Beer Town: Holiday beers that delight with dark, food-friendly flavors

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Thanksgiving is almost here, and winter begins on Dec. 21. That means it’s the season for darker, more robust beers. And while I love imperial stout, barleywine and big Belgian ales, this year I’m trying some smaller styles that tend to be lower in alcohol and a bit more food-friendly.

Here are seven to consider, with a tip of the hat to Kraig Torres of Hop City for suggestions.

Arches Black Gold — This Schwarzbier from Atlanta’s Arches Brewing is a lighter dark German-style lager that balances the aromas and flavors of roasted malt, chocolate and coffee with floral and spicy hops. And while it’s deep black in color, at 5.3% alcohol, the flavor is closer to a dry stout than a Munich Dunkel, with a snappy touch of bitterness that calls for another sip. Try it with Christmas ham.

Bell’s Christmas Ale — An oldie but a goodie from Bell’s Brewery in Michigan went from 5% to 7.5% alcohol awhile back. But this traditional Scotch Ale is still the rich and malty beer you remember, just a little bigger. And no Christmas spices were harmed in its production. Bell’s advocates pairing it with Financier brown butter almond cake, and there’s a recipe for ginger cookies on the website.

Birds Fly South Nights Like These — From Birds Fly South in nearby Greenville, South Carolina, this dark Irish dry stout is just 4% alcohol and billed as “the perfect toast to cooler temps.” With dried barley, flaked barley and roasted barley, it rightly can be called a rich, full-bodied barley bomb, with just a kiss of hops. The chocolate and coffee flavors, and clean, dry finish call for grilled oysters, smoked salmon, or chocolate desserts.

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Orpheus Do or Die Oatmeal Cream Stout — A new year-round release from Atlanta’s Orpheus Brewing, this oatmeal stout gets its creamy mouthfeel from the addition of lactose. It’s brewed with torrified wheat, flaked oats, and a cornucopia of malts, plus classic Columbus hops, which impart floral and citrus notes. At 6% alcohol, it’s a silky session beer that you should try with chocolate chip cookies.

Good Word Quantum Immortality — A recent release from Good Word Brewing in Duluth, this medium-bodied porter is only 4% alcohol. But a blend of Chevalier, brown and dark crystal malts, plus a handful of other specialty grains, makes for a toasty beer with notes of chocolate and coffee. It proved to be sublime paired with chocolate lava cake topped with espresso whipped cream and candied walnuts.

Highland Cold Mountain — This annual November release from Highland Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina, turns 25 this year. It’s a malty spiced holiday ale, with notes of dark fruit, vanilla and cinnamon, that’s brewed with Pilsen, Vienna, chocolate, wheat and caramel malts, and a combo of Cascade and Mount Hood hops. At 5.9% alcohol, it’s an easy match for fruitcake or assorted Christmas cookies.

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome — For me, this 6% alcohol winter ale always conjures Shakespeare and Dickens, and brings a welcome touch of English tradition to the holiday season. The amber color, creamy head, and floral aromas of Fuggle and Golding hops are balanced by caramel malt flavors and the brewery’s distinctive fruity note. If you can find it on draft, it’s a sublime sipper for a session at the pub.

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