Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Fistmas!

Ok, so I've been radio (blog) silent for the past week or so--not typical for me at all!  I've been busy with the pre-Christmas holiday shopping, and very busy at work, so bear with me.  I have several longer homebrewing posts already in the can for the coming months and hope to continue my series of interviews for the upcoming year. 

So this week I thought I would talk about (and drink) a few holiday beers to celebrate!  I have always been a fan of holiday spiced beers, and look forward to this time of year.  One year I tried to do the 12 Beers of Christmas, but due to scheduling issues I didn't manage to have one each day.  Maybe I'll attempt that again next year.  Over the past few years I've noticed a lot of new holiday beers that are not spiced: many are double IPA's, Imperial versions of regular beers and just odd-ball beers that don't fit a category.  To some extent I think this trend is fine--as long as breweries are giving us good beers.  However, I'll admit I'm still a little morose when I find just another IPA or brown ale masquerading as a special holiday beer.  And let's not forget all of the Belgian Christmas beers that range from strange spiced concoctions to simply strong versions of regular Belgian style ales.

Ok, so here is where the Merry Fistmas comes in!  On a recent trip to Chicago I was able to visit Revolution Brewing and get the awesome big black fist tap handle pictured above.  I was sad that their fabled Christmas ale was not out yet, but then my best friend Bryan saved the day when he brought a couple cans for me at my birthday party!  This is really an aggressively hopped brown ale with definite spruce flavors...and very tasty.

Santa likes his malt liquor!

Last week Matt and Anna came over for a spirited game of Cards Against Humanity, and brought along a 2006 vintage Samichlaus.  This beer was originally brewed by the Hurlimann Brewery in Switzerland from the early 1980's through 1997.  At that point the beer was out of commission until it was resurrected by Schloss Eggenberg in Austria in 2000.  The beer itself is named after Santa Claus and is supposedly brewed every year on December 6.  It is based on a Dopplebock style, and for a while was the strongest commercially available beer, clocking in at about 14% ABV.  Because of its rarity and strength, this was one of the first popular beers to cellar.  Digging into my stash on this fine Friday evening, I found a dusty bottle of 1996 and 2000 to make a little vertical tasting for us.

The 1996 bottle was deep brown in color with almost no head at all.  Strong cardboard and sherry notes dominated the aroma--and the flavor.  Some alcohol was certainly in there.  The oxidation was a bit too much for me to really enjoy it, but trying a beer that is 17 years old is pretty interesting!  The 2000 bottle (from the new brewery) was very similar with more raisin character.  Still very little carbonation.  I think this was my favorite of the three.  The 2006 was much lighter in color and lacked the complexity that the previous beers had.  We felt that the recipe had been significantly changed somewhere along the line--but it was interesting that this did not happen on the first move to the new brewery in 2000!

Moving on to Christmas Eve's festivities.  I took this time to open last year's St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, and man that beer has aged nicely!  Belgian yeast character is pleasant, but not overwhelming the subtle dark sugar notes.  Carbonated to well above typical American Belgian ales, this beer ends very dry and drinkable for it's 10% ABV.   I then dug out a special bottle I've been holding onto since our 2012 trip to Belgium: Kerkom Winterkoninkske.  This is a dark strong that we bought during our tour of the brewery, and was already a year old at that time.  The flavors of this beer have changed a bunch since I had it last, with incredible notes of Belgian chocolate.  I'm sad we can't get their beer in Minnesota, but I did pick up another bottle the last time I was in Illinois!  To pair with this latter beer I cooked up a steak and lamb kidney pie with puff pastry topping.  This is a dish I used to love from Sherlock's Home brewpub and I haven't had a really good one since they went out of business.  Since I was able to buy a whole yearling lamb through True Cost Farm (our meat CSA) and had the required tasty organ meats, I thought I'd give it a try!  I was pretty close considering I cobbled together a few recipes from on-line and added some of my own ideas.  The pie was bursting with flavorful thyme gravy, cremini mushrooms and of course steak and kidney bits.  A good pairing, but after sharing those large two bottles of strong ale, Sj and I both fell asleep while trying to watch Iron Man 3.

Seriously, tastes better than it sounds!

For Christmas Day itself Sj and I followed our usual pattern of consuming much needed coffee and sweet rolls while unwrapping the presents in our stockings.  I got lots of Magic cards and candy in mine...along with a single much prized bottle of 2013 Bourbon County Stout!  Sj got lots of beads and even more candy.  Sj and I then got into the glory of tearing into our regular presents and flinging wrapping paper balls around for the cats to rampage in.  Not having kids, we tend to spoil each other at Christmas time and buy way too many presents for each other.  I'm not complaining!  I discovered some cool homebrewing equipment like the Fast Rack and the Big Mouth Bubbler hiding under the tree--more on those in a future post.  I also received a couple of really cool Belgian beers and a whole slew of new clothes.

Merry Christmas to me!  Thanks Sj and thanks to the Four Firkins for pointing her in the right direction!

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