Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Beer Week, Part 1: Dark and Daring
Holiday beers come in many styles, from the hopped to the heavy, but none seems as prominent as the dark beer that just reeks of warming on a cold winter night.

The bad news is that a number of the holiday darks push, like summer light ales, adventurouslessly toward a color rather than a unique flavor. But there are those that can pull of the label "dark and daring," and for them we should all be grateful.

*Bristol Brewing's Winter Warlock has long been a favorite of mine for its chewy roasted oat flavor, and this year the Colorado Springs brewery just cranks up the goodness by putting it on nitro (at least at the brewery). This smooths it out and lets the softly burned chocolate flavor stand out above the carbonation. Try it if you can find it this way.

*Great Divide's Hibernation Ale is another old standby - at 8.7% ABV it was the first big beer sold throughout Colorado. But this beer feels fresh every year. It's a big hit of both malt (on the aroma) and hops on the back of the tongue. And the high alcohol really does leave you warmed.

*If you're looking for something of the sweeter variety, Tommyknocker's Cocoa Porter seems to be picking up that characteristic more every year. It has just a hint of a vanilla cream taste and a medium-sized body, making this a perfect post-ski beer if you're stopping at the brewery on the way back down I-70.

*Left Hand's latest iteration of Paint It Black should only be drunk when not exhausted, as it's a jolt to the system. Ink black and thick as soup, the 2011 version outstrips the daring 2010 Baltic porter version because this adds just a hint of chili fire on the backtaste that lights up an otherwise fully dark mouthfeel.

*Finally, for those who like their Christmas beers like the ones that would have been drank in the 19th Century, there is Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout (pictured above) from Ridgeway Brewing of England. While British porters often tend to leave you with a mouthfeel of wet rope, this provides you with a dusty, even musky chocolate taste that feels it's blending old-world and new-world beer sensibilities.

This is day one of a five-part series examining the beers of this holiday season. Merry Christmas and happy new beer!

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