Food & Wine Thursdays: Holiday Ales

I was trying a few Christmas ales at my local upscale dive and couldn’t help but marvel at the popularity of these beers. They’re interesting, sure. Some of them are even quite good. But they’re all absolute chores to drink. Holiday beers are like strong Belgian ales redoubled in intensity by the (over)use of holiday spices. Dense, malty and syrupy, they’re difficult to drink. It’s like drinking a pie. An unsweetened pie.

I know I’ve written about this before, but am I wrong in my belief that beer should be refreshing? Even stronger beers–like hoppy IPAs–or complex beers–like wild-fermented sour ales–have a refreshing balance. I can drink a pint of Arrogant Bastard with a burger or Duchesse de Bourgogne with a croque monsieur and really enjoy it. I tried to come up with something that would be good to eat with the holiday ales I was sampling and came up with nothing. Maybe something for the end of the meal in lieu of coffee? Something to dip a biscotti in?

I’m sure part of this is because I’ve grown up in California where getting bundled up for winter means putting on an extra layer of mustache wax and actually wearing underwear, so the need for something dense and spicy to sip by the fireplace while its 20 below outside has never really presented itself. But I also just like having a nice proper pint of a flavorful well-balanced beer and not feel like I’ve just swallowed a gallon of maple of syrup and need to take a nap.

That being said, the 2011 Anchor Brewing Company Holiday Ale (for a long time one of only a handful of holiday beers available) is quite good and I agree with the assessment that unlike past vintages, it doesn’t need to bottle condition for a year or two to be drinkable. It’s great now.

Other favorite holiday ales out there? What are some good ones that aren’t 10% alcohol behemoths?

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About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
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