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The Daily Five – Holiday Beers

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I’d like to introduce a new AV Daily blog feature, “The Daily Five”.

Each day around noon, I’ll introduce a “Top 5” list from a local community subject matter expert for you to read, share, and discuss. We dabbled with it last week, but settled on a format which allows us to bring new and different voices to the blog each day.

Today is the 78th anniversary of the passage of the 21st amendment (aka Prohibition Repeal Day), and I couldn’t think of a better way to start this new feature than with a discussion about beer. As holiday party season kicks off, I thought we should help you appear distinguished and cultured by having one or several classic holiday beers available for your guests.

So, in order to make this list, I went to two of the leading beer experts in Buffalo, Ethan Cox (certified cicerone) and Rudy Watkins (Brewmaster) of the fledgling Community Beer Works Brewery on Lafayette Street in Buffalo.

When CBW’s president Ethan Cox and head brewer Bob “Rudy” Watkins get together to think about holiday beers, they don’t produce your typical list of spiced-up, thin-bodied, 4.5% “winter warmers” from krapht breweries like the staff writers at Maxim do; oh, hell no.

They think about blankets of snow, feet-up by the fireside, and late-night, contemplative beers. These aren’t the party beers- these are the after-party beers.

1. Quelque Chose | Unibroue | Montreal, Canada | 8% ABV | Blended, spiced ale

The name is French for “Something” and it’s true, this beer is something… else. First, it’s a blend of two beers: their own spiced brown ale, bringing clove and cinnamon to the party, and a cherry lambic, or kriek, for dark fruit complexity and a hint of sour tang. Better than that, it is a beer they intend to be served warm. Though it is delicious at the standard cellar temperature range as well, we like it best out of a crock-pot. Throw in some dried cherries and a cinnamon stick for extra cheer.

2. Old Foghorn | Anchor Brewing Co. | San Francisco, California | 8-10% ABV (varies) | Barleywine style ale

Anchor is in many ways the ground zero of American craft brewing, alongside Sierra Nevada. From reviving classic Steam Beer to inventing American IPA in Liberty Ale, and producing the first seasonal, holiday beer–which is not the one making this list, as it happens–they’ve been consummate craft pioneers. They also make Old Foghorn, the first American barleywine of this new era of craft brewing since 1975. This beer varies bit from year to year, and also ages quite well. But, it is always a chewy, malty-rich but still quite hoppy delight.

3. Aventinus | G. Schneider & Sohn | Kelheim, Germany | 8.2% ABV | Weizenbock

It’s easy to imagine that a weizenbock might be like a bock, but with wheat- and you’d be, well, sorta wrong about that. Sure, it’s got wheat in it, and in fact it’s really more another kind of weissbier or wheat ale than a bock–one of many types of lager–at all. However, as a dunkle or dark-weizen brewed to dopplebock strength, it somehow acquired that reference in the name. Like other German weizen beers, there’s a load of clove and banana in the nose in this deep mahogany brew topped with a thick, light tan head. The sip reveals those aromas as flavors joined with caramel, raisin, licorice & faint vanilla notes in a creamy, full-bodied beer.

4. St. Bernadus Christmas | Brouwerij St. Bernadus | Watou, Belgium | 10% ABV | Belgian Strong Dark, spiced

Clearly, we didn’t think “nothing with spices,” we just wanted them done right: orange peel and nutmeg melding perfectly with big malt-fruit flavors and deep Belgian abbey yeast complexity, all contained in a heady, unctuous liquid: this is a real “winter warmer,” though certainly not of the English type. Though technically not a Trappist beer, as it does not come from an actual monastery, the happy monk on the label has all kinds of reasons to smile when drinking this divine seasonal offering.

5. Black Chocolate Stout | Brooklyn Brewery | Brooklyn, NY |  10% ABV | Imperial Stout

This beer is justly famous as the beer that got Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn’s esteemed brewmaster, hired in 1994.  Pour this one into a snifter at 55 degrees, or “castle temperature,” grab a book and a seat by the fireside.  You’ll catch a whiff of the alcohol in the nose, alsongside a whole lot of roasted barley all coming off the deep tan head atop the beer.

These beers are available at your neighborhood good beer store, like Premier and/or Consumers or other outlets of similar ilk. Pick up a few and celebrate the holidays in style.

Embeer Buffalo!


  • Jesse

    Good lord that’s a glorious list! Aventinus is a personal favorite, not limited to the winter season. Everything from Unibroue is wonderful.

  • Jim Corbran

    As a child, our fridge was full of Koch’s Holiday Beer at this time of year.