The Beertender: The Gift of Beer Always Fits
|John Blyberg, Wikimedia Commons|
Again we begin with the St. Louis Brewery. Schlafly Christmas Ale is, like many winter beers, great for a dessert or after-dinner drink. This spicy punch is full of flavors of candied citrus peel, cloves and ginger; it goes great with all those cookies. It's joined this year by a second seasonal to mark the opening of the Culinaria market downtown. Schlafly Holiday Ale is an English-style old ale, a rare brew that gets its name from the long aging process that used to be necessary to create its deep flavors. This version tastes of tart cherry, currants and a vinous, oxidized character reminiscent of a port wine. Schlafly brewer Drew Hueter reportedly brewed this beer initially to celebrate his wedding.
Ridgeway Brewing from Berkshire, England, makes a series of Christmas-themed beers every year with goofy names like Santa's Butt, Reindeer Droppings, Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf and so forth. Not exactly shining stars of the British brewing scene, but they are solid introductions to English beers. My favorite of the lot is Lump of Coal, an English export stout, with great flavor and a surprising drinkability despite its 8% ABV. Just remember: Too much gimmick on the outside often translates to too little character inside. Pick up a few for a laugh if your family's sense of humor tends toward the juvenile.
Delirium Noël may have little pink elephants pulling Santa's sleigh on the label, but it's definitely a grown-up's beer. I would bring this Belgian treat, 10% ABV and packaged in a painted 750mL bottle, to share with the hosts. Redolent of caramelized honey and dark fruits, with that unmistakable Belgian yeast fruitiness, Noël is boozy and rich without being cloying. Slow down and enjoy this one.
Sierra Nevada Brewing is often credited with defining American craft brewers' approach to hops -- that is, more is better. The hophead's holiday beer, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is a rich, robust IPA, crisp and citrusy, with just a whiff of pine needles in the nose and a dry finish. An American classic from California.
Back to England for my final suggestion, and it's another classic. Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome has brought more drinkers to the world of craft beer than any other ale, in my personal experience. Much more subdued in its fruity-spicy character and alcohol, it still pacls loads of flavor, and its light, dry body makes it perfect for any time of the meal. Plus, it's packaged in four-packs so you don't have to commit to a whole six-pack if you're feeling hesitant.
Have fun, everybody. Happy holidays.
Matt Thenhaus is a Saint Louis bartender who believes there is a time and place for every beer. He blogs about beer every Wednesday.