All hail holiday ales

Darren D'Altorio

A brief snapshot of worldly nonsense:

Southern California is burning. The presidential election is old news. Consumerism is approaching an all-time low. Somali pirates hijacked an oil tanker and are now holding the crew ransom. The stock market is in an eternal state of suck. Hideous icicle lights, blow-up Elves and grandeur pine trees are taking over storefronts and front yards. And snow has fallen, sealing the coffin on an extended summer for Northeast Ohio.

In times like these, getting drunk is a quality remedy to cope with the circumstances.

But the respective piss waters known as Natural Light, Keystone Light, Budweiser, Coors Light and Miller Lite can’t cut through the vaporized breath pouring from the mouths of shivering Northeast Ohioans in desperate times like this. A different approach to drinking must be taken.

That approach lies in the solace of seasonal, winter microbrews.

Just weeks ago, the Great Lakes Brewing Company released its first batch of the much anticipated, always celebrated, Christmas Ale to the masses. On midnight Nov. 3, beer snobs and nerds alike gathered at the brewery on the west side of downtown Cleveland to indulge in the spirit of the season the beer is named after.

According to the Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Web site, the release of Christmas Ale set some amazing sales records for the company. More than 240 cases of Christmas Ale were sold in 24 hours. Forty of those cases were sold between midnight and 1 a.m. the night of the release, and 20 kegs of the holiday brew were poured within 13 hours of its release. That’s more than 2,000 pints of beer poured!

Because of its hometown roots, Christmas Ale is highly celebrated and consumed in this region. But it is not the only holiday beer in kegs and on the shelves.

Some other excellent holiday brews are Bells Brewing Company’s Expedition Stout, Troegs Brewing Company’s Mad Elf Ale, Harpoon Brewery’s Winter Warmer and Flying Dog Brewery’s K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale.

What makes a seasonal winter beer just that is the attention and precision that goes into making each and every batch. Along with the traditional ingredients – water, hops, malts, yeasts and barley – winter brews pack additional secret punches, adding to the beautiful flavor and complexity of the beers.

For example, Christmas Ale is brewed with honey, then spiced with fresh ginger and cinnamon, giving it the flavor of Grandma’s homemade sugar cookies in addition to the malt flavors that come through from the brewing process.

Bells Expedition Stout looks like tar in a glass, thick black with a tan, foamy head. This ultra-malt beer is brewed with coffee and chocolate, giving it a richness equivalent to sucking on a Fudgecicle in between sips of Colombian dark roast.

And the Mad Elf Ale and Winter Warmer are brewed with a wallop of honey, fruits, chocolates and spices. Pumpkin pie, cinnamon gum and chocolate-covered cherries come to mind.

Beyond the ingredients, the colors of these beers are brilliant. Each time you pour a winter spirit into a glass, hold that glass up to the light and admire the various hues. From mild amber to deep red to coffee-black, these beers are a spectacle for the eyes.

Also, before you take a sip, plunge your nose into the foamy peak of the pour and savor the aroma – flowers, spices, chocolates. It’s a sensual overload.

Then, when drinking commences, remember: Piss water is not being consumed. Unlike the traditional, American-style pilsners and lagers, these winter microbrews have bang for their buck. In the presence of these beers, a cheap date becomes even cheaper and less full of carbonated liquid. And a light-weight’s cheeks may start to flush after one glass.

The reason for this is a simple, three-word explanation – alcohol by volume.

Those three words are magic. They offer the cure to frostbitten fingers and toes. Those three words can tuck you in at night. Alcohol by volume is what portion of the total volume of the liquid is alcohol.

The ABV of traditional American lagers and pilsners ranges from 4.2 percent to 5.9 percent. That range is including Ice beers and excluding malt liquors: The ABV of Winter Warmer is 5.9 percent; K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale, 6.4 percent; Christmas Ale, 7.5 percent; Expedition Stout, 10.5 percent; and Mad Elf Ale is 11 percent. These beers are potent, adding to the list of reasons why they simply rule.

It’s fast approaching the holiday season, a happy time of giving, sharing and singing. It’s time for people to buy more ridiculous products on credit, boosting the economy briefly, only to kill it again because lots of people can’t pay for the stuff after the fact. It’s time to celebrate the little joys of life.

Add a winter microbrew to the list of joyous consumption for these holidays. Give the gift of flavor to a friend, family member or significant other. And give it with a block of sharp cheddar cheese or a book about craft brewing, making it a delectable or intellectual gift. Just try one and see what the hype is all about. Investigate the phenomenon that is the traditional, creative, microbrew side of America.

Just, um, do it responsibly and all that other good stuff.

Darren D’Altorio is a senior magazine journalism major and will admittedly resort to Miller Lite when his pockets are feeling tight. Contact him at [email protected].