It’s that time of the year again. The Christmas tree is decorated, A Charlie Brown Christmas is playing, cookies are in the oven, and baby…it’s starting to get cold outside. So what style of beer are you grabbing for after a long day of holiday shopping?
For me it is always something Belgian. The sweet and rich malt flavors and the fruit and spice aromas imparted by Belgian yeast are a perfect complement to the holiday season. Plus, many of them have and ABV of 10% or higher which always helps the stress of the holidays just melt away.
So here are some notes I took on a few Belgian and Belgian style beers from a recent tasting that will hopefully help you happily get through the holidays.
Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer Division- while pleasant and fun to sing/drink (especially with your grandmother) these beers are just never going to be holiday classics. I think they may be more appropriate some other time.
Mikkeller Not Just Another Wit- (7%) orange peel, coriander, hops. Dry and light malt backbone, orange honey color with a high ABV for style. Great beer…but I might save this one for Easter.
Toria Tripel- (8.5%) light straw color with light body, lemon and Belgian yeast aroma, very dry and drinkable…but it just does not have the malt backbone required for a holiday beer.
Maredsous Tripel- (10%) another tripel which for me just does not seem to be the Belgian style fit for the holidays due to its soft malt characteristics. Dry, citrusy, with golden color and light body. Alcohol definitely is noticeable and cloying. I only needed a little of this before I wanted to move on.
Leave some for Santa instead of milk Division- these are very good holiday beers and I’m sure Santa would be very grateful after all that milk…plus these should be shared with others anyways.
St. Bernardus Christmas- (10%) now this is what I’m talking about. Dark brown/black with caramel malts, candied sugar making their presence felt and rich fruit and spice aromas floating around. This one will definitely make your Christmas stress float away. A definite Christmas classic.
Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw - (11%) This is a big beer and I’d just give Santa a little pour. Dark, alcoholic, and sweet with candi sugar and caramel. Opaque Dark Brown with dark fruits and spice wafting around. Smooth and silky mouthfeel. Definitely very good…but I could not drink a lot of it.
Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper- (10.9%) Yes please…I’ll have another. Sharing many of the characteristics of the St. Bernardus and Golden Carolus…but with big chocolate roast and stout like characteristics to boot. Pours black and is very smooth and silky. A great holiday sipper.
Got me singing Fa la la la la along with Justin Bieber Division- these beers are amazing and established Belgian and holiday classics. If you have never had them, find them and put them in your family’s stockings. This is what people are talking about when speaking of great Belgian beer. They get me excited enough to sing loudly and spread holiday cheer.
St. Bernardus Abt 12- (10%) Dark brown with creamy head. Rich and malty with the aromas of the classic Belgian yeast and smooth mouthfeel. Go ahead and just get some.
Rochefort 10- (11.2%) For me this is the beer I want to drink on Christmas. It has everything I could possibly want from a holiday beer. Great dark brown color with red hues. Dark fruit aroma and flavor, goes down easy with just a slight alcoholic taste and a sublime mouthfeel.
The Abner is an Imperial IPA from Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vermont. Named after the brewer Shaun Hill’s great grandfather the Abner is described by the brewery as dutifully crafted from American malted barley, a plethora of American hops, our ale yeast and water from Abner’s well. It is unfiltered, naturally carbonated, and double dry hopped…aromatic and flowery, and bursting with notes of citrus and pine.
Ingredients: Pale and Caramel Malt; Dextrose; Chinook, Citra, Columbus, Simcoe, and Warrior hops; Ale Yeast, and our Well Water.
170 Theoretical IBUs
I was lucky enough to pick up a small growler of this at Hill Farmstead’s Harvest Festival Event.
Appearance- poured into a hill farmstead wine glass from 750 filled at the brewery’s harvest festival. Pours a cloudy tea color- amber yellow orange- can see bubbles floating to the top of the glass- small head leaves nice lacing
Smell- tropical fruits, pineapple, juicy…fantastic aromas pouring out of this
Taste- lot like the smell…bitter on the end…hits the lips full of tropical and citrus notes…pine…ends a bitter dry
Mouthfeel- crisp and dry nice light body…
Drinkability- all night long…i can’t imagine ever getting tired of this…if only it was not for the 8% ABV
Overall- A+. this is a world class imperial IPA. One of my favorite offerings from Hill Farmstead and that is really saying something. I can’t wait till i get a chance to have another glass.
The picture above is my SMASH(Single Malt and Single Hop) Amarillo IPA happily fermenting away. Over the last few months I have gotten the brewing bug and started to brew up some beers. I’ve moved all my brewing outside by buying a turkey fryer and propane…which has definitely made brewing and clean up a lot more easy/enjoyable.
