This Sommelier joneses for beer as much as any suds-driven, football-watching dude. But American macro brews ain’t my cup of tea. So I searched high and low for some unique brews from the world over that would keep my wandering wine palate firmly focused on the barley, malt, hops and water in front of me during this holiday season. These beers are featured on December’s menu at Savvy Cellar Wine Bar & Wine Shop in downtown Mountain View, CA. The beer quaffing techies of Silicon Valley never had it so good!
Aventinus Eisbock Ale (Germany). Eisbocks are created by freezing off a portion of the water, and removing it from the beer. This form of concentration, of sorts, increases the beer’s body, flavor, and alcohol content. They can range from near black to as light as tawny red. Hop bitterness and flavor are mostly cast aside with a big alcohol presence replacing it, which can range from sweet to spicy, and fruity to often times fusel. Look for a heavy or almost syrupy body with tons of malty flavor. 12% alcohol.
St. Peter’s Winter Ale (UK). A Winter Warmer – These malty sweet offerings tend to be a favorite winter seasonal. Big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon. Many English versions contain no spices, though some brewers of spiced winter seasonal ales will slap “Winter Warmer” on the label. Those that are spiced, tend to follow the “wassail” tradition of blending robust ales with mixed spices, before hops became the chief “spice” in beer. American varieties many have a larger presences of hops both in bitterness and flavor. 6.3% alcohol.
Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper (US). Russian Imperial Stout – Inspired by brewers back in the 1800’s to win over the Russian Czar, this is the king of stouts, boasting high alcohol by volume and plenty of malt character. Low to moderate levels of carbonation with huge roasted, chocolate and burnt malt flavours. Often dry. Suggestions of dark fruit and flavors of higher alcohols are quite evident. Hop character can vary from none, to balanced to aggressive.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale Belgian Abbey Ale (Belgium). Belgian Strong Dark Ale – On the same path as the Belgian Dark Ale but higher in alcohol with more of an all around character. The alcohol in these ales range from deceivingly hidden to very bold and in your face. Look for lots of complexity within a delicate palate. Hop and malt character can vary, most are fruity and may have mild dark malt flavors. Phenols will range from minimal to high and most will be light on the hops. All in all most are spicy and alcoholic. 10% alcohol.
Konig Pilsner (Germany). The Pilsner beer was first brewed in Bohemia, a German-speaking province in the old Austrian Empire. Pilsner is one of the most popular styles of lager beers in Germany, and in many other countries. It’s often spelled as “Pilsener”, and often times abbreviated, or spoken in slang, as “Pils.” Classic German Pilsners are very light straw to golden in color. Head should be dense and rich. They are also well-hopped, brewed using Noble hops such has Saaz, Hallertauer, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Tettnanger, Styrian Goldings, Spalt, Perle, and Hersbrucker. These varieties exhibit a spicy herbal or floral aroma and flavor, often times a bit coarse on the palate, and distribute a flash of citrus-like zest — hop bitterness can be high. 4.9% alcohol.
Unibroue La Fin Du Monde Tripel (Canada – Quebec). Tripel – actually stems from part of the brewing process, in which brewers use up to three times the amount of malt than a standard Trappist “Simple.” Traditionally, Tripels are bright yellow to gold in color, which is a shade or two darker than the average Pilsner. Head should be big, dense and creamy. Bitterness is up there for a beer with such a light body for its strength, but at times is barely perceived amongst the even balance of malts and hops. The lighter body comes from the use of Belgian candy sugar (up to 25% sucrose), which not only lightens the body, but also adds complex alcoholic aromas and flavors. Small amounts of spices are sometimes added as well. Despite my Husband’s Western Canadian roots, he loves this beer! 9% alcohol.
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (UK). “Milk / Sweet Stouts” are basically stouts that have a larger amount of residual dextrins and unfermented sugars that give the brew more body and a sweetness that counters the roasted character. Milk Stouts are very similar to Sweet Stouts, but brewers add unfermentable sugars, usually lactose, to the brew kettle to add body and some sweetness. 5.2% alcohol.
Orval Trappist Ale (Belgium). Belgian Pale Ales consume the Belgian brewing scene, and were initially brewed to compete with Pilsners during the WWII time frame. They differ from other regional Pale Ale varieties, by traditionally being less bitter, using aged hops for a delicate hop finish, and boasting sweetish to toasty malt overtones. They should be decanted properly, leaving the yeast in the bottle. This will showcase their brilliant color range from pale straw yellow to amber hues. Most will be crowned with thick, clinging, rocky white heads. Flavors and aromas will vary. Some have natural spice characters from yeast and hops, while others are spiced. 6.9% alcohol.