Photo by Stefano Giovannini for The Brooklyn Paper
By Matt Barclay of Bierkraft
Here are my picks for some great winter and holiday beers.
There’s a new beer from a new brewer who doesn’t really have a brewery. Called Stillwater Artisanal Ales. He was a homebrewer in Maryland who hooked up with an importer who sent him over to Belgium to brew some beers. One of the beers he brewed over there is a Saison for the winter season. It’s called a Saison Darkly. It’s got a big roasty malt character to it, but it’s still a very dry, spicy, floral, yeasty saison. It’s kind of like something between a stout and a saison. It’s nice and robust – great for the winter.
Another brewer without a brewery, Pretty Things, just put out a barley wine called Our Finest Regards. It’s 13% alcohol English style barley wine. It’s very drinkable now, but will also age incredibly well. The label actually has a picture of the brewer and some woodland creatures digging a hole and burying bottles of the beer. He calls himself a gypsy brewer. He doesn’t have a brewery – he works out of a couple of different breweries up in Massachussets.
It’s a fairly traditional barley wine – it’s very big and rich with dark fruit malt notes. It’s got a little hop character. Most American-style barley wines often have a big piney hop character. This one is more about the malt and its rich, caramely, dark fruit malt character, which if aged will be more and more apparent. It’s a little bit hot – at 13% alcohol it’s a very strong beer – but it’s deceptively smooth, especially if you let it come up to room temperature. It’s really pretty tasty.
Speaking of Saisons, there’s also a farmhouse brewery in Belgium called Brasserie Dupont that does a New Year’s beer called Avec Les Bons Voeux. It’s a higher alcohol version of their flagship beer, the Saison Dupont. It’s about 10% alcohol. It goes through a dry hopping process like their regular saison used to until about 20 years ago. It’s relatively light bodied for 10% alcohol. It’s very very dry but it’s got that alcohol warmth and it’s very effervescent – great for celebrating the new year.
Anchor Brewery from out in San Fransisco does their special Christmas Ale every year. They’ve been doing it for over thirty years now and every year they use a new recipe. That’s a fun beer because it comes in both the little 12 ounce bottles but they also release it in 1.5 liter magnums. It’s a good thing to share or bring to a party. They’re always spicy, malt-forward beers. Really good for the holidays.
Every year Brooklyn Brewery puts out a beer called Black Ops, which is aged in whiskey barrels. It’s rich, robust and ages very well but is also very drinkable now. It’s very high alcohol which is nice when it’s cold out – it’s keeps you warm. It makes a nice gift because they don’t make much of it. It’s actually brewed and bottled here in Brooklyn unlike most of their bottle releases and it’s only around for a very limited time.
There’s a new brewery called Barrier that opened up about 40 minutes east of here in Oceanside New York. He’s doing some incredible stuff. It’s a one-man operation. He brews on a one barrel system, so he brews two kegs at a time. He just recently put out a smoked Scottish ale that is awesome. It’s called Cairn and it’s got big big big rich malt flavor with lots of peat smoke behind it all…super super drinkable. It’s a great beer.
In terms of other great Brooklyn-brewed beers, Kelso, who used to just stick to lagers, has broken into ales. He does a really great IPA which features Nelson Savon hops, which is a new-ish hop from New Zealand that has a very passion-fruity character. It’s a very West-coast style IPA. Most of the East Coast IPAs you see have more of a malt background and a little bit of residual sweetness. It’s very dry and the aromatics of the hop are very forward and the bitterness is minimal. Great West Coast-style IPA. He also started recently doing a Pale Ale, which is a good counterpoint because as American West Coast as the IPA is, the Pale Ale is done with American Citra hops which were developed by Sierra Nevada for their citrusy quality, and with English malt, so it’s got this very nice round whiskey malt character. It’s cool that he’s broken into ales and has shown that he can do very English style ales and very American style ales that are both pretty awesome.
Sixpoint just started doing a Mad Scientist series which is pretty interesting. They’re doing one-off batches every couple of months. The first one just came out and it’s a spelt barley wine. It’s pretty interesting. It’s got more spelt in it than any other beer I know…it’s pretty strong, hides the alcohol really well, and it’s got an almost Belgium-esque character, which is interesting because they’re selling it as a barley wine…which is traditionally very English-style beer.
Bierkraft is a gourmet grocery and beer emporium located on glorious Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY. They offer a delectable assortment of over 250 artisan cheeses, 7 collections of boutique chocolates, over 100 gourmet chocolate bars, the smallest production, most rustic charcuterie we can find, a slew of gourmet goodies and over 1000 beers as well as 14 fresh beers on tap in growlers.