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Too Cold Outside? Let’s Warm Things Up!

It’s been a fairly cold winter so far and we’re all trying to keep our heating bills down and our body temperatures up … Somewhat unsuccessfully in my case! (I’m ALWAYS cold) Sometimes having a cold beer to drink is almost too much and just makes me colder than I already am during these winter months. The good thing is, that in the same way some spirits like whisky and bourbon warm you up, there are brews out there that produce warmth in your throat and belly as well.

I also tend to enjoy more comfort foods and spicier dishes as well, and Central New York has no small shortage of excellent restaurants and take-out joints that embody both comfort and spice. Mexican and Spanish dishes tend to be craved this time of year, from warm tacos and melty cheesy quesadillas to rich vibrant Paella and spicy chorizo. Alto & Otro Cinco, The Mission, Azteca Mexican Grill, Ponchito’s Taqueria, Papa Gallo, Cantina Laredo, are just a few popular Syracuse restaurants that offer both in-house dining and take-out, in addition to the readily-accessible chains like Moe’s and Chipotle. The internet is also a treasure-trove for Mexican and Spanish-inspired recipes to make in the comfort of your own home. And for every spicy, comforting dish, there is a beer to enhance it. Or if you’re not a fan of this particular kind of cuisine (oh, the horror!), you can skip the food altogether and still experience the comforting, warming and spicy experience of the brew itself.

Many of you might be thinking, “Oh, I’ll just stick a lime in my Corona and be done with it,” but there’s so much more! And your lime —a citrus fruit— is the perfect place to start. Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY) makes a Session India Pale Ale, called Tangier that offers up bright and poignant tangerine and citrus notes, with light roasted malts, and a refreshing pop of Azacca hops. At 4.6% ABV this is a lighter brew that still has all the flavor of a more potent one. Such a clean and crisp brew creates a lovely juxtaposition to the spice and saltiness of a dish such as fried calamari with a chipotle remoulade, or an Ancho chile chicken entree. If you’re into this brew and wish it was little bolder, you’re in luck, because Southern Tier also brews the 2XTangier, which is a Double IPA made with Mosaic Hops and has an ABV of 8.1%. Other brews that fall into this lovely citrus category are: Tennesee Brew Works’ (Nashville, TN), Walk The Lime (5.4% ABV), a refreshing pale wheat ale with notes of citrus and more exotic fruits like peach, passion fruit and watermelon. Two Roads Brewing Company’s (Stratford, CT), Two Juicy (8.2% ABV), is a smooth New England Double IPA, with juicy grapefruit-y citrus notes and bold, but balanced, mix of Hallertauer, Blanc, Citra, and Mandarina Bavaria hops.

Fish Tacos with a pickled slaw, cilantro and a drizzle of lime crema or smooth, fresh guacamole served with hot, homemade tortilla chips are two of my favorite Mexican comfort foods to savor. Recently, I attended a local brew event and had the opportunity to sample a fantastically unique brew that would complement both dishes exponentially. K2 Brothers Brewing (Rochester, NY), a small and fairly new brewery, owned and operated by (you guessed it) two brothers, showcased their Jalapeño Cream Ale (7.5% ABV) that is brewed with 1 jalapeño for every gallon of beer. While this is delightfully spicy and bursting with the jalapeño pepper flavor, it is not overwhelmingly spicy, but instead creates a heat that sits in your throat and produces a longing for another swig. It was so good and so warming, that I went back for seconds. Another fairly unique brew is Great Lakes Brewing Company’s (Cleveland, OH), Grandes Lagos (5.4% ABV), a wide-ranging palate-pleasing lager brewed with hibiscus flowers that give it a subtle sweetness which would allow it to pair well with many of the smoky and spicy flavors ever-present in Mexican and Spanish dishes.

Now onto the darker brews … of course, you could always have churros or flan or a slice of Tres Leches Cake for dessert, but for the beer lovers out there, we’ll take a hearty brew over a sticky, sweet dessert most any day of the week. Westbrook Brewing Company’s (Mt. Pleasant, SC), Mexican Cake (10.5% ABV), an American Imperial Stout, encompasses everything about what I would envision to be a dessert-in-a-glass. Brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon and Habanero peppers, this is fantastically smooth, spicy, smoky, chocolaty, and pretty much perfection. It’s also perfect for this time of year in that it’s a great brew to drink on a cold snowy February night in the dead of winter to warm up your insides and tantalize your taste buds. (Would also make for a great Valentine’s Day gift!) A few other brews that fall into this mix are: Clown Shoes Brewery’s (Ipswich, MA), Chocolate Sombrero (9% ABV), also an American Imperial Stout, brewed with roasted dark malts, chocolate malts, Ancho chiles, cinnamon, and vanilla, which is less chocolaty and presents with a stronger roasted flavor. Stone Brewing’s (Escondido, CA), Xocoveza (8.1% ABV), an Imperial Milk Stout that is reminiscent of Mexican hot chocolate with forward cinnamon notes. It is brewed with cocoa, coffee, Pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. (P.S. paired with chocolate & peanut butter, the brew is outta this world!) And last, but certainly not least, Due South Brewing Company’s (Boynton Beach, FL), Mexican Standoff (8.5% ABV), is a Porter concocted with dark chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon and chili peppers. The dark chocolate and vanilla notes are tasty and the slow burn of the chili peppers at the end is fantastic.

Us Central New Yorkers need to find some way to beat the cold, ice, and snow this time of year, and what better way than to order or create a dish of smoky sweet pork carnitas, black beans, fresh salsa and Mexican rice along with an accompanying craft brew that pulls everything together into one comforting burrito-snuggie of comfort and warmth!

Kristin Merritt
Just a brief introduction that I’ve joined the Table Hopping crew as your new craft-brew-loving gal who will be bringing you your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope that I can give a few recommendations for your grocery lists, event suggestions and local hotspots for an afternoon out with friends or planning a date, and if not for nothing, perhaps enlighten you with some random knowledge that you can amaze your teammates with at trivia night – or at least give you and your pals a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! I have some mighty large shoes to fill that my friend and fellow Syracuse Women of Craft Beer member (& founder), Gloria Rakowsky, left for me, but I hope that my style (and shenanigans) will keep all y’all coming back for more each month. Cheers!