The 12 Beers of Christmas
Although we celebrate holidays throughout the year, we reserve the term "holiday season" for that belt-busting period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day when we channel the time and energy normally given to work into the rewarding pursuits of eating and drinking with family and friends. And with Hanukkah just ending, the next milestone on this year’s calendar is Christmas Eve. For beer lovers, this is a prime opportunity to enjoy the dark and hearty ales that traditionally mark this occasion.
As we did last year, we’ve asked several local beer experts this question: If someone were visiting you on Christmas Eve, what beer would you most like to see them bring?
David McLean, Owner of Magnolia Pub & Brewery: The winter holidays bring out an oft-dormant traditionalist in me. And for that reason, I have to go straight to the craft brewing roots of holiday beers: Anchor’s Our Special Ale and Sierra's Celebration Ale. Forget about what to pair with dinner (though both are good candidates) and think about the festive spirit of the occasion. Both of these beers have decades of holiday tradition built into them and their aromas and flavors evoke this time of year. I feel like pulling either or both of these out of a bag would bring a knowing smile to a lot of people's faces — that this is a true holiday celebration.
Sayre Piotrkowski, Beer Director at St. Vincent Tavern: The holidays are the perfect time to pull out something that you have been aging. High-alcohol, darker beers, bottle-conditioned Belgian styles and sour ales of all sorts have the potential to greatly improve with proper cellaring. I had friends over last weekend and opened a 2010 Lagunitas Olde Gnarlywine. Although this beast was intense and bit out of balance when first bottled, after nearly three years of aging, the beer was gorgeous. Gnarlywine's citrus hop aromas had given way to brandied cherries. and the bitter hop flavor had faded with time making room for a complex palate of malt sweetness. Each sip has a subtle warming that’s just right for the winter season.
Zambo, Head Brewer at 21st Amendment Brewery: Ideally, someone would show up with a growler of Ugly Sweater IPA (release date 12/21) from 21st Amendment to cleanse your palate. Then, enough Fireside Chat to pair with Christmas dinner. The Grand Cru from Green Flash would make a great after-dinner finish.
Brian Stechschulte, Executive Director at SF Brewers Guild: The first beer I would want someone to bring is Avec Les Bons Voeux by Brasserie Dupont. I look forward to this seasonal saison every winter and it pairs well with a variety of food. (Jesse Friedman also recommended this one, below.) For holiday desserts, the new release from 21st Amendment Brewery, Marooned on Hog Island Oyster Stout, would be wonderful.
Kim Sturdavant, Brewmaster at Social Kitchen and Brewery: The beer I would most like to see someone bring is Cascade Brewing's Apricot. It's more rustic than most sours and probably my favorite of Cascade’s many awesome beers. I haven't had one in over a year either, so it's about time someone brought me one! I would also like to see Drake's Jolly Rodger. It's a beautiful monster, humongous in all aspects; it's dark, robust, hoppy, high ABV, but well put together. If I could list one honorable mention: Marin's Hoppy Holidaze is a great spiced Christmas ale and it's amazing with food, and even though I'm not the biggest fan of spiced beer. I stick by this one.
Jesse Friedman, Cofounder at Almanac Beer Co.: Each year, Shmaltz Brewing releases an anniversary beer for Hanukkah with one more of everything. For its Jewbelation Sweet 16, the beer has 16 malts, 16 hops and 16% ABV. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but instead it comes together as a dark, complex and surprisingly quaffable brew. It's also the perfect pain reliever for family overload.
Finally, here’s one more from Jesse to make this a baker’s dozen: Almanac will soon be releasing bottles of their new Biere de Chocolat (5.5% ABV), which celebrates the long and lauded history of chocolate production in San Francisco. Jesse described it this way: We partnered with local chocolatier, Dandelion Chocolate, to create a rich brew brimming with cocoa character. Working with the unique flavors of Dandelion’s single-source beans, we created this decadent beer by layering in smoked and roasted malts with citrusy Ivanhoe hops from Clearlake, California. A touch of vanilla rounds out the flavors to create an eminently drinkable treat that is a chocolate lover’s beer through and through—and the perfect sipper for the winter season.