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Red, amber, green, or black… Saint Patrick’s Day offers up the perfect (and possibly most united) excuse to have a beer… or three.

Get your Goodness: Washington, D.C., unloads

Here’s to hoping you all had a fantastic celebration, Irish or not, and that you got the chance to imbibe some interesting brews. I, myself, had some hearty corned beef and cabbage at local subterranean pub, Lion’s Den in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the sweet sounds of a local guitarist and a glass of well-poured Guinness rounded out my St. Patty’s Day. I topped it off with a little Irish whiskey for good luck, opting for Powers over Jameson (since I’d never had the former, and survey says… delicious!).

I had the pleasure of catching a bit of Irish prep in Washington, D.C., as loads of Guinness appeared throughout the city. Not that I needed help getting in the spirit, but it sure did add to the anticipation… how did you celebrate?

It may be closed on Christmas, but the Old Forge in Lanesborough, Massachusetts, is definitely in the holiday spirit.

Adding Christmas cheer to their 300+ (and international) bottle list, the Forge has a sampling of the festive line from England’s Ridgeway Brewery.

Don’t be put off by the goofy names (like Reindeer Droppings or… Santa’s Butt), Ridgeway is serious about its beers. When the lauded Brakspear Brewery closed in 2002 (re-opened by Wychwood Brewery since then), master brewer Peter Scholey devoted his talents to opening his own brewery. Scholey, obviously with a wordy sense of humor, started Ridgeway, whose wide-ranging styles with themed names pop up around the holidays, imported to the States by the Shelton Brothers.

The Ridgeway holiday lineup includes:

Bad Elf (a strong, warm, 6% ABV IPA)
Very Bad Elf (a 7.5% ABV well-rounded English bitter… are we noticing a pattern here?)
Seriously Bad Elf (a popular 9% ABV Belgian tripel, banned in Connecticut apparently due to the appearance of Santa on the label… bah humbug!)
Criminally Bad Elf
(a hefty 10.5% ABV Barleywine-style ale)
Insanely Bad Elf (this 12% ABV imperial red is only available in elf-sized 330 ml bottles)
Pickled Santa (a whole-spiced 6% ABV traditional English bitter)

Reindeer Droppings (a 6% ABV English amber balancing it’s sweet with a bit of tartness, what has that Rudolf been eating?)
Reindeer’s Revolt (a low-key 6% ABV English ale for those of you protesting Christmas’s spice)
Warm Welcome Nut Browned Ale (a classic 6% ABV brown warmed up for the season with extra hop and malt character, perhaps a better welcome than the ol’ milk and cookies routine?)
Lump of Coal (you may remember this from my 12 Sips of Christmas post, a dark 8% ABV holiday stout)
Santa’s Butt (a 6% ABV winter porter named for a large brewing barrel (or “butt”), not Santa’s rear)

With whimsical labels illustrated by Massachusetts artist Gary Lippincott gracing the 550-ml bottles, Ridgeway’s offerings make the holidays a bit brighter… or darker, depending on your tastes.

If you’re looking to escape from family frenzy, the Old Forge offers about five of these by the bottle, plus holiday tap selections like Tröegs Mad Elf and Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, in its rustic wood-paneled pub garnished with twinkle lights, hot wings, and gleaming beer-club mugs. (Or, if you want to spread the cheer, check out your local beer store and bring ’em home to your loved ones).

Ho-ho-hop to it.

Special Thanks to: Shelton Brothers, Peter Scholey, and Santa’s little helpers.

In light of the 12 Sips of Christmas… tell me what you think

( I’ve got a few examples for each style, but feel free to share your favorite beer recommendations in these styles)

As part of a cross-blog experiment led by my friend and fellow blogger Sandy, this post is being written in conjunction with several other (largely financial) blogs under the umbrella inspiration of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Beer lists, and specifically holiday lists, have been done before. But here’s my (current) take. I’m stretching beyond beer for this one, but bear with me hopheads, I save the best for last.

First sip: Let’s start with something traditional… Eggnog! I love eggnog and, until last year, never even thought of it as a homemade possibility, but it is and it’s relatively simple… and well worth it (think, spiked). After perusing a few recipe sources I settled on my steadfast (yet underused) Joy of Cooking cookbook. I opted for the cooked version for safety, though they offer an uncooked version for traditionalists (if you’re looking at a circa-1960s JoC like my parents, however, raw is the only option as those were simpler, less salmonella-fearing times). You make a custard using a dozen eggs, heavy cream, milk, sugar and nutmeg… chill it, add your dark liquor of choice (I did brandy), and refrigerate some more. It’s fresh and as nutmeggy and boozy as you want.

