Enhance the holiday spirit with winter seasonal beer

Another noteworthy winter seasonal overflowing with hoppy righteousness is Celebration Ale by long-established California brewery Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. This winter beer combines the signature Cascade kiss found in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with caramel malt’s roasty sweetness, resulting in luscious brown sugary grapefruit fusion. At 6.8% ABV, Celebration is entirely drinkable, making it a perfect candidate for a holiday session beer. But it also cellars wonderfully, allowing beer geeks to run vertical tastings and compare flavor profiles of different vintages.

Old Jubilation by Colorado’s Avery Brewing Company is also highly collectible and cellerable. This 8% winter warmer style ale derives its nutty chocolate spice tone from the types of roasted malt used to brew the beer rather than added ingredients. The higher ABV and sweet malts make Old Jubilation a great dessert beer, pairing especially well with pecan pie, carrot cake, or fruit cake.

Winter seasonal brews from Belgium tend to be slight variations of time-honored perennial recipes, with a slightly different collection of spice adjuncts.

Crafted from roasted malt, hops, a bouquet of spices, and water originating from a natural spring underneath the brewery, St Feuillien Cuvee de Noel is a Belgian Strong Ale packed with dark fruity, bready malt yumminess. After a lengthy fermentation that raises the alcohol content to 9%, the brew rests in cold storage for 6 months and then referments in the bottle to achieve its moderate carbonation.

Brouwerij Corsendonk also brews a winter seasonal with water drawn from under the brewery. The 8.5% ABV strong ale has a dark rust brown hue with a slick, viscous mouthfeel. The brew’s initial dark fruit cinnamon sweetness is followed by a long, dry coriander finish. Great as a table beer for holiday meals; its well-hidden ABV and mild flavors make it a general crowd pleaser.

From Brasserie Dubuisson, Scaldis Noel stands out as an extreme example of the holiday ale. Perhaps one of the deadliest daddy beers every to be brewed, this is the real deal loose juice. The 13% ABV blends into the rich malt spiciness so cleanly that it could easily be mistaken for a brew half its strength. This fierce beast drinks almost like a cognac, slick bodied and medicinally bittersweet, with the creeping warmth of alcohol. Too many imbibed too fast and sentences wreck, shirts fly off, fisticuffs ensue; perfectly normal people become enraptured in seasonal booze frenzy. Scandalous Noel.

English brewery Ridgeway gets its nomenclature from the oldest road in Europe and its brewer from the long-standing but defunct Brakspear Brewery. In addition to a year round bitter and kick ass export stout, Ridgeway produces a line of cleverly named holiday beers – Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Insanely Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf, Santa’s Butt, and Reindeer Droppings. But my personal favorite is the 8% ABV Lump of Coal Holiday Stout. This opaque oily black brew intensifies roasty chocolate up front and finishes with rich espresso smokiness.

But you don’t have to go far to find an excellent winter seasonal beer; scrumptious examples are produced by Tampa’s local breweries. A fusion of traditional English and contemporary American craft brewing, Warmer Winter Winter Warmer by Cigar City Brewing is a 10% ABV old ale brewed by a hophead. In addition to an assortment of light and dark malted barley, the brew also contains chocolate rye and flaked barley to give it more oomph. Although the IBU (international bitterness units) stays at the traditional English level, which tends to be lower than American brews, there’s a slew of different varietals packed into the hops bill -- Centennial, Columbus, Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, and Glacier. Blending American hops into a winter warmer, a style that is conventionally malty as hell, results in a citrusy caramel with a dark chocolate chaser.

Blitzen Ale from Dunedin Brewery is a tasty locally brewed winter warmer that falls somewhere in the 8% range. Crafted with cinnamon, local palmetto honey, and orange zest,the amber hued, medium bodied ale is full of caramel malt and nutty cinnamon goodness. This winter warmer hides its higher ABV extremely well; Hence the tagline Dunedin Brewery has attached to Blitzen Ale, “I got hungover by a reindeer.”

This time of year, short days give way to early darkness, the weather turns cold, and an endless train of familiar Christmas tunes begins blaring out of audio orifices in every public space. The restlessness and exasperation build, but do not despair — adult beverages are nearby to help maintain a festive mood. Winter seasonal brews can take many forms, everything from pie spicy malt bombs to bitter smoky stouts and boozy slick high ABV monster brews. No matter where your style preferences lean, you’re in luck; a slew of great holiday beers are available in the Tampa Bay area, each with a unique personality and holiday cheer-making potential.

When it comes to domestic craft offerings, several brews stand out from the bunch. Heavy Seas Winter Storm by Baltimore’s Clipper City Brewing is a tremendously tasty 7.3% ABV Imperial ESB dry hopped with quintessential American Northwest strains. The biscuity flavor of Pale, Crystal, Carapils and Munich malt provides a calm backdrop for the squall of piney citric bitterness imparted by Magnum, Fuggles, Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops.

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