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Holiday Cheer(s)

Once again, the holiday season is upon us, along with dropping temperatures, frozen precipitation, hearty homecooked meals, and curling up by the fireplace. Our palates tend to change with the winter season with more pies, cookies and cakes being sought after, soups, stews and oven-roasted birds dotting our kitchen menus and comfort foods such as mashed potatoes and gravy, meatloaf, mac and cheese, chili, and lasagna being craved more than ever. Our beer and beverage palates are no different. There’s a reason why people call this time of year “stout season” and it’s because we tend to crave those warming, thicker, deeper and richer aspects of a darker beer; and while not everyone loves a dark Stout or Porter, even those who enjoy the lighter side of things might be finding themselves searching for a brew with a little more flavor this time of year. That being said, there are so many craft beer options to choose from, so I’ve narrowed them down and have chosen a few – listed from lightest to darkest – for every discerning palate to sample during this festive holiday season. Cheers!

Stormy Weather – Empire Brewing Company (Little Valley, NY) – 6.2% ABV, 0 IBU. This lovely winter ale is light and very effervescent. The brew is made with cranberries and orange peel with a hint of winter spice – I found the orange flavors to be slightly more prevalent than the cranberry, but it was very fruity overall, with little to no “spice;” A perfect accompaniment to a roasted turkey dinner, or perhaps a leftover turkey sandwich with allllllll the fixings inside!

Winter Lager – Saranac Brewery (Utica, NY) – 6% ABV, 26 IBU. Here we have a brand-spanking-new winter lager by Saranac that is brewed with wildflower honey and cinnamon that does NOT disappoint! The brew is light, with mildly distinct notes of honey that add a slight sweetness throughout, but especially pronounced on the finish. I personally did not taste any cinnamon at all, but every palate is different. Easy-drinking.

Frosted Sugar Cookie – Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY) – 8.6% ABV, 10 IBU. If you have an insatiable sweet tooth, this brew might just be the cause of your next cavity! While this Strong Ale itself is light, it boasts heavy flavors of vanilla and confectionary sugar, making this beer exceptionally sweet. It is very unique!

Sam Adams Winter Lager – Boston Beer Company (Boston, MA) – 5.6% ABV, 22 IBU. Everyone is apparently doing a re-mix of their winter lagers this year and this one was also a winner! Light and full of toasted-malt notes, the brew is slightly warming in the mouth and throat with a pinch of light spice added to the mix. This year’s brew is created with orange peels, cinnamon and ginger. It’s quite good and super smooth.

Shiner Holiday Cheer – Spoetzl Brewery (Shiner, TX) – 5.4% ABV, 22 IBU. This may be my favorite discovery of the holiday season. I was quite enamored with this beer from the moment the poured aroma hit my olfactory senses to the very last drop in my glass that hit my tastebuds. The aroma is exactly like peach iced tea. The brew itself is so smooth, malty, with subtly distinct peach notes, a slightly toasted sweetness presumably from the pecans, and a drinkable quality that could last all day long. This Dunkelweizen – a Bavarian-style wheat ale – is brewed with Texas-grown peaches and roasted pecans, malted barley and wheat. It’s truly delicious.

2XMAS – Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, NY) – 8% ABV, 40 IBU. If there’s anything that Southern Tier is great at for a larger scale craft brewery, it’s pushing the envelope a bit with their experimenting, and this winter warmer is no exception. An ode to, and inspired by, the Nordic traditional winter Glögg beverage, (that is, basically a heavily spiced red wine served warm), this beer is brewed with figs, orange peels, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger root. It is a Christmas potpourri spice explosion! According to my palate, the brew is strong and slightly bitter with prevalent orange peel and very clove forward.

ABV, 25 IBU. This super satisfying and classic oatmeal stout is dark and super roasty. The smoothness of the brew adds to it’s already high marks. There is not a hint of sweetness in this brew, which would make this extra complimentary to a very sweet dessert such as sugar cookies, Tiramisu, cakes or pies; much in the same way that a cup of black coffee goes well with any of the aforementioned desserts. Forget the milk, perhaps set out a bottle of this with a plate of cookies for Santa this year!

KBS Cinnamon Vanilla Cocoa – Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI) – 12% ABV, 45 IBU. Ready for a mouthful? This is an Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and cocoa nibs aged in oak bourbon barrels…and it tastes as complex as it sounds! Basically, a rollercoaster on your palate, the beer starts out strong and boozy from the bourbon barrels, you’re able to pinpoint all the different flavors labeled as above (and on the bottle) in the middle and it mellows out to distinct dark chocolate notes on the very dry finish. In addition, it’s very warming in the back of the throat, another complexity that we can chalk up to the oak bourbon barreled aging. It is definitely worth the try if you’re a stout lover as Founders NEVER disappoints with their stouts.

Also, I can’t forget about you cider-lovers and those going gluten-free out there!Cranberry Orange – McKenzie’s Hard Cider (West Seneca, NY) – 5% ABV, 0 IBU. Luckily, there are seasonal ciders from local and regional craft cideries that continue to pop up as hard cider’s popularity increases year-to-year. In this medium-sweet beverage, fresh orange flavors form a base while a pop of tart cranberry rounds out this bubbly cider. Just the same as the first beer mentioned, cranberry and orange flavors are a lovely complement to festive eats this holiday season!

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!