Sunday, November 30, 2014

12 Beers of Christmas 2014: Part I - Gingerbread Stouts

It truly is the season of miracles.

Maybe I exaggerate a bit- there's nothing miraculous about a dude returning to a blog after being away for (garbled noise that sounds vaguely like a unit of time), but it's a pretty big step for me. Life interrupted a bit, with some of the wind being taken out of my beer-soaked sails in favor of a "big boy" job. But none of that is particularly interesting...there's beer to drink.

I hope you've been ok without me - craft beer is a big scary world. I like to think you've missed me terribly, that without my concise wit and brew guidance, you've been in a constant state of panic, standing in the beer aisle with streams of terrified tears rolling down your cheeks as you throw oddly named six-packs into your cart and pray to the goddess Ninkasi that maybe, just maybe, you got something halfway decent.

No, actually - what I really hope is that you've been quite ok on your own, that you've upped your craft beer game and make grown up decisions that aren't swayed by ads featuring golden retriever puppies (I know they're convincing, but stay strong! I believe in you!). Craft beer is becoming the main source of beer goodness, and my little (fascinating, well-articulated and joyous) blog has little to do with it.

But, onto the crux of the matter! It's Christmastime again! And that means we have access to a whole new slew of both weird and wonderful libations for us to enjoy until we can't feel that nagging cold anymore (or, you know, live in Southern California like I do and wistfully wait for just one night I could wear that damn sweater I bought back in July). It's one of my favorite times of the year, and that the whole beer industry embraces it so readily means I'm one festive happy dude with a great beer buzz.

The season comes chock full of flavor staples and beer varietals that no other time of the year even hint at, including playful examples like the Gingerbread Stout. 

The stout is a wintery staple of its own accord, with roasty flavors that practically beg to be drank by fireside. Their willingness and eagerness to be kicked up a few notches in the ABV territory further invite winter friendliness, as the slight warmth of alcohol is never unwelcome on chilly nights. Add their fondness of winter spices and you have a style ripe for season.

So put down your Session IPAs - we're getting hearty and spicy.

Back Home Gingerbread Stout
Golden Road Brewing Company
Los Angeles, CA
4 Pack Cans, 8.5% ABV

A west coast darling that has skyrocketed into prominence in a very short timeframe, Golden Road brewing offers a lineup of beers (that is, in true Cali-style, IPA heavy) in summer-friendly tallboy can 4 packs. Several of their beers, especially the delightfully named Might as Well IPL, have become casual favorites of mine and showed up at many-a-barbecue this past summer.

But, the winter has arrived and Golden Road brewery has shown it isn't afraid to pull on a pair of mittens and be fricking adorable with their Back Home Gingerbread Stout. Between its packaging - an inviting maroon box that looks like a little wrapped present, with cans with golden titling and little silver icons of the season - and whimsical flavors, Golden Road has shown that it takes just fine to the season, even if it longs for the beach.

And it fits right in - Back Home is a solid stout in its own right, with some festive additions and a sturdy ABV. The beer is immediately likable, a playful take on the tried-and-true Irish Stout. Ginger is, thankfully, the key player here, arriving first and foremost but not overstaying its welcome. More dessert sweet than overly spicy, the robust roasty-warm flavors of the chocolate take over at the end. In other words, it's a whole cookie platter in a glass.

You probably won't want more than one - the flavors do become a bit heavy by the end of your glass (not to mention the alcohol content), but it's one of the more playful beers, Christmas or otherwise, that I've had in awhile, and I certainly believe it's a success.

A (not-so) small caveat: this guy is pretty local- it was big beer news when they expanded into San Francisco, let alone the rest of the county. So while this beer might not be part of your Christmas this year, please keep tabs on this brewery; it almost certainly will be in upcoming years.

Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout
Sam Adams
Boston, MA
1 Pint, 6 Fl Oz. Bottle, 9.0% ABV

I've become a beer snob. It's not my fault, it comes with the territory when you call beer a hobby. As such - and it pains me to say it - Sam Adam's offerings don't typically do it for me anymore. Celebrated as they should be for creating a world in which craft beer isn't a ludicrous proposition, I have nevertheless found their offerings, especially seasonal ones, underwhelming, registering as little more than slight alterations on the typical Boston recipe.

Their single bottle offerings do admittedly tend to be more inspired, and one such example, the Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout, does a fine job proving it.

Compared to Golden Road, this one is a bit more straightforward, being a stout first and something gingery later- the flavors are a bit more reserved, even timid. The sweetness of the beer is more forthcoming, perhaps owing to that extra .5% ABV (which it hides very well).

Nevertheless, I do believe that Back Home benefits from it's more aggressive flavors - more spice, more roast, more bitter all mean more interesting.  Merry Maker, with its blanket sweetness, is more friendly, perhaps, but I found myself missing the layers. A bitter bite does accumulate as you go, but I never got that fun cookie vibe.

 If you're lucky enough to have access to Back home, I invite you to go for it. If not, this is one is more readily available, and is hardly bad. There's just better stuff out there.

Merry Christmas Beer Season everyone! Check back soon for the next entry.

(It's good to be back)

Ben Likes Beer