L.A. is a challenging city for getting into the Christmas spirit. Here we dream not of a white Christmas but one less clotted with smog. Angelenos wish for a Christmas when the leaf-blowers will quiet and the 405 will relent. There will be nothing to shovel on our walkways, no jovial snowmen to build. Leave your scarves where they are — the forecast heralds 72 and sunny for our holiday.
Look to your California breweries to remind you of the season's offerings. These five selections (from north to south) include more spicey Winter Warmers and hoppy holiday one-offs. And a dark horse that will remind you that if you can't believe in Santa you can believe in the magic of a well-built beer to inspire and delight. May your bougainvilleas be merry and your sunsets be bright.
5. White Christmas Spiced Winter Lager, Moylan's Brewing Co. (Novato)
Lager brewed with spices (Winter Warmer); 6%
Moylan's hails from a California land so distant to our own that they have their own colloquialisms which are hella good. This example of the umbrella style “Winter Warmer” is a bottom-fermenting lager to which they have added curacao, mace, cinnamon, coriander, and white pepper. Mostly the spice profile screams cinnamon, but what we really loved about this beer is its easy drinkability during a season that produces some of the biggest, strongest beers of the year.
4. Fireside Chat, 21st Amendment Brewery (San Francisco)
Ale brewed with spices (Winter Warmer); 7.9%
So comforting is 21st Amendment's Fireside Chat that we can't help but throw on stretchy pants and kick up our feet at first sight of it nestled in the fridge. Released in October, this top-fermenting ale brewed with spices and cocoa nibs is somewhat richer and smoother than the previous Winter Warmer. It's also nearing the end of its seasonal circulation, so grab a six-pack and join us in contemplating what rousing yuletide conversation the label's FDR could possibly be in the midst of with one of Santa's elves.
3. The Ghost of Jacob Barley, Collaboration Noble Ale Works (Anaheim)
American Strong Ale brewed with coffee (Winter Warmer); 9.6%
Coffee and cinnamon enrich this fantastic collaboration between Anaheim's Noble Ale Works and Long Beach's Beachwood BBQ and Brewing. With coffee from Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa it is a truly regional production. Brewed for the OC Brew Ho Ho holiday beer fest, its suggestions of dark chocolate and plum make this special beer more complex than any typical Winter Warmer. This may be our favorite holiday beer, so if you're leaving town make sure this bottle is on your table representing SoCal.
2. YuleSmith Winter, AleSmith Brewing Co. (San Diego)
Imperial Red Ale; 8.5%
It's not a proper California Christmas without some form of hops making their way to your palate. This American Strong Red Ale is maltier than its July-release holiday counterpart, perhaps in an effort to better fit in with the malty Winter Warmers that stock the shelves around it. YuleSmith's piney hop aroma makes us dream of a cozy cabin in Big Bear where we'll probably never spend the holidays. What is Christmas for if not fantasizing about the indulgences you'll never afford? Bottoms up!
1. Four Scowling Owls, Karl Strauss Brewing Co. (San Diego)
Belgian Tripel; 9%
Karl Strauss is a brewery mostly known for their drinkable yet somewhat uninspired Red Trolley Irish Ale. So when they released a big seasonal Belgian Tripel as the fourth installment of their nontraditional “12 Days of Christmas,” we met the bottle with modest expectations. How delighted we were then to find that this sophisticated citrusy, dry Tripel not only conjured pleasant memories of making pomanders on Christmas mornings past, but this spicy Belgian changed our expectations of the level of craftsmanship we should henceforth expect from Karl Strauss.
See also: 5 Winter Beers to Drink Now
Erika writes at erikabolden.com and @erikabolden. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.