Deck the halls with winter warmers… aka holiday beers. Most brewers offer up a seasonal special and many local beer bars are hosting “Christmas Beer Festivals,” including a recent such event at Naja's Place. Dozens of holiday brews abound, usually darker and higher in alcohol to warm your innards in our brutal Los Angeles winter.
There are so many that are so good that we decided to defer to a local expert. Alexander P. Davis, general manager of the Library Alehouse in Santa Monica, is a recently minted certified cicerone — a wise man, as it were, just for beer. Our favorite from the Naja's festival just happens to be numero uno on Mr. Davis' Top 5 list. So without further ado, here are his fab five with his own ciceroney-tasting notes.
5. Alaskan Smoked Porter:
Davis tells us: “While they're not everyone's favorite, I am a huge fan of smoked beers. Not only do they often have a certain amount of “bacon” to them (and who doesn't love that?), they are also the perfect companions for the sweeter desserts typical of the holiday season. The richness and density of sticky toffee pudding provide a great counterpoint to the sharp, salty smokiness of Alaskan Smoked Porter, bringing out more of the chocolate and tobacco flavors of the beer.”
4. Great Divide Hibernation:
Davis: “Hibernation is exactly what winter drinking is all about. It's relatively high in ABV, it's got huge flavor and it gets better as it warms up. It's the perfect beer to sip in front of a roaring fire while the scent of pine needles fills your nose.” (Great Divide is a Denver, Colorado, brewery and we suspect they know a thing or two about winter beers.)
3. The Bruery Autumn Maple:
Davis: “Sure, it's already gone from shelves before Thanksgiving, but if you're like me, you pick up a case to sip on throughout the fall and winter. Its rich malt and spice are more than enough to stand up to the classic holiday dishes.”
2. Gouden Carolus Cuvee van de Keizer Blauw:
Davis: “When I think of strong, dark, Belgian beers this is where I always land. While it seems that every Belgian brewery releases take on the same theme around this time of year, Cuvee van de Keizer Blauw takes the cake for me. It doesn't have the out of control spice that some others do, but it brings those wintry chocolate, caramel and dark fruit notes in spades.”
1. Brasserie Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux:
Davis: “Easily my favorite beer of the season and the most versatile as well. Dupont basically amps up their standard saison to make a more robust winter version. The signature dry, earthy Dupont yeast character remains intact but with a touch more fruit and body. This is one that everyone at the holiday table will enjoy. And you have to love the name, With Best Wishes.”