Beers to beat the winter blahs

by Mark Tichenor

You’re probably as annoyed as I am about Christmas music in stores, Black Friday ads, and the fact that most big-box employees don’t even get to celebrate Thanksgiving this year because of we’re a bunch of rapacious locusts, whipped into a frenzy of Holiday consumption by the retail marketing machine.

Hold on while I take this blood pressure pill…

Right, anyway, not all holiday consumption is bad. You could, for example, be consuming holiday ales. While it’s true that many breweries cynically use the Christmas season to add a bunch of cloves and cinnamon to their existing beer, draw a soused Santa on the packaging, and roll it out to grocery stores, there are some well-crafted ones out there as well.

Take Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale for example, released every winter, Celebration is the kind of beer that’ll have you gulping down whatever nasty sludge is preceding it in the cellar, if only to hurry up and get it tapped. Instead of relying on spices, Celebration leads with West Coast hops, layered over a chewy, ever so slightly caramel malt backbone. It’s a skillful, clever balance requiring equal parts subtlety and Chutzpah, and not something every brewery is capable of pulling off.

Sierra Nevada Celebration 2013 has been officially released, and can be found on tap across the Greater Rochester area, as well as packaged in beer stores and supermarkets.

Closer to home, the Rohrbach Brewing Company also bucks the pumpkin pie spice trend for their annual Kacey’s Christmas Ale. This rich brown ale instead incorporates chocolate, coffee and cherry flavors for a warming brew that’s equally pleasing in front of a roaring fire or in a cozy pub. There’s more than a hint of fruitcake to Kacey’s, in a good way. It evokes the comforting aspects of the Holiday season that tend to get downplayed in the mad stampede to the shopping center.

Kacey’s Christmas Ale has become a Rochester seasonal staple you can find on draft around town, at Rohrbach’s brewpub on Buffalo Road, or at the Railroad Street Brewery adjacent to the Public Market.

Naked Dove, in Canandaigua, is in their third year of producing Nice and Naughty Christmas ale. This one does incorporate spices, blended into a robust red ale which would stand up well on its own.

Cinnamon, clove and allspice come readily to the tip of the tongue, and Brewmaster Dave Schlosser likes to quiz tasters to determine the other flavor notes. In any event, what makes Nice and Naughty a standout isn’t the spices in it, but their subtle interplay with the ale’s flavor and aroma notes; they enhance and never overwhelm.

In other beers:

Abandon Brewing Company is officially open in the most rustic old barn you’ve ever seen, just south of Penn Yan. Brewer Jeff Hildebrandt, having arrived via stints at Custom Brewcrafters and Ommegang Brewing Company, is making the most of his cramped brewhouse, making beers for on-premise sale and regional availability.

The whole range of Abandon’s beer is high quality. but the standout is Harvest Saison, a fresh take on Belgian farmhouse ale. It’s zesty, with lots of citrus and a rustic malt character, kind of like an autumn picnic in a glass.

Look for Abandon at Rochester area beer pubs like Donnelly’s, Quimby’s and The Tap and Mallet, or use their existence as an excuse to explore that beautiful Finger Lakes region we so love to brag about.

Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

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Mark is writing a book

Yeah, I’m writing a book. It’s about beer, specifically the history of brewing in Rochester, New York. This is for History Press; they publish a lot of those local history books you see all over the country.

Anyway, I was hoping to use this as an excuse for not updating the blog super often, but that probably won’t fly considering my pathetic trickle of output over the past year or so. Sorry about that.

So look for the book to come out in June, during Rochester Real Beer Week. Provided I make my deadlines. This is gonna be a heck of a ride.