Give the gift of beer for Christmas

Even on the coast of California, where the weather is generally less severe than elsewhere in the country, winter is a drag. The days are short, temperatures are low and people get the blues. With the recession, even the Christmas holidays can seem more like a burden than a respite.
Throughout history, people have devised antidotes for the winter doldrums, such as choral music, baking cookies and Santa Claus. Among mankind’s cheerier winter inventions are special beers brewed especially for this time of year.
Whereas summer beers are designed to be light and refreshing, winter beers are brewed to warm the body and the soul. They’re typically darker, heavier and higher in alcohol, and sometimes include spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon, and Belgian candi sugar. Some of these brews hearken back to the mulled beer and mead wassail tradition of the Middle Ages, as sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon would be heated in a bowl and topped with slices of toast to sop up the liquid.
These days, American craft brewers have joined their European counterparts in jumping into the Christmas spirit. Perhaps the most familiar example in the U.S. is Anchor Brewing Company’s traditional Christmas Ale, called Our Special Ale, now in its 35th year. Both the label and the recipe change annually. This year’s edition seems more straightforward and less spiced than in the past, and at 5.5% abv, it’s not as potent as some of the other holiday ales.
Belgium has a long tradition of holiday beers, but some of them can be very heavily spiced and might not taste like what you would expect. Rami Barqawi, owner of Healthy Spirits in San Francisco, pictured holding a big bottle of St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel, and beer manager Dave Hauslein can help sort through the styles and flavor profiles so you can pick the right ale for your holiday get-together or as a gift for the beer connoisseurs in your life.

Kevin O’Shea, beer manager at Whole Foods on Fourth Street in San Francisco, is also a big fan of Belgian ales for the holidays, and his shelves are brimming with brews: everything from jolly St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (a strong dark ale) to Santa’s Butt (an English-style porter) from Ridgeway Brewing in England. For the adventurous beer or wine lover on your list, O’Shea suggests Deus, a biere de champagne, from Brouwerij Bosteels of Belgium. Biere de champagne follows an aging procedure similar to champagne.
Over at City Beer on Folsom, co-owner Beth Wathen recommends Gouden Carolus, a Belgian strong dark ale from Brouwerij Het Anker; Pere Noel, a Belgian strong ale from Brouwerij De Ranke; 2 Turtle Doves, a Belgian strong dark ale from The Bruery in Placentia, Calif.; and YuleSmith, an American Imperial IPA from the excellent AleSmith Brewing Company in San Diego.
Whether you’re bringing something special and different to your holiday parties, surprising a beer lover with an unexpected stocking stuffer, or just trying to survive the winter blues, all of these brews will provide much needed warmth – even in “sunny” California. And great beer can be a bargain, relatively speaking. While even an ordinary wine can carry a hefty price tag, you can buy some of the best beer in the world, packaged in a beautiful, corked 750ml bottle, for less than $20.

Healthy Spirits
2299 15th St. San Francisco CA, 94114

Hours of operation
Friday and Saturday-9AM-11PM

Whole Foods
399 4th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107 USA
Phone 415.618.0066

Store hours:
8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

City Beer
1168 Folsom St
Suite 101
San Francisco
CA, 94103
(415) 503 1033

Hours of operation
Tue-Sat Noon to 10pm
Sunday Noon to 6pm
Closed on Monday

1 comment:

  1. Your blog is gorgeous and you are saying absolutely right that summer beers are designed to be light and refreshing, winter beers are brewed to warm the body and the soul. So i think at the festival of Christmas beer play a great role.
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