Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Beer Week, Part 2: Hoppy New Year

The concept of a hoppy holiday beer - as fun and alliterative as it may sound - is still a relatively untouched idea in the American beer spectrum. But why should it be?

The idea behind most holiday beers is adding a little something extra to the standard recipe or brewing with spices that you use only once a year. So, why not take hops that are normally outside of a brewery's line of ingredients, pair them with a typical malty backbone and create something new? It can be done without making the Christmas season an excuse to rev up the IBUs on a recipe just for the heck of it.

Maybe nothing demonstrates that better this season than Full Sail Brewing's Wreck the Halls, a 2011 brewmaster reserve that doesn't hold back on the hops. Rather than trying to do anything too dazzling, this creation simply layers Centennial hops onto a deep amber body, giving you a mouth full of grass but also a pleasant malty backtaste to minimize the sting. And thus, it proves you don't have to use cinnamon to designate that you make make a special beer in the winter.

Odell Brewing's Isolation Ale approaches the concept of a hoppingly refreshing beer from a different angle - that of a beer that presents its caramel characteristics first and foremost but surprises you with a sharp hop backtaste. In that way, the hop is the special flavor of the season, bursting into what otherwise would be a more standard medium-colored ale and warming your palate beyond what the malts can do.

Newcastle seemed to be going for a similar taste this year in its first-time Winter IPA, a take on the style that is decidedly light on bittering hops and that comes with just a hint of holiday caramel in the body. It's about as far from Wreck the Halls as you get in terms of intensity. But, more than being a hophead's delight, this is the kind of hoppy beer that you can serve to the whole family gathering and use it to ween people onto the idea that holiday beers with a different taste don't have to mean an overpowering malt or spice base.

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

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