“Our beer begins in the dirt,” says John Maier, Brewmaster of Rogue Ales of Newport, Oregon—a poignant statement that encapsulates that which the late Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, informed for over 30 years. Jackson spoke about the terroir: the wind, awash with microscopic sea-salts, blowing across Scottish glaciations; the air, rich with wild flora in the untamed Zenne Valley of Belgium; and even the water, softened from natural mineral springs, forming the foundation of Pilsner Urquell in 1842.
That very terroir affects the rich ingredients that make up Christmas Beer and Winter Warmers. It’s the place where magic begins. Many of those beers have the added components of cacao, ginger, Curacao orange peel, or cinnamon, and terroir has everything to do with how it tastes on our palate. Even the farm that source the grain imprint the flavor with their signature.
As a two-time gold medal winner in the World Beer Championships, Rogue Ales didn’t need to tweak the design for Santa’s Private Reserve. But because John Maier never stops improving, he added a twist to Santa’s Reserve this year, washing the tongue with roasty malt and a spruce finish. “Do you grow your own spruce tips at Rogue Farms, John?”
Maier confirms that spruce tips have nothing to do with the assertive forest in this spicy Red Ale. The subtle flavors of spruce are indeed from the dirt—Rogue Farm’s own FreedomTM hops, which grow in the Willamette and Tygh Valleys, along with Rogue-developed RebelTM hops. The roasted cakey malts have their beginnings in these valleys, too, as proprietary DareTM and RiskTM barley malts. Santa’s Private Reserve is rich and round in the mouth, and glistens like a blood orange in the glass. Its creamy tan froth melts softly on the palate, like the glow-in-the-dark snowflakes that embellish this year’s bottle.
In the brewhouse, cinnamon adds zest to holiday seasonals. This exotic spice gained value among the ancient Phoenicians, brought to civilized nations by spice merchants through secret trade routes, protecting their supply from would-be competitors.
True cinnamon is sourced from Cinnamomum verum, also called Ceylon Cinnamon. Eighty to ninety percent of the world’s cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka, with the balance being sourced from Bangladesh, the Malabar Coast, and Burma. True cinnamon—different from its lesser cousin, cassia—is light in color and breakable. Papery thin, with a fine texture, cinnamon sticks are the result of stripping and drying the inner bark of the tree, the layer just beneath the outer skin.
Boston Beer Company has done a slam-dunk on cinnamon in Winter Lager, blended with the zest of orange peel and ginger. This dark wheat Bock is a lager, fermented cold to maximize the clean, nutty flavors and a bit of earthiness. On the flip side, Sam Adams Old Fezziwig Ale spills forth with fruit-breaded malt, dressed in the same spice bouquet as Winter Lager, but with a larger-than-life spice finish.
Fireside Chat from 21st Amendment skis-in with canned humor, stroking the taste buds with snow drifts of light toffee, drenched in cinnamon, clove, and ginger. Granny Smith tartness adds layers of complexity, while resiny, pine-needle earthiness rushes in for the finish.
We can all agree that holidays love spice, but what would they be without chocolate and caramel? Add a little fruit or age it in wood, and “yule” be settling in for a long winter’s nap. Santa’s little helper seems to have dropped his sack right in the middle of the Philly region.
Lingering in some dark corner of your local pub, you may actually find the real Santa’s Little Helper, an Imperial Stout crafted by Port Brewing at 10% ABV. Darker than a midnight train, it fills the air with aromas of Black Forest Cake, sprinkled in mocha chips. Your mind bends further, as rich chocolate espresso spills onto the tongue, drenched in heat and spice.
Tröegs Mad Elf may be sitting nearby at 11% ABV, its garnet body glowing with iridescence. Enhanced by local Pennsylvania honey and cherries, this luxurious malty blend is fermented with Belgian yeast, creating the impression of chocolate-cherry liqueur on the palate, while warmth slides down the throat with extra spice. But Weyerbacher’s Quad can’t be ignored—elegant and dark, the ultimate haute couture, like a Grace Jones fashion statement. Unpredictable and high in alcohol, you might let it mature, while pouring Blasphemy with its double blast of oak and exotic vanilla bean.
Barleywine rolls out for winter as well, led by Yards Olde Bartholomew, with its round spiced fruitiness. Fegley’s Arctic Alchemy, blended with Old Ale, melts the snow at 12% ABV, while Scaldis No.l, Brasserie Dubuisson’s strong golden version, melts the heart with its caramel-nut, peach-marzipan, and licoricebud distinction. For ultimate elegance, the Scaldis Prestige series can light up the scene, with Prestige de Nuits trumping the deck, aged in old barriques of C.tes de Nuits, and finishing with a wild Lambic nose and sparkling body. Jeremy Cowan and Shmaltz Brewing Company celebrate with Jewbelation 17 Reborn, putting an end to 17 years of contract brewing with this hand-crafted annual from his new brewery in Clifton Park, NY. With 17 malts, 17 hops, and 17% ABV, this multi-layered beauty glows with caramel and brown sugar, chocolate and oaky vanilla, accented with whiskey and a finish of citrus and pine. As part of the Holiday Gift Pack, 17 Reborn sits among seven impressive giants, including the inimitable Rejevenator, Messiah Nut Brown Ale, and Death of a Contract Brewer Black IPA.
Laugh in the face of the snow, sleet and rain. Plan ahead with your own collection of Winter Warmers and melt into holiday pleasure.