It's been another big year for craft beer. According to the Brewers Association, approximately 1.5 new breweries are currently opening in the U.S. daily, driving the number of licensed breweries to more than 4,500. It's the sort of growth that enabled craft brew as a market segment to outsell Budweiser.
And as staggering as that is, I have news that trumps it all: My wife is now officially a beer drinker. After only 11 years of gentle cajoling (and considerable withholding of affection), she'll now independently and gleefully reach for imperial stouts. IPAs, porters, hefeweizens, ESBs and essentially anything else can still go pound sand, as far as she's concerned, but I figure at least one of those is only a decade away from inclusion. Love truly does conquer all.
News this good demands a celebration. Here are some seasonally appropriate options for doing so:
Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper (10-percent ABV): This coal-colored stout pours out a head formidable enough to be a meringue topping. Its aromatics are no less substantial, plowing into the olfactories with caramel, soy sauce, coffee, booze and dark fruits. Don't mistake it for some sort of confection though, because the roasty malts and burnt sugar flavors quickly remind you're dealing with a bona fide stout. Booze and cocoa emerge in the mid-palate, ultimately finishing with coffee-like bitterness and a touch of pine.
This beer is definitely a fire-side sipper, more easily paired with a full-bodied maduro cigar than most foods.
Karl Strauss Five Wee Heavy Bells (9.5-percent ABV): What happens when scotch ale meets scotch? A sprawling bar fight in all likelihood, unless you're talking about Karl Strauss' latest entry in its Twelve Days series. It's a ruby-red brew with a fizzy head that lasted about as long as my belief in Santa once I realized his supposed handwriting was identical to that of my mom's.
Mild aromatics of crusty bread and damp wood signal a gentle brew, but the flavor is far more robust. There's tons of caramel and toffee up front with a finish that's dank, woody, boozy and even smoky. They're interesting flavor combinations that evolve and elevate the Wee Heavy style (especially for those with any affection of peaty scotches).
Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi (9.5-percent ABV): A biére de garde may seem an unusual style choice among its spicier, sweeter holiday brethren, but the inclusion of frankincense and myrrh in its recipe arguably make it the most legit offering around. If it's good enough for baby Jesus, I see no reason to split hairs.
This ruddy-orange brew has some malt and spice in the nose that rapidly proliferate in the flavor. Up front, I detect notes of yeast, orange peel, ginger and dried fruit. The finish is similarly potent, though swinging the balance to more of an earthy, almost musty finish. It's a wild ride of psychedelic fruit cake that keeps subsequent sips exciting. It's not what I seek in a holiday ale ordinarily, but that wouldn't keep me from reaching for it.