HOOPS ON HOPS: A preview of holiday beer

Let me be the first (maybe) to say it: Happy holidays, everybody. This is my favorite time of the year. Each new holiday season provides new beers, new perspectives and new excitement. So here we go.


It’s the time of year for family and friends to hang out, enjoy beer, meals, be together and give thanks. We brewers absolutely love this time of year because most of us brew special beers to celebrate the season.

In my case, I set out to give patrons “more” — more fruit, malt, roasted malt, hops for darker, heartier and more flavorful brews. Many brewers add spices such as clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger as well as fruits in keeping with the flavors of the season.

This is not a new tradition. One of my favorite historical traditions about beer includes the Norsemen who equated the winter solstice with Yuletide. Vikings celebrated “Jul” to toast their Norse gods with a strong, malty brew.

Winter was an excellent time to brew and enjoy beer because they were typically home from the summers’ raids and battles. To further solidify this beer-based tradition, Norway’s king created a law that each household must brew a beer for the Jule (yule) season and that the holiday will be recognized as long as the brew lasted. This Jule ale was considered a special brew because it was stronger and thus perceived as better than the usual ale created during the rest of the year.

Here are some featured beers, I hope you like and you try.

From our local breweries

• Castle Danger’s Dark Chocolate George Hunter Stout. Our Two Harbors neighbors brewed a specialty stout — something they are quite good at. The Dark Chocolate George Hunter Stout is a holiday beer during Castle Danger’s third winter brewing on their small, three-barrel system in winter 2013. They will re-release it for the first time this December on draft only. Ecuadorian cocoa nibs and lactose are the special sauce giving the beer a sweeter, more chocolatey finish.

• Bent Paddle’s Double Shot Double Black. Barrel-Aged Double Shot Double Black Ale is an amped-up version of the Duluth brewery’s popular Cold Press Black Ale. The Double Shot Double Black has twice the cold press and two doses of whole Papua New Guinea vanilla beans. If that wasn’t enough, Bent Paddle aged the beer for more than a year in bourbon barrels. Coming in at just over 11 percent, this beer will surely warm you up.

• Blacklist Brewing’s Cran. This tart holiday ale selection is a strong Belgian golden ale with cranberries. Champagne-like carbonation with a pretty pink tint from the fruit offers a nice and dry finish. This is an awesome holiday dinner beer.

• Lake Superior Brewery’s Old Man Winter Warmer. This winter barley wine has been produced for years as an old favorite for beer lovers. The malt-forward sweet and warming notes with a reformulated recipe this year that will be eagerly awaited this season.

• Voyageur Brewing’s Otter Slide Peanut and Maple Imperial Brown Ale. This malt forward American brown ale features maple syrup and peanuts and will be released on Thanksgiving by this Grand Marais brewery. A carnival of flavors, I love a brewery that pushes the limits.

• Thirsty Pagan. They now have 750ml cork and cage bottles from their sour program. Amazingly, they have seven (soon eight) varieties available. They plan on releasing a spiced Belgian dark strong which will be aged in a voyageur aquavit barrel from Vikre distiller. Allyson Rolph the brewer will also release the uber popular Pint-a Colada coconut milk stout.

• Canal Park’s Holiday Winter Bock. As a celebration of the fourth anniversary of the brewery, brewer Ryan Woodfill has made four Belgian style ales: Quadrupel, tripel, dubbel and single. This is a rare chance to try these age-old styles at one time. The designations are more or less based on ABV (strength). I’m excited for this opportunity to sample all at one sitting.

• Borealis Fermentary’s Mumbling Mime Belgian Dubbel. A complex malty beer finished with star anise and other spices, this beer will be well worth seeking out.

From farther out

Here’s a short list for some recommendations from around the country:

• Indeed Old Friend Winter Warmer

• Odell Isolation Ale

• Great Lakes Christmas Ale

• 21st Amendment Fireside Chat

• Bell’s Christmas Ale

• Delirium Noel

Dave’s faves

• Anchor Steam’s Christmas Ale. The granddaddy of American holiday beers Anchor will release it’s 42st version of this eagerly awaited seasonal. Each year, the label features a new “Yule Tree” look for this beer to arrive mid-November.

• Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. My all-time favorite holiday beer. First brewed in 1981, this is one of the first examples of an American IPA and one of the rare hoppy holiday ales. A true classic and a perfect gift for the hop lover on your list.

And, for dessert

The ultimate dessert offerings come from our friends in Wisconsin at New Glarus Brewing. These two — Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart — are brewed with ridiculous amounts of fruit in a malty sweet base beer. You cannot go wrong with either, and I’m guessing you will thank me if you grab a few bottles.

Enjoy the season everyone. Happy holidays.

Written by Dave Hoops For the Duluth News Tribune