If someone on your list has a favorite regional brewer, chances are there’s a holiday treat for them to try.
Well before the nights get longer and the days grow colder, brewers start working on the ales and lagers that make the season a bit brighter for many.
“I always liken brewers to chefs, because that’s what they are,” said Paul Leone, spokesman for the New York State Brewers Association. “Their recipes are as important to them as a chef’s recipes are, and the seasonality of food is no different than the seasonality of beer.”
With the onset of winter, brewers’ recipes tend to shift darker, maltier and higher in alcohol content. The term “winter warmer” is often used to describe beers with a bit more kick, to help weather the cold.
Such is the goal of the Tiny Tartan, in process as of late-November at Wolf Hollow Brewing Co. on Amsterdam Road in Glenville. Owner and brewer Jordan White said the beer is a rebranding of the brewery’s Christmas Scotch Ale, which was aged on whiskey-soaked oak spirals, like those used by some wineries to add an oak-barrel-aged flavor to their creations.
For the Tiny Tartan, the oak spirals were soaked in bourbon before being added to a conditioning tank full of Scotch ale. The beer debuted in the brewery’s tap room on Dec. 1 and is available at select local restaurants and taverns, White said.
At Brown’s Brewing Co. in Troy, the annual release of the Dunder & Blixem marks the start of winter for that brewery’s patrons, according to brewer Lee MacCrea.
The beer is a classic winter warmer, coming in at around 8 percent alcohol by volume, and featuring “rich malt flavors of caramel and toffee, together with additions of cinamon and vanilla,” MacCrea said.
He said the style is often called a “wassale,” as it was traditionally enjoyed while people were out wassailing, an old English tradition similar to caroling.
MacCrea and Dan Cramer are Brown’s “experimental brewers,” whose job it is to come up with new recipe at Brown’s.
He sees the seasonality of beer as a built-in freshening that helps beer stand out from wine or spirits, he said.
Leone, with the Brewer’s Association, said favored beer styles have always changed with the calendar.
“I don’t know the moment when people started brewing beers, but I can tell you the seasonality of beers really comes down to what ingredients were available when they brewed the beer,” he said. “That’s why you see more pumpkin or gourd-type beers in the fall. You see heartier beers in the wintertime ” which are really great when you’re sitting around a fire.”
At Shmaltz Brewing Co. in Clifton Park, the holiday beer this year is called Gelta. It takes its name from Hannukah gelt coins, those chocolate wafers wrapped in gold foil to make them look like coins, said brewery spokesman Greg Chanese.
“This beer is a golden strong ale to reflect the gold wrapper that’s usually on the gelt, and we brewed it with cocoa nibs to reflect the chocolate that comes in it,” he said. There’s also a peachy/orange citrus zest to the beer.
“It’s a great wintry beer; if somebody’s not really into heavy hops, this is something that’s much more on the malty side,” Chanese said.
Shmaltz has other winter releases, including the Jewbilation 20, an imperial brown ale, and the Genesis 20/20, which is a barrel-aged, tart barleywine.
Most of the region’s breweries — and there are more every season — have released winter seasonals, even if they’re not specifically named for the holidays.
Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. in Saratoga Springs, for instance, is touting its PB&J Oatmeal Stout, made with raspberry and peanut butter, that clocks in at around 6 percent alcohol by volume. And the Dream Pie Oatmeal Stout, made with cacao nibs (a less-processed form of cocoa) and vanilla beans, is also anticipated by brewery fans each year, according to spokesman Max Oswald.
Even if heavier, darker, spicier, sweeter beers aren’t on everyone’s list for the holidays, the seasonal releases keep the tap lineups fresh for consumers, said Leone.
“I think the consumer certainly enjoys the uniqueness of seasonal beers, and it also gives brewers an outlet to express themselves creatively,” he said. “The consumer is always saying, hey, this beer is good, but what do you have that’s new?”
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Food, Life and Arts