Second Sip: Keeping on the traditional note (and leaning towards experimentation) this year I intend to try something new. My favorite Christmas book growing up was A Child’s Christmas in Wales, an intriguing, off kilter prose poem by Dylan Thomas and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
I don’t know what it was about this gritty story I loved so much, but for one it felt like England. Wassail, meaning in good health, is a traditional English warmer made with spiced beer (or wine or cider) and baked apples. DRAFT Magazine offers up a fantastic sounding recipe in their holiday issue using Florida-based Cigar City Brewing‘s Warmer Winter Winter Warmer, a 10% ABV malty Old Ale. (You could also try substituting Founders Black Biscuit or the Southern Tier Old Man Winter for the Cigar City). Stay tuned for my take on this one.

Third Sip: Though not alcoholic, one of my favorite winter warming beverages is (what my family calls) Russian Tea, which is a simple combination of Tang (yes, Tang), spices, and instant tea—all mixed with hot water. It offers an aromatic, tart alternative to the usual mugged beverages.

Fourth Sip: I can’t list winter beverages without Hot Chocolate… my favorites? At home I prefer using Ghirardelli’s unsweetened cocoa powder and a little sugar (add a little zest with cayenne if you’re feeling spicy or a little Kahlua for kick). Our local chocolatier Chocolate Springs in Lenox, Mass., whips up a decadent version that is very well-worth a try.

Fifth Sip: On a recent trip to Germany I was introduced to Glühwien (pronounced glew-vine, and basically translated to “glowing wine” …mmm). Red wine is mulled with spices (and sometimes citrus) to form an aromatic alternative to the traditional red. If you’re fancy (and have connections) you can top it off with a Zucker Hut, a sugar cone (“hat”), which you douse with rum and light on fire allowing it to seep into the mulled wine. This is best done with friends… and a fire extinguisher.

Sixth Sip: This one is a classic, but is a semi-recent discovery of mine. The Hot Toddy is a mixture of brandy, whiskey, or rum with hot water (or tea), lemon, and honey. It is both light and bold, and with a whiskey bite it will warm you up from the inside. Try using the Berkshire Mountain Distillers new Berkshire Bourbon Whiskey.

Seventh Sip: The last of my non-beer recommendations is Single Malt Scotch, something I’ve been exploring recently, usually opting for the bold smokiness of the peatier varieties. For this holiday theme I’m going to recommend the highland origin, double-casked Aberlour because of it’s rosy color and combination use of bourbon and sherry barrel-aging for a fruity aroma and ginger spiciness with a smooth finish (good peaty alternatives would be Laphroaig or Talisker).

Now… who’s ready for some beer?

Eighth Sip: One of the best transitions from fall into winter are cranberries. Not having much in the way of a sweet tooth, I love the tart berries in many forms—relish, muffins, juice, pancakes… they are also one of the few fruits I can tolerate in a beer. Both Harpoon Brewery and Samuel Adams make excellent cranberry beers. Harpoon’s Grateful Harvest Ale balances out a reasonable dose of fruit with full-bodied malt character and slight hop bitterness. (Added bonus: $1 from every six pack sold goes to your local food bank). The Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic naturally adopts a sweeter flavor from its brewing process, but the addition of fresh cranberries and the wheat’s heartiness form a festive balance.

Ninth Sip: For our last monthly beer club meetup we sampled an array of pumpkin and spiced beers that included several winter seasonals. The Southern Tier Old Man Winter and 21st Amendment Fireside Chat were my two favorite spiced ales (which I’ll admit I was wary about to begin with). Both managed to pack that zesty winter flavor into a hefty beer without overpowering with spices. As with many winter seasonals these are a bit higher in alcohol (both about 7% ABV), but neither tasted too boozy, therefore allowing for more tasting all around.

Tenth Sip: The first time I purchased the Ridgeway Brewing Lump of Coal it was largely inspired by my intent to put a jesting “lump of coal” in my dad’s stocking for Christmas. Then we opened it (after the presents… and breakfast) and realized it was more a reward than a punishment. Uber-dark with a chalky bittersweet chocolate flavor and smooth body, it’s now a tradition, stocking or not, for me to procure this English beer (imported by Shelton Brothers of Belchertown, Mass.) for our family’s yuletide.

Eleventh Sip: Winter’s bluster pushes us closer to our woodstoves, Otter Creek captures those wintry sentiments in its Stovepipe Porter. This dark ale has a prominent roasted character and a hearty, slightly herbal bitterness. Smooth and full-bodied it goes well with stews, roasts, chocolate, and fires.

Twelfth Sip: I couldn’t skip my favorite beer style (what is Christmas without the ones we love?) so here’s that hop fix, but kicked up a notch to follow suit with other winter strong beers. The Lagunitas Hop Stoopid is a hefty Imperial IPA with a well-balanced flavor, not too overpowered by syrupy malt, but bursting with hop bitterness (what are the holidays without bitterness? wait…). This one’s available all year, but is a nice winter treat in my opinion.

And those are my 12 Sips of Christmas… they taste best when shared, so eat, drink, and be merry… together.

Hoppy Holidays!

Special thanks to: Sandy for the idea, family and friends for drinking together, and Santa… for the spirit.

Talking Pints

“What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”

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Samples with a sunny disposition at Northampton Brewery

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