By Lew Bryson
The holidays are here. It’s a time of annual change, as we zip up the fleece, change our shopping and see different foods at the markets and on menus. No more swimming and picnicking, it’s hay rides and bonfires, and soon it will be time for skiing and snowballs. Gifting and re-gifting, family and friends, parties and feasts: it’s that time of year, and you’ll enjoy it more if you remember this one thing…
That was the title of an advertising campaign the U.S. Brewers Foundation came up with in 1945, and ran for 10 years – a beautifully executed series of magazine ads that showed beer in American life. On the back porch, at the ballfield, at the beach, at the holiday table: beer was shown as part of America. “Beer is the kind of beverage Americans like,” the text would read. “It belongs – to pleasant living, to good fellowship, to sensible moderation. In this friendly, freedom-loving land of ours – beer belongs.”
Beer is the everyday drink with food, with friends, with your dog on the deck in a reflective moment. Beer belongs in the clink of glasses, in the relaxation after a day’s work and in the celebration of a project completed, whether a highway bridge built, software debugged, or a sidewalk shoveled free of snow. Some of my best memories are occasions where beer belonged: a lazy fall afternoon with siblings, a wake that was a celebration of life, weddings and reunions.
And yet, beer is perhaps becoming too precious, too special, to belong everywhere. The move to smaller breweries with inviting taprooms is a good one; it’s always good for people to gain a closer connection to how beer is made and where it comes from. But when that becomes the only place where people do their beer drinking, it can be limiting. Beer gets squeezed out of other occasions.
The tasting room is always fun, and the beers are interesting, one-of-a-kind. But a good craft beer bar, or your favorite distributor, or your beer-enabled supermarket has something even better: variety. Not just the portfolio of one brewer, but a vast selection from a universe of brewers! A bar can deliver draught-only specialty beers that you may not see anywhere else. And your beer store makes it easy for beer to belong wherever you go. Packaged beer is portable: you can take it wherever you go, in your fridge or cooler, in your trunk or your backpack. Bottles and cans are packed fresh at the brewery with up-to-date technology these days, so you can buy them with confidence.
Beer particularly belongs to this time of year, when the holidays come. Every brewer outdoes themselves to produce something special. It is a tradition of the industry to say “thanks!” to the customer with something new, or something limited, or something very special. They are beers that are celebratory, that embrace the festive menus of the season, that reflect the bounty of harvest season.
If you’re looking for wine to match your menu, beer can do that too (and all in one easy stop). Wine’s acidity and sparkle meet their match in an array of carefully crafted sours like you’ll get from The Bruery or Cascade. American sours are very popular, and are getting to the level of the European classics. If it’s rosé’s fun and frolic you’re looking for, try a beer like Coppertail Whoops!, a fun, fizzy Berliner weisse with cranberry and hibiscus, Ballast Point’s tart, cherry, wheat ale Sea Rose or Rodenbach Fruitage, comprised of authentically aged Rodenbach blended with young Rodenbach ale, with added cherries and elderberries, now that’s a glassful of cheer!
Maybe you’re looking for something in the bourbon line for your wintertime sipping. You know there are plenty of beers that have the big, fat flavor of the bourbon barrel, a whole pile of them.
The stores and bars are literally full of flavors, and right now is the best time of year to taste that variety. And with the new relaxation of the case law, you can sample to your heart’s content. That’s the whole point of having a craft brewing revolution, after all: to try new things and drink old classics.
For instance, it’s pumpkin time. The demise of pumpkin beer has been greatly exaggerated by the beer media (who tend to get tired of things much more quickly than the people who actually drink the beer). They are still delicious, still fun, still out there, and beers like Dogfish Head Punkin never skipped a beat. It’s still got all the fun you remember.
Then you’re into the shank of the season, when the holiday and winter beers come out; it’s the most wonderful time… for a beer! There are beers that are packaged like the holiday gifts they are, where brewers put a little something extra into it all. I just dropped in at Merchant du Vin, the importers of Samuel Smith, and they have all 25+ years of the beautiful, hand-painted, Samuel Smith Winter Welcome labels, each with a charming scene of winter joy.
Don’t stop going to the tiny tasting room; it’s fun, it’s fresh, it’s cool. But keep exploring because beer belongs on your table, in your fridge, on your skiing trip, on top of your snowman!
Have some fun, have some laughs, have a beer.