We’re nearing that time of year when drinking is all about family and friends, more so than any other season. You’re either going to need a beer to share with family and friends, or you’re going to need a beer to survive them. I did a little window shopping over the weekend and spotted a few beers that you may want to throw into the back seat (or checked luggage*) for that trip over the river and through the woods.
For your family
I’m going to avoid the trope that if you’re a beer nerd like me, you’re probably a first-generation beer nerd, and that your family may only now be catching on that there’s more beer than the macros out there. Still, it never hurts to pick beers with unassailable charm just in case the Light American Lager drinkers balk. The beer for this is Shiner’s Holiday Cheer (12 oz. bottles), a dunkelweizen from Texas’ most long-lived brewery, with additional flavor provided by peaches and pecans. It’s a go-to beer for me during the Christmas season. Think of it as a liquid version of fruitcake that people won’t groan at.
Mele Kalikimaka, the song says, is Hawaiian for Merry Christmas, and Liliko’i Kepolo (12 oz. cans) is Avery Brewing’s way of spreading a little Hawaiian spirit year-round. Its passionfruit flavor is easy on the palate, and fairly low alcohol, too. Saugatuck’s Neapolitan Milk Stout and Blueberry Maple Stout (both 12oz bottles) are ridiculous adjunct beers that have no business being as good or as fun as they are. They taste just like you’d think they would.
For sharing around the table, try a bottle of 9 Ladies Dancing (750mL bottle) from The Bruery; it’s a coffee/cacao nibs/vanilla milk stout that should make you think tiramisu. And if your family would appreciate the mischievous spirit of the gesture, Big Bad Baptist (22oz bottle) from Epic is one of the best barrel-aged stouts for the money, with a rich mouthfeel and just enough booziness from the whiskey barrels in which it sat.
For your high school friends
Everyone runs into old buddies when they go home over the holidays, and if you’re anything like me this often involves setting up shop at someone’s family home and spending a long night catching up over a drink. Take advantage of Madison’s good distribution status with Toppling Goliath and share a bottle of Sol Hunter or Thresher (both 22oz bottles), or if your friends would appreciate it, a fairly fresh four-pack of PseudoSue (16oz cans). Though it’s produced and packaged in Florida, it’s the Iowa brewery’s gold standard for hoppy pale ales.
One beer that you can honor an old friendship with, that seems to be flying way under the radar in Madison, is Flanders Fred (750mL bottle). It’s a collaboration between Belgian brewer De Proef and Portland’s tiny but mighty Hair of the Dog, and is a blend of the former’s lambic with the latter’s Fred barleywine. It scores in the upper 90’s on Ratebeer. How it has managed to hang around on shelves for a long time, considering Hair of the Dog doesn’t typically leave the west coast, is a mystery.
That’s a somewhat odd combination, but if anyone will appreciate a truly weird beer, it’s an old friend who gets your sense of humor from way back. Weyerbacher’s spicy Sunday Mole Stout (12oz bottles) sold out so fast, the brewery gave us a huge second shipment. Against the Grain seems to like Madison, too; its Mikkeller collaboration blood orange pilsner, Bloody Show (16oz cans), just hit our shelves. Even weirder are Against the Grain’s Mac FannyBaw barrel-aged smoked ale and T. Rex Arcana (both 22 oz. bottles), a Belgian cherry stout intentionally doped with funky Brettanomyces yeast.
Of course, nothing says “Remember how we used to be wannabe straight-edge punk jerks?” (again, maybe that’s just me) like a sixer of Dark Horse Brewing’s Scary Jesus Rock Star (12oz bottles), a pale ale with apricots, chamomile and, according to the label, a splash of holy water. I’d call that a line of BS, but you can’t mess with label text. That’s the federal government, so if it’s on there, it’s got to be in there. Get all goth and moody with your old squad and share a few.
I’ll talk next week about bringing a gift beverage to the host of your holiday parties, as well as the beers you should stash in a snowbank to drink when no one’s looking -- but about that * up top…
Yes, you can legally fly with beer, so long as it’s checked. If you’re a frequent beer flyer, I strongly recommend the Wine Check for hauling multiple bottles securely. It’s approved by the feds and withstands all the jostling your luggage typically endures. (Heads up, though, you’ll need to buy the styrofoam liner separately.) If you only need to bring one or two though, just zip them in a plastic bag as a failsafe, and tuck them in between layers of clothing. As long as glass isn’t touching glass, everything should land just fine at the other end.