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  • Seasonal Cheers and Beers

    Your intrepid liquor reporter loves this time of year. No, gentle reader, it’s not that I’m partial to the cold weather. Rather, this time of year is a veritable cornucopia of seasonal beers!

    It all begins in September, when the shelves of our local booze merchants are crowded with special Oktoberfest Lagers.

    By the time I have finished off the Oktoberfest-themed beers, usually with a few pretzels or bratwurst, the Pumpkin Ales appear on the scene, performing double duty for both Halloween and Thanksgiving.

    As soon as the Halloween decorations come down, it seems the Christmas decor goes up, and with it comes the Christmas beers.

    The Samuel Adams White Christmas is released every year right around this time. This Boston-based craft brewer came from humble beginnings, but is now available worldwide, including at a liquor retailer near you. The White Christmas Ale is a blend of wheat and barley malt, with orange peel, cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg for that festive flavour.

    Moving over to the left coast, Anchor Brewing out of San Francisco has been producing a Christmas Ale each year since 1975, with a unique hand-drawn label of a different Californian tree species on each annual release. Available only from November to February, the recipe is different each year, but is usually a minor spin on a dark ale.

    Faithful readers may recall Anchor Brewing as the wellspring of the California Common Beer style, which has long been a favourite of your humble narrator. I have enjoyed their Christmas Ale many times over the years, and this year will be no exception.

    Closer to home, the Howe Sound Brewing Company in Squamish has been brewing Father John’s Winter Ale for many years, although it is only available during the winter months. Available only in one litre bottles, this is another spiced ale, with plenty of toffee malts to give the beer a solid structure, balanced with a complex spice aftertaste to keep things interesting. At 7% ABV, the large bottle is something you should share with a friend.

    Just up the QE2, Edmonton’s Alley Kat Brewing has released the ______’s Chocolate Orange Porter. Yes, you read that correctly, the ______’s part is so you can write your own name on the label, which will certainly make it easier to keep track of your bottle at crowded parties.

    A full-bodied porter, this beer has strong overtones of cocoa and espresso from the dark roasted malt, with just a hint of orange aftertaste, almost as though a crafty beer gnome threw in a dash of Grand Marnier while pouring.
    Right in our own back yard, the Wild Rose Brewery on the old Currie Barracks site in Calgary has once again released their seasonal Cherry Porter, which your intrepid liquor reporter always partakes of this time of year.

    Faithful readers may recall that this particular brew has earned a spot in the illustrious beer tome “1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die”, which your humble narrator has been diligently plugging away at.

    Made with ripe BC cherries, then aged with a dark porter-style beer, this brew reminds me of a smoky-flavoured black forest cake. The beer pours almost black into the glass, and has an intense flavour that will take your taste buds on a wild ride.

    This beer is available on tap directly at the Wild Rose Brewery, or you can find one litre bottles at most liquor stores in Alberta. With such a full flavour, this is a large bottle best shared with a friend or two, and perhaps even paired with some braised shortribs to complement the flavour.

    With so many different Xmas-themed beers, your humble narrator follows an annual tradition of making up his own beer-themed Advent Calendar.

    I begin on December 1, opening a single seasonally appropriate brew from a different brewery each day, until the grand finale on December 25 with a bottle of Samichlaus, also known as the Santa Claus Beer.

    For those readers not familiar with Samichlaus, it translates directly from the German into Santa Claus, and is a whopping 14% ABV lager that is brewed only one day per year, on the historical feast day of the 4th-century Saint Nicholas, then aged for 10 months and released just in time for Christmas. If I’m feeling particularly festive, maybe I’ll even leave a bottle for Jolly Old Saint Nick, instead of those dreary milk and cookies!