The Amarillo IPA is my first time brewing a SMASH beer. The theory is using only one malt (in my case 2 row) and 1 hop really allows you to develop a taste profile for those specific ingredients, which hopefully will help improve your overall brewing and recipes.
I brewed this one last Sunday using the following recipe and the BIAB (Brew in a Bag) mashing method:
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 12
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes
12 lbs. Pale Malt (2 Row) US
1 oz FWH
1 oz at 60
1 oz at 15
1 oz at 5
1 oz at flameout
4 oz dryhop
1.0 Tab Whirlfloc at 15 Min(for clarity)
60 min at 152°F
Here are some photos from brew day.
Cold Break and the Wort Chiller
Aerating the wort before pitching the yeast
The Full Nelson is Blue Mountain Brewery’s “flagship” beer. Made with an abundance of cascade hops grown at the brewery’s location in Nelson County, Virginia…the beer certainly lives up to its label- a homegrown Virginia Pale Ale.
Color- pours a reddish copper with a delicate off white finger of head with bubbles of many different sizes…
Aroma- has a sturdy bready malt character with traces of caramel malts that is well balanced with mild touches of citrus and herb from the cascade hops…inviting yet subdued.
Taste- malty caramel on the front end…with a bitter finish with essence of herbs and citrus…
Mouthfeel- dry crisp refreshing…perfect for the style
Drinkability- very easy to drink…good session beer. 15 plato 60 IBU 5.9%
Overall- B. this is one to throw in the fridge for every day drinking and as an East Coast substitute for Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. Good for those just starting out with the hops…or for those moments when your craving a solid beer that does not break the bank…and it’s available in cans too.
The Brewer’s Choice Event at City Winery is the defining moment of NYC Craft Beer Week. It is a veritable who’s who of the NY craft beer community and a chance to rub elbows with some of the region’s best brewers, publicans, bartenders, and food purveyors while sampling a fantastic variety of craft beer and food. Here is a quick list of all the breweries represented:
Allagash , Barrier , Blue Point, Brooklyn, Captain Lawrence, Cross Roads, Dieu du Ciel, Empire, Goose Island, Greenport Harbor, Kelso, Maine Beer, Ommegang, Schmaltz, Sierra Nevada, Sixpoint, Smuttynose, Southampton, Two Brothers, Wandering Star, and White Birch.
And some of the food available:
Orwashers Bakery-handmade bread, Bierkraft-porchetta w/Gentleman’s relish on crostini, Cabot- selection of cheddars, Mile End-smoked brisket, Jimmy’s No. 43-specialty sides and port tacos, Ricks Picks- phat beets, smokra, classic sours and the people’s pickle, Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse- raw milk cheeses and wood fired breads, Piggery + Mother in Laws Kimchi-roasted whole ham leg with kimchi, Nita Nita, Betty Brooklyn-duck confit rillette, Murray’s Cheese, The Crooked Knife-Pulled Pork Sliders, Sigmund Pretzels, School House Kitchen, East Village Meat Market, Nordic Breads, Coach Farm Cheese, Aeros Oysters, and My Friends Mustard.
Basically it’s a free for all, once you get your tasting glass your free to sample all the different food and beer in any way you choose, talk to the brewers, and just enjoy the excellent space at City Winery. At different points throughout the night I had the chance to talk to Rob Tod from Allagash about his Coolship beers and dining options in Portland, Maine, listen to Garrett Oliver as he discussed the White Birch Wild Oak Aged Imperial Stout with their brewer, and generally just talk beer with a ton of interesting people.
A few of my favorite food/beer pairings:
I found myself continuously filling up my glass with the White Birch Wild Oak Aged Imperial Stout and going to the Aeros oyster table and putting down 2 or 3 at a time.
The Brooklyn Sorachi Ace 2009 was excellent with the Coach Farm Fresh and Aged Goat Cheese.
The Piggery + Mother in Laws Kimchi roasted ham was fantastic with the Captain Lawrence St. Vincents Dubbel
The Sigmund Pretzels and whatever beer I had in hand at the time
My favorite beers:
The Cherry Saison from Kelso
The Berkshire Hills Saison from Wandering Star
The Plum Shiso Sour Wheat from Dieu du Ciel
The Imperial Stout from White Birch
Brooklyn 2009 Sorachi Ace
Maine Beer Peepers Ale
At the end of the evening Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery gave the keynote speech and summed up the spirit of the event quite nicely by saying to paraphrase “100 years ago NYC had the most interesting beer and food culture in the world. People brought their beer culture from all over the world and settled in NYC. At one time there were over 4,000 breweries, some making nothing but weiss beer, others making nothing but porters. Today we are here to reclaim and remember that beer culture and take it back. There are now 1800 breweries in the United States, we are about halfway there.”