Three Cheers for Holiday Beers!!

Originally published in the December 2022 Issue of the Old Town Crier Magazine

It was 1995, a few days before Christmas. I was arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport, visiting my family for Christmas. As usual, my father was there to pick me up. Mom was home making Christmas cookies. A yearly job that none of us would ever dream of interrupting. In my unbiased opinion as her son, the woman truly made the best Christmas cookies in the world

Whenever Dad picked me up, he always liked to stop for a drink on our way home.  It had become a tradition. A little father and son time before arriving home and being swarmed by the family. I, of course, was always game. On this occasion, I did ask that, before we stopped for our yearly Christmas drink, we visit a local wine and beer store that was nearby. Dad replied that he and my brother had already picked up beer and wine for Christmas. The thought of this nestled into my gut like a lump of coal. My father did not drink beer, so he was no connoisseur. And I know what beer my brother would have purchased, Budweiser, the King of Beers. This had to be handled gently. I needed to dethrone the King of Beers with tact and poise.

“Dad, I want to buy good beer.” OK, not very tactful.

“What’s wrong with the beer we bought?” A typical Irish American steelworker father response.

“Nothing. I just thought adding something different might be nice.” There’s the tact.

“Son, I’m not sure we need any fancy beers.” The problem with the conversation so far, we had not even discussed the wine yet. I could picture a bottle of Riunite Lambrusco sitting on the downstairs bar.

“Dad, it’ll just take a minute to stop.”

After a while, he agreed. I bought beers and wines that I thought my family and friends would enjoy. Dad always had a great gathering for Christmas Eve. Friends and family packed our decorated downstairs recreation room. Mom cooked a ham and put it out with a great buffet. My sister always made mulled wine. Every Christmas Eve was a memorable event. My friends and I drank the holiday beer. My brother, and most everyone else, drank Budweiser. It was 1995, the king was not going to be easily dethroned. Everyone enjoyed themselves, that’s what really mattered. I cherish those memories, especially stopping for a drink with Dad.

But now, just like Mom, Dad, and my brother, those Christmas celebrations are gone. They live on in new Christmas traditions that arose from the old ones. My wife and I now have a Christmas Eve party, as does one of my nephews back in my hometown. Life has moved on, but cherished Christmas Eve memories are still being made.

By the way, Dad and I had two drinks during that stop, a rarity. As we walked back to the car, he threw me the car keys. He proclaimed that he didn’t know how to drive drunk. And that he suspected that I did. We were not drunk after two drinks. But Dad was a very cautious man when it came to such matters. We arrived home safe and sound. The welcoming smell of fresh baked Christmas cookies greeted us.

Holiday beers are a tradition dating back to the Vikings. They drank spiced beer to toast their gods during the Jul (Yule) celebrations. According to the article, “Hops for The Holidays: A Brief History of Holiday Beer” on warontherocks.com:

“Beer drinking around Christmas time was so important to Scandinavian culture that even when Christianity became the official religion of Norway, King Haakon I required that all households brew a Jul beer each year. Failure to do so would result in a fine, and after three years of no beer, farm owners could lose their land.”

The holiday beer I brought home was well received. Spiced holiday beers were not plentiful back then. But as the craft beer trend grew, so did America’s love for spiced holiday beers. The Vikings would be proud of us. So, without any further ado, here are my Holiday Beer Recommendations for this year.

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Hardywood was one of Richmond Virginia’s first craft breweries. I am a big fan of their Richmond Lager and Great Return IPA. For the holidays, they have released a Hardywood Gingerbread Stout and Hardywood Gingerbread Porter. The Gingerbread Stout is a milk stout with a notes of milk chocolate, vanilla, honeycomb, cinnamon, and, of course, ginger. The Gingerbread Porter is a similar beer, but with no lactose. It’s an imperial porter with chocolate, roasted malt and hints of ginger and wildflower honey. 

Denizens Brewing Co.

Our friends at Denizens are also putting out two fun beers for the Holidays. Chapless Horseman Bourbon Barrel Aged RIS, a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels for ten months. Deep layers of dark chocolate, roast coffee, and toffee with notes of whiskey and oak. And Call Waiting Bourbon Barrel Aged Wee Heavy, a bourbon barrel-aged Scottish Wee Heavy that is finished with whole coffee beans. 

Port City Brewing Co.

Port City never disappoints. Tidings Ale is a Belgian-style Blonde brewed with local wildflower honey and Virginia grown wheat. It has a gentle spiciness with coriander, cardamon, and fresh ginger.

Aslin Beer Co.

A lot of stouts are being released this holiday season. And Aslin is adding a great one to the mix. Their Hooray Aslin will be released in mid-December. This fun beer will be a rye barrel-aged imperial stout with hints of peanut butter, cocoa nibs, vanilla, toasted coconut, pecans, and marshmallows. I can’t wait.

Anchor Brewing Co.

I can’t write about holiday beers without including Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale. This is the holiday beer I brought home in 1995. What I love about this beer is that they change the recipe every year. And I’m never disappointed. This year’s ale is rye forward with notes of honeysuckle, orange, toasted malts and eucalyptus. It finishes with a touch of spice.

Tim’s Whiskey and Cigar Recommendation

I recently celebrated a birthday. Which birthday it was will remain with me. I want to stay young in your eyes. My friend John Pann, one of the owners of John Crouch Tobacco, presented me with two cigars. He told me they would go great with a good scotch. Scotch? I am bourbon drinker. However, a good single malt or two from Speyside are known to delight my palate. A couple, that are also good friends, then showed up with a Speyside scotch. The birthday gods had spoken.

Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 14 YR

They plastered Bourbon Barrel Reserve right on the label. No wonder I loved this scotch. I then read that they used virgin charred oak barrels for part of the aging, a unique approach. The nose is a little sweet with banana, toasted barley, and vanilla coming through. On the palate I get the oak and a brown sugar maltiness. Its finish is warm and a little nutty, pecan, I believe. After my ice melts a bit, I also get a lemon-lime note on the palate. What a great scotch for the holidays.

Menelik by Foundation Cigar Co.

This cigar blends well with the scotch. It has tangy and savory notes with some chocolate and red pepper. It’s a medium cigar. An earthiness comes out as you smoke it. The chocolate and tangy notes also remain throughout the smoke, as does a bit of saltiness. Happy birthday to me. And a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you.

This cigar, and many other fine cigars, are available at John Crouch Tobacconist at 215 King St. Alexandria, VA 22314

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