By Alicia James
Like it or not, the holiday season is upon us. Evergreens and LED lights have replaced pumpkins and pilgrims. Stores explode with images of Santa and Co. against a glittering background of red, white, and green. Not to be left out, grocery stores and bodegas jump on the thematic bandwagon with an array of festive libations. I picked up a few winter beers for review based on whether or not the label evoked the season, and rated them from one to five Christmas trees. Drink in the results.
Deep in the Heart of Texas
Spoetzl Brewery of Shiner, Texas brings us its Give Shiner Holiday Cheer, a Bavarian-style dark wheat brewed with peaches and toasted pecans. The addition of peaches, as well as pecans, initially threw my seasonal radar asunder. Pecans are Thanksgiving food and go in pie. And peaches? I guess so. What do I know of Texas?
The brew poured a dark, clear brown, like potent sweet tea, with a modest head. True to the label, its wheat foundation quickly gave way to crisp elements of fruit and nuts. It was all the girly tastes I love without the sugar, reminiscent of taking a sample plate of all the pies your aunts and grans made from the sideboard.
Serve alone as an aperitif or mixed with some peach nectar for an iconoclastic beer-lini at brunch.
Christmas tree rating: 3 – Your first tree with your first live-in partner in your first post-college apartment.
Widmer Bros. Brewing, from our own Portland, offers Brrr Seasonal Ale to Old Man Winter. They would like us to understand the beer as full of “citrusy hop aromas with caramel and chocolate malts for a perfectly balanced candy-sweet flavor and velvety finish.” With full faith and confidence in Oregon’s brewing tradition, I took a sip.
Apparently, I blocked it from my mind. Notes from my first impressions include “PNW just can’t get enough of that funky hops flavor, can you?” and “Velvety = school paste.” It was certainly not love at first taste. I do remember mulling it over after cleansing my palette with a flour tortilla, and thinking that it might work with baked ham and green bean casserole. Only maple glaze and cream of mushroom could tame Brrr’s wild, puckery hops.
Christmas tree rating: 2 – The tree at the office party that droops with judgmental sadness because it has seen the future and knows you’re destined for a regrettable holiday hook-up with Becca, She-Wolf of HR.
Fa la la la awesome!
Hood River is home to Double Mountain Brewery, which produced a pint bottle of seasonal deliciousness aptly called Fa La La La La Winter Ale. Wrapped in a snowflake sweater, it’s described as having a wooly and resiny hop character over a big malt backbone—sort of like a lumberjack in his good winter clothes snoozing after Christmas dinner.
I made the mistake of snacking on raw green beans while sampling this beer, which highlighted everything tight and latexy about hops forward draughts. Don’t follow in my footsteps. You’ll miss out on a reddish amber elixir as delicate and cozy as waking up to fresh snow. Instead, try it with English-style fruitcake or spice cookies. Molasses and fruit gently coax hops’ resin flavor into the forefront for a spectacularly wintery treat.
Christmas tree rating: 4 – Rosy cheeks and Christmas carols in the town square around a barrel fire. Someone is roasting chestnuts nearby. Another vendor is hawking warm gingerbread and mulled wine.
The Spirit of Christmas
While this round of experiments didn’t result in any 5 Christmas tree ratings, it did turn into an exercise in holiday giving. Instead of wasting beer or getting wasted, I shared with my downstairs neighbor and boyfriend, who were chatting in the foyer. If you want to share some fermented holiday cheer with loved ones, all these and many more can be found at most well-stocked carry-outs in Corvallis.