Friday, January 15, 2010

The Year in Beer — What to Drink, When

Photo © Randy Mosher, Tasting Beer

Over the ages beer has been brewed to suit the seasons. Once waning, this tradition thankfully is coming back. Use the following list, excerpted from Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher, as a guide for choosing the most suitable brew for the seasons ahead. Cheers!

New Year’s.
Pop a Belgian-style Tripel as an alternative to the same boring old champagne when the year changes. The next day, nourish your soul and your head with a nice yeasty weizenbock.
Photo © Kevin Kennefick, Tasting Beer

The last twelve interminable days of January. Nothing makes the time fly like a vertical tasting of your favorite barley wine or imperial stout. Take care to avoid the tasting's becoming a horizontal one.

Valentine’s Day. Loads of choices! Try a strong dark Belgian ale with milk chocolate or an Imperial Stout with something really hot and sinful like lava cake with a touch of spicy ancho chile inside. If your sweetie wants to walk on the pale side, how about a strong golden Belgian ale with a white chocolate version of Black Forest cake? Who says beer guys and gals can’t be romantic when it counts?

Lent. Personally, I don’t have a lot of experience with self-denial. I’d go with a bock or doppelbock, the proven remedy for mortification of the flesh. And they do taste great at this time of year.

Easter and more pagan expressions of the vernal equinox. Easter beers used to be big business in Scandinavia and elsewhere in northern Europe. We’ll have to be content with something pale and slightly strong, provided we can crack open the maibock a little early. Open up a bottle of raspberry lambic when Aunt Ruth comes to brunch.

The first really nice day of spring. Even though I sometimes do it, I think there is something wrong with drinking weissbier indoors. So I am greatly relieved to be rid of my guilt when it’s finally nice enough to sit outside in some makeshift beer garden and enjoy a dunkel weizen in the chilly sunshine.

May. Go for a maibock, if there’s any left from Easter.

Photo © Kevin Kennefick, Tasting Beer

Let’s just call it India Pale Ale month.

Fourth of July. Let the national frenzy take hold and honor honest-to-God, U. S. of A., lawn-mowing beers, both great and small. There are many to choose from: pre-Prohibition Pilsners, steam beer, cream ale, American wheat ale, and craft-brewed malt liquor.

St. Swithin’s Day, July 15. Yes, there really is one, and its history involves an interesting story about great torrents of water. I recommend a light beer.
Photo © Randy Mosher, Tasting Beer

Dog days. Still hot. Time to break out the big thirst-quenching guns: witbier, English summer ale, classic German Pilsner, hefeweizen — in large glasses, please.

Back to school, or whatever. Still warm and sunny, but change is in the air. It’s the perfect time for a nice saison, but many beers suit the season: British bitter, Irish stout, schwarzbier, gueuze. Wait till the end of September and you can taste them all and much more at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Oktoberfest. You really need a suggestion here?

Halloween. Pumpkin beer is a natural at this time, but see if you can score one of its scarier variants: pumpkin barley wine, pumpkin weizenbock, or pumpkin Imperial Porter. Better ’n pie!

Turkey time. Try a Tripel with the succulent bird, roasted to perfection — but toss a pint of Scotch ale into the bottom of the pan when you start roasting. The Tripel will go nicely with pecan pie, but for pumpkin pie a strong brown ale will be better.

Christmas Eve.
I hear the old man is partial to drinking Imperial Pale Ale with his chocolate chip cookies.

The holidays.
The English had their wassail and many other hot compounded drinks that can make you the life of the party if you don’t burn the house down. There are many festive beers inspired by the rich, spicy flavors of Jolly Old England. But honestly, at this time of year, just enjoy all the big celebratory beers available, and give yourself incentive for some serious New Year’s resolutions.

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