Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Beer (or two) to Fit the Wintry Season!

Well, in but a few moments the worst will officially be over.  The winter solstice will occur, which is both the absolute low point of the year's daylight as well as the time of year I give serious consideration to my plan to move to San Bernardino and panhandle for boozin' money.  At least it's warm there and I can work in my shorts (or out of my shorts, depending on my clientele's wishes).   Despite the sad advent of the winter season, there is a cause for some rejoicing, for from this point forward, each day will be a little bit longer than the one before it, soon ushering in a season of warmth and beauty, where 'twill be evergreen!

Bull.  Shit.

Does it look like it's getting any warmer out there?  Does spring appear to be just around the corner?  No!  This is a picture taken about three weeks ago from outside my drinking window, three weeks ago of course being technically autumn:

Pictured: A crisp autumn morning.

Does this crapshoot look like autumn to you?  Fuck that - it's been winter in this country for like four weeks now, and let me tell you now brother, it ain't getting any better.  I've always hated the idea that winter somehow 'begins' on December 21st; perhaps this has something to do with my Canuck heritage (that, and a penchant for oppressive politeness and a Tourette's-like tendency to burst out into fits of unnecessary bilingualism).   Winter is defined as the period of the year when the sun is the lowest in the sky and snowball-related homicides are at an all time high.   But the sun has abandoned us for at least a month now, so it hardly makes sense to say that the season just begun when, technically, things are on the upswing.  We've already slogged through half of the shortest days of the year, and it won't be winter for another hour.  What up with that?

I've been bitching about winter as early as November 20th, and I've got to say, it's really working well for me.  Thus, winter should, in my book, officially start at around November 21st, thus incorporating into the season the belated American Thanksgiving festival (to show them how unnecessarily late it really is) as well as any freak "early" snow storms (i.e., the ones that happen every fucking year.)  The entire month of December now becomes officially part of the winter season.  Technically, as things stand, we only really have the 21st till the 25th of December to go "walking in a winter wonderland" - doing so before hand is technically a "fall wonderland," a foul concept that offends Jesus and brings comfort to our enemies abroad.  

Sorry, enough bitching.  Time to focus on beer, which in this case are two frighteningly appropriately-named brews in honor of the changing of the seasonal guard.

Rarely does an opportunity come about in which a brew so is perfectly timed for consumption.  Some brews really set themselves up - demand, really - to be drank at certain times of the year - Oktoberfest lagers, Christmas Winter Warmers, Lenten Bocks, etc.  Dieu du Ciel has taken this a step further and actually made a series of brews in celebration of the four seasons.

L-R: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Thus, if you really wanted to (and I intend to), you could drink an "Equinoxe du Printemps" Scotch Ale on March 21st, a "Solstice D'été" Berliner Weisse on June 21st, and an "Equinoxe d'Automne" Rauchbier on the 21st of September.   So lets get things rolling!  On this, winter solstice, let's drink a pint of....winter solstice!

Beer: Solstice d'hiver
Brewery: Dieu du Ciel! (Montreal)
Type: Barleywine
ABV: 9.8%

Barleywines are a great brew to drink in the winter, if you can get past the lower carbonation and the almost cloying levels of sweetness.  I can, so I do.  It's an older style of beer, and among the strongest out there in terms of flavor and alcohol.  They are also great for cellaring, so I plan on holding on to a bottle or so of this.    But since I just got in from another insane day of last-minute Christmas shopping, I really can go for one right now.  So I will.

As usual, a wonderful bottle design from the DDC artists. Haunting winter imagery, perfect for this brew.  Poured into a nonic glass.  Rich amber-chestnut, with a very thin head that quickly recedes into a little ring.  Looks thick and rich, like a slug of good malty scotch.  About right for the style.

Nose is rich caramel, molasses, sherry, wood, cherry, good whiff of booze as well. This should be great!

A highly flavorful and enjoyable barleywine. Rich notes of caramel, brandy, grape, cherry, oak, toffee and cream.  A nutty character to it as well, maybe cashew or almond.  Sweet and rich, but that's what I'm always hoping for. Barleywines are fast becoming my go-to winter brew, and this one delivers big time. Alcohol is certainly present, but in a delightfully warming fashion. I may still be reeling from a snow-shovelling stupor, but this brew is really hitting the spot. The right brew at the right time, that's what I say!

Thick and chewy, slick, but with a delightfully higher-than-average carbonation level. This one is going down well.

Another winner from Dieu du Ciel - great on a cold, snowy first night. I may be biased towards barleywines, but if I likes it, I scores it high. And this one I likes. A few of these kicking around the house will certainly help get me through the cold, cold season ahead.

Next up is a brew that isn't as perfectly timed for today, but still fits the bill as a winter brew.
(Grade: A)

Beer: Christoffel Bok
Brewery: Bierbrouwerij Sint Christoffel (Roermond, Netherlands)
Type: Bock
ABV: 7.8%

I've had a few of this brewers' wares before in these stubby little hinged-top bottles, and so far I've enjoyed them.  Their "Nobel" hopped pilsner was quite nice, as I recall.  The brewery is located in Roermond, a town in the extreme southeast of the Netherlands, almost pushing into Belgium.  

Poured into a chalice. A dark sludgy brown-amber, leaving behind just the slightest amount of head. Doesn't last long, however. I can't really call this an attractive-looking brew by any stretch.

The nose is much better: rich malty goodness, a light touch of grassy hops, candied plums and grapes, sugar, and a bit of alcohol. 

Not a bad tasting bock by any means, but it certainly isn't anything special. A fine study in malts, I will admit that, with strong notes of bread, caramel, grain and toffee.  Like most bocks, Christoffel is dark and fruity, boasting flavors of sherry, figs, plum and grape. Very sweet, but finishes with a slight hoppy dryness that helps things along.
Mouthfeel is thick, but definitely under-carbonated. I know bocks shouldn't be overly crisp, but this one just drank too much like a barleywine to really feel right.

A decent bock, but not nearly as good as others I've sampled this year, nor is it the best from this brewer (I enjoyed their Nobel a great deal). There wasn't anything offensive about it, it drank pretty well, but it wasn't fantastic.  (Grade: B)


Looking outside, it's now completely dark, which means that we are now entering the longest night of the year.  If you can swing it, snuggle up with a loved one and a nice glass of strong winter ale, and start praying for spring.  I know I will be...

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