How bittersweet it is, on winter’s night,
To listen, by the sputtering, smoking fire,
As distant memories, through the fog-dimmed light,
Rise, to the muffled chime of churchbell choir.
– Charles Baudelaire, The Cracked Bell
December is about memories, and traditions, and family – at least for me. The American fantasist John Crowley said that every Christmas seems to follow another; that the time between is just a dream, not real. While I’m not sure I’d go that far, I do know that for me the December table is about tradition. In my household, we try to maintain an unbroken chain of practices and traditions that reach back through the years — we light Chanukah lights in honor of one of my best friends and former roommates, a Ukranian Jew; gingerbread is always served Christmas morning, a longtime practice of my wife’s family; and at some point, someone will take a picture of me with a discarded bow on my head. (This is in memory of my late mother, who felt Christmas morning just wasn’t complete without wearing some of the discarded packaging.)
I talked in my October column about the sense of history I get from beer. There may be no better time to explore that than while the days are short and filled with a childlike anticipation; especially since this is a time we tend to be better to others and better to ourselves. Through all the hustle and bustle, let’s take a moment or two to enjoy a good brew – preferably with those we love.
Germany has been the home of many Yuletide traditions, among them the Christmas Tree. Another tradition has been brewing; beer has been produced on the site of Spaten’s brewery in Munich since 1397. Any of their products are excellent, but I think the Spaten Optimator, a traditional Doppel Bock, is a great choice for this time of year – especially if your holiday meal plans include beef, duck, goose, or a ‘darker’ meat. While traditionally Bocks were brewed and consumed for Lent, where often beer was the only source of calories for fasting monks, I find Doppelbocks to be a great match for both winter food and winter weather; their rich body and decent ABV (check out this month’s BVB, below) hold up to almost anything. Your neighborhood Twin Liquors can get Optimator in single 500ml bottles or multi-packs (if you have a lot of relatives coming over).
While the American beer tradition is measured in years rather than centuries, Full Sail Wassail has been brewed since 1988, making it somewhat of a senior statesman among American microbrews. There’s a reason for this; it’s a wonderful, wonderful choice for your winter beer enjoyment. Brewed from four malts and Pacific Northwest hops, its deep mahogany color and delicate balance between bitterness and sweetness makes it a great choice for both hopheads and malt freaks. I have this beer on the shelf at a six-pack for $7.79; if your local Twin doesn’t have it, they would be pleased to get it for you.
Finally, how about something a little different for your holiday tipple? I am a big fan of hard cider, and I love to find a new one that is really worth drinking. That’s why I was so impressed when I tasted $7.79; if your local Twin doesn’t have it, they would be pleased to get it for you.
Finally, how about something a little different for your holiday tipple? I am a big fan of hard cider, and I love to find a new one that is really worth drinking. That’s why I was so impressed when I tasted Blue Mountain’s Dry Creek Cider for the first time this summer, and as soon as I could put it in for sale in my store. Dry Creek is some of the best hard cider I’ve ever had; it is fruity and complex, but still crisp and delicious with just a hint of sparkle to it. Twin carries three of their varieties; we have the regular Dry Creek (finished semi-dry), the Farmstead (which has some more sweetness), and the Cherry (which is sweet, with a wonderful touch of tart cherry). I recommend pairing them with roast pork or turkey on your Christmas table – but I could also see serving the Farmstead with your Christmas Eve tamales or cioppino.
As always, keep your head up, your lace delicate, your malts toasty, and your hops snappy.
THIS MONTH’s BVB (Beer Vocabulary Builder):
ABV (Alcohol By Volume): This one’s so easy, I’m not even going to quote Randy Mosher . ABV is just that; the percentage of alcohol in a given beer. Most range from 4-10%, though there are some variants – and a brewery in Scotland just claimed they set the new record with their release “Tactical Nuclear Penguin”. Tac Nuke checks in at 32% ABV, higher than some cordials.