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10 Great Beers for Your Holiday Wish List

'Tis the season for special releases


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Photo: Bruce Glassman

Have you made your holiday wish list yet? If you still have room for a few more entries, you may want to consider some of the special seasonal releases currently available from a bunch of San Diego’s best breweries. Now, if you’re out and about, you’ll probably find a whole slew of special stuff on offer at tasting rooms and on tap at bars; definitely check out those beers wherever you can. The selections on the list below will likely be available on tap at various locations but—most importantly—they are also packaged in bottles or cans so you can purchase them for consumption in your home or to give as gifts. (You can, of course, bring home growlers or crowlers of your favorite seasonal beers as well, which is yet another good option.)

Most breweries like to do holiday seasonals that are malty, rich, and barrel-aged. Cooler weather and holiday meals seem to cry out for great quads, browns, stouts, and porters, so this is the time that most brewers are inspired to release those kinds of brews. There’s a nice variety of styles and flavors represented here—mostly malty—and they can brighten up any aspect of a holiday meal, from a hearty vegetable soup, to a braised meat, to a roasted vegetable dish, and—of course—they’re great with dessert. Another nice aspect of most of these beers is that they’ll age well. That means, if you don’t get to drink everything you buy this year, you can check them out in a few months or next year. And here’s another brilliant idea: If you buy two cans or bottles and save one, you can taste it now and then see how it evolves over time when you crack it open sometime in 2018 (or beyond).

Photo: Bruce Glassman

10 Great Beers for the Holidays

1. XoCoveza (Stone): This Mexican-hot-chocolate-inspired imperial stout (8.1 % ABV) has enticing aromas of cinnamon, bittersweet chocolate, and spices, with a rich, silky body. It’s as close as beer comes to comfort food! A great dessert on its own, XoCoveza is also a perfect match for simple sugar or butter cookies, apple pie, or vanilla ice cream.

2. Black Forest Cake (Coronado): This barrel-aged imperial stout with cocoa, vanilla, and cherries delivers great chocolate and caramel flavors with the prefect hint of sweet cherry on the finish. It’s a big beer (9% ABV) but surprisingly easy to drink. Great with cheesecake, chocolate pot de crème, or chocolate truffles.

3. Gnoel de Abbey (Lost Abbey): Here’s a holiday brown ale (8.5% ABV) that is malty and caramel-laden at its base, with mouthwatering notes of allspice that give it a unique charm. As a brown, it has a medium body that makes it satisfying but not too heavy. Great with sweet potato cheesecake, pumpkin pie, or carrot cake.

4. High West Victory at Sea (Ballast Point): Ballast Point took its awesome imperial porter with coffee and vanilla and aged it in High West Bourbon & Rye barrels. The result is a decadent and delicious beer with wonderful complexity and warmth (12% ABV). Incredible with cheesecake, and also perfect for tiramisu or brownies. There’s also a Peanut Butter Victory at Sea you can try!

5. Ghost Magic (Cellar 3/Green Flash): This brawny (13.3% ABV) barrel-aged Belgian-style stout is inky and unctuous—it pours from the bottle almost like a syrup and gives off heady aromas of molasses, chocolate, plum, and raisins. In the mouth, the dense but smooth body delivers concentrated flavors of vanilla, dried black cherry, dried stone fruit, and coffee. Amazing for dessert on its own, this beer is also the perfect accompaniment to vanilla pound cake, vanilla ice cream, trifle, or oatmeal cookies.

6. 8 Merry Mermen (Karl Strauss): This was the only Triple IPA I tasted for the holidays, and it provided a wonderful detour from the other chocolately, bourbony, spiced/flavored beauties in this collection. Big honey, lemon, and pine aromas blast out of the glass, with a silky malt-laden mouthfeel that delivers a perfectly balanced hop bitterness. At 11% ABV, this is a bold brew, and it drinks almost like it comes from a cask. Want it at your holiday table? Try pairing it with a honey-glazed ham, roasted sweet potatoes, or a pumpkin pie.

7. Mikhail (Stone): At 13.5% ABV, this Espresso Imperial Russian Stout aged in bourbon barrels is the heaviest hitter in the lineup. Deep, wonderfully rich flavors of fresh roasted coffee, chocolate, and bourbon make this stout extra special. This beer can stand as a dessert on its own, but it would also be awesome with pecan pie or bread pudding.

8. Santa’s Little Helper (Port Brewing): This imperial stout (9.9% ABV) is an annual holiday offering from Port, and that’s a very nice gift to beer lovers: It’s a rich, malty, coffee-and-caramel-concoction that does surprisingly well with food of all kinds. Try pairing it with a braised or roasted bird or beef, or—if you want to bring out its sweeter side—match it with a vanilla cake, a cinnamon roll, or a chocolate mousse.

9. Here’s Your Damn Stout (Benchmark): With sweet dried fruit and coffee on the nose, this imperial stout (10% ABV) delivers delicious chocolate, coffee, molasses, and vanilla flavors in a full-bodied beer that’s remarkably well balanced and easy to drink. Not too heavy, this is a great beer to pair with brownies, chocolate layer cake, or coffee ice cream—it would even be my choice for a Christmas morning breakfast of waffles, bacon, and hazelnut maple syrup!

10. Four Seasons Winter (Mother Earth): Aged in bourbon barrels (12% ABV), this imperial brown ale has heady aromas of vanilla, bourbon, and banana on the nose, with sweet and silky flavors of caramel, vanilla, bourbon, and a hint of raisins. Satisfyingly rich for a medium-bodied beer, try pairing this with shortbread, stollen, or gingerbread. It would even be a perfect match for fruitcake!

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