome, and exquisite in flavor. Pepe Nero, a dark Belgian Farmhouse Ale, is crafted with roasted chestnuts and black peppercorns. It pours deep mahogany and merges well with dark meats or crème brulee. Sophie is the polar opposite of Pepe Nero - a citrusy, tart Farmhouse Ale with white pepper, orange peel, and a Champagne-like effervescence that plays lightly on the tongue. Matilda is the wild and fruity sister that dances heartily among beer and wine drinkers alike; while Big John and Bourbon County Stout growl with assertiveness.
In Austria, Samichlaus Day is a classic, when the figure of Saint Nicholas is honored throughout Western Europe and the annual Samichlaus Beer is brewed at Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg in Austria. Originally brewed by the Hürlimann Brewery of Zurich Switzerland, this classic lager was once billed as the strongest beer in the world at 14% ABV. Hürlimann’s last “edition” was in 1997, and the world sorely missed this annual celebrated beer. It was as if Santa himself had fallen asleep.
In 2000, Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg reached an agreement with Hürlimann that gave them license to brew the beer at the famous Eggenberg Castle Brewery. Waking Santa out of his slumber, they used the same classic doppelbock recipe, using a double decoction mash (although some say a triple decoction method is used) along with Hürlimann’s ravenously-hungry yeast strain that is a workhorse at converting sugars to alcohol. It is then cold lagered for 10 months before release. Many connoisseurs choose to keep several vintages in their cellars for the Samichlaus celebration that occurs on December 6th.
This beer glows deep mahogany with copper lights flickering on the edges. The head is minimal, but long, viscous legs embellish the glass. Aromas are of caramel, brown sugar and deep fruit; these mingling flavors come alive on the tongue in a rounded symphony that touches on the edge of sherry, with a boozy slam that may not be noticed until you are under the table with the elves.
Tröegs Brewing of Hershey, Pennsylvania, produces Mad Elf, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale at 11% ABV. Dark and fruity, it complements a seared steak or Osso Bucco with its profile of spiced maltiness and brown sugar. Ridgeway Brewing of South Stoke, England waits in the wings with a whole dance crew of elfin beers, including Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Insanely Bad Elf, and Reindeer’s Revolt. Bad Elf, at 6% ABV, revels in herbal earthiness as an English IPA. Criminally Bad Elf, an English Barleywine, paints the throat with warmth at 10.5%. Reindeer’s Revolt starts the English Strong Ale portfolio at 6% alcohol; then Seriously Bad Elf knocks in at 9%, followed by Insanely Bad Elf at 11.2%.
Shelton Brothers portfolio of imports has easily rocketed to the top of my list. Le Trou du Diable of Shawinigen, Quebec crafts La Grivoise de Noël, a Strong Ale at 7.5% ABV. The ruby brown body is resplendent with musty earthiness, candi sugar, quenching fruits, mint and molasses for a truly distinctive blast of flavor. Weissenohe Monk’s Christkindl Dark Lager comes through from Germany with rich maltiness while Bryggeriet Djaevlebryg releases Satan’s Gode Øl from Denmark, a Barleywine sipper for the discerning palate.
Celebrate in Style with Glassware of the Season:
Spode Christmas Tree 13-Ounce Wine Goblets with Gold Rims, Set of 4
Snifters for those Winte Warmers and Digestif Sippers by the Fire:
Riedel Vinum Brandy / Cognac Snifter, Set of 4