Golfers, who are used to looking under trees, never tire of finding boxes of new balls there during the holiday season. I certainly don't discourage the practice, and was thrilled when my brother gave me about a dozen boxes last year, after apparently ravishing the pro shop during the end-of-season clearance.
And I never tire of receiving beer as a holiday gift or New Year 's offering, either. Some friends try to find me beers I've never had before -- no simple task, but I always appreciate the effort. Others know that a gift bottle or six-pack of an old favorite will do nicely, too, and breweries cooperate by producing all sorts of holiday specials or winter warmers, usually available through March.
There are no stylistic boundaries for such beers, although holiday beers may have some spice or fruit added to the brewpot, and winter warmers tend to have sturdy flavor profiles and alcohol levels elevated over normal fare.
Chances are these beers won't be at the local supermarket, but any halfway decent distributor will stock some of the following brews. Brewery Web sites can help track down sale outlets, too. We've listed nine, our favorite number next to 18, a diverse geographic sampling that should help anyone all the way through winter golf withdrawal:
The San Francisco brewers of Anchor Steam Beer can thanked for reviving the tradition of holiday beers in the U.S., coming out with a different annual recipe since 1975 and a different label, a tree symbolizing the winter solstice. It's a Sitka spruce this year, and the dark brew has zesty spruce overtones itself.
A big, beautiful ale, floral as a hop garden, rich and flavorful, warming (6.8% ABValcohol by volume), fit for a holiday groaning board. Indeed, celebratory. Probably the easiest of the lot to find, but one of the best, too. At 9.6 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) the Chico, California brewery's Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale is the ideal choice for winter fireside-sipping.
The Brooklyn Brewery calls its Monster Ale their dead-of-winter seasonal. It 's a barleywine style ale that, at 10 percent ABV, should indeed be able to rouse the departed, a big beer with a raisiny, vinous nose. The same brewery brews a Black Chocolate Stout through March that is another lid-lifter, a Russian Imperial Stout style beer that clocks in at 8.5 percent ABV - dessert in a bottle.
Geary's Hampshire Special Ale used to be brewed, as the ads said, "Only as long as the weather sucks," which can be quite a while in the Portland, Maine, headquarters. But the beer was so popular it's available year-round now. The new Winter Ale is a 6 percent ABV India Pale Ale with a bracingly biting hop finish.
A unique brew from Unibroue in Quebec because the ale is blended with wild cherries that have been soaked for months in bitter ale. The resulting fruit beer can be enjoyed cold or hot (up to 160º F say the brewers), or even on the rocks as an aperitif.
American fruit beers are often sickly sweet, missing a few recipe pages from the Belgium masters of the art. But this Fort Collins, Colorado brewery knows how to do it. Their version of a Belgium brown ale is fermented with Northwest raspberries (frambozen is Flemish for raspberry), and the resultant sweet/tart blend may well be better than Champagne for New Year's.
Mighty tough to find, but the WorldWide Stout from this always adventurous Delaware brewery stakes its claim as the world's strongest dark beer, the 2003 batch coming in at 18.8 percent ABV. If nothing else, it's a conversation piece-at least through a couple of bottles.
A St. Paul, Minnesota brewery should know something about ways to stay warm, and the Summit offering is a British interpretation of the style. A pleasing dark brown, well-hopped, full-bodied, and, at 5.9 percent ABV, a quaffable brew that invites another pint.
An import from Yorkshire's oldest brewery, this amber brew has a decided maltiness to it, and the busiest label art around. In clear 18.7-ounce bottles said to be the size of Victorian-era pints. Think Dickens, take a hearty swig, and have a great holiday.
Next: Arnold Palmer bought me a beer
Tom Bedell has written about golf and golf travel for American Airlines' luxury magazine Celebrated Living since 1999, and has contributed to Travel & Leisure Golf, Golf Connoisseur, Virtuoso Life, Lexus Magazine, Acura Style, Tee It Up, American Way, The Met Golfer and many others. He is currently the travel editor at Troon Golf & Travel.
We all love golf course rankings, but there's quite a bias involved, huh? Host a major championship and you're basically guaranteed a spot on the list. What about the average duffer who's more impressed with the beer list than the slope/rating - or prefers friendliness over the fine, imported lotion in the locker room? Where's our list, hackers? Answer: Right here.
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