Without much further ado . . . part two . . .
Hook Norton Brewery Twelve Days of Christmas Ale - This is a brewery out of England with which I was unfamiliar, and to be honest, I bought the beer because the bottle was quite pretty. There are many reasons to buy a beer. That's an acceptable one. Shut up. Anyway, I was greeted with a sweet citrus aroma. This definitely plays into the flavor. The beer trades in drinkability, the light body packing medium carbonation. The crispness in the body brings notes of wheat bread, piney hops, and even something in the neighborhood of vanilla cake. It also provides a malty zing in the center back of the tongue, balanced with an underlying delicate fruitiness that makes it supremely easy to drink. However, the overall sum of the beer is a bit underwhelming. It tastes crisp and upscale, yet inoffensive to the point of being mostly forgettable.
It is here that we make a special excursion. I was recently taken out to Spitzer's, a beer bar and restaurant on the Lower East Side that is rocking a SERIOUS draft beer menu (I won't talk about the bottles). The food was dope; the beer copious, reasonably priced, and chosen well. They rocked it, and if you don't mind a few collared-shirt d-bags in the place with you (thanks Giuliani), you could have a great time. Just repeat: Ignore the twats, enjoy the beer.
We had a wonderful selection of beers on this particular night. It is always exciting to go out and have ONE new good beer, but I had FOUR, and I can safely say that I left in . . . um . . . good spirits.
I started with the Allagash Curieux. Allagash operates our of Maine and is HIGHLY respected, with good reason. When the menu said this 11% Belgian-style Trippel would "kick your ass", I had to try it. It did NOT kick my ass, but it did send me into a bit of beer heaven. A rich golden color and gentle yet prominent carbonation make this seem absolutely legit Belgian, and the flavors only reinforce that. Most American breweries couldn't even dream of getting that legendary banana note in there, let alone the myriad other flavors that show up, especially into a beer this light in body: buttery tones, fruit nectar, a light yeast. Each sip reveals something new. The beer almost teases you, throwing out a big huge note of something like golden kiwi, only to rip it away and replace it with something new. Sans menu, I would guess it was straight out of Belgium. Kudos to Allagash for the elegant brew. This is really something special if you can get your hands on some.
Next up (after a palate cleansing) was Anchor Christmas Ale. Now, I'm going to be honest. I like Anchor Steam, but I've never LOVED Anchor Steam. It is good, and always a great choice for festivities, but I wouldn't go out and just buy it for me. Their Christmas Ale on the other hand? Beast. They provide a rich, thick, sweet, dark ale peppered with notes of ginger, clove, cinnamon, and caramel to make what can only be described as an alcoholic gingerbread cookie. Absolutely delicious, and I HIGHLY recommend you seek this out, as it is relatively easy to find. Warning: drinking this from a bottle is sacrilege. Do it and FAIL.
On to Unibroue's Ephemere. Unibroue is Canadian, which doesn't mean a lot for their beer, other than that it is made by people with insurance and sensible gun laws. However, they have managed to stake quite a reputation on Belgian-inspired brews (similar to Allagash), and they always seem to bring something quirky to even the most revered styles. Their Ephemere seems to be an homage to a fruit lambic. The color is a slightly green-tinted light yellow . . . or say, something like this, which is pretty much what it tastes like too. There aren't a ton of layers, but it packs an ample amount of apples (say that last part out loud), and perfectly blends sweet and tart for a very refreshing beer that would probably find a better home in summer. But no worries. It did well under difficult circumstances, and the aroma - with perpetually shifting notes of apple, peach, pear, and banana - is one of the best I've ever experienced.
Now, I went a bit out of order up top for dramatic effect. You see, once in a while a beer comes along that totally floors you. It not only speaks to your inner beer geek, the one searching for technique, but also to that guy or girl in you who just wants something delicious. On this night we all experienced Goose Island Imperial Brown Ale. If there is any place within ten miles of you that sells this, GET IT. NOW. Seriously, stop reading this shitty article and drink the beer.
Goose Island is from Chicago and has a deserved reputation as some of the best brewers there are. Their IPA is a thing of tremendous beauty, their oatmeal stout is delicious, and I hear tell that their specialty/limited brews are wonderful. I hadn't had one until this night, and by the end, everyone in our group was won over, each person drinking their own based on a sip from someone else's. The flavors . . . my god . . . the flavors. Brown sugar, caramel, toffee, almond, butterscotch . . . oh, and the COCONUT. Are they SERIOUS? It was absolutely heavenly, and unlike the Allagash brew where the obscuring of the alcohol let the slighter notes roam freely, Goose Island smartly realized they were working with a different beast. The upfront flavors are uniformly sweet, so the booze gets tucked away into the finish, cleansing the palate of the sweetness. This insidious trick only makes you more desperate to get back to the mind-erasingly ecstatic cornucopia of sugary treats that warms your mouth on every sip. That's right. Think that was pompous? Wait until you hear the stupid shit you blurt out when YOU drink it. It makes an otherwise level-headed character drop a "cornucopia" or "bjornboggle!" which is Dutch for, "I seriously just crapped my pants because this is so good." (Theirs is a language of economy.)
My girlfriend said it tasted "like a beer reward", and as usual, she was right. It tastes like a treat. It is a treat. It brought our tastebuds alive and the group together in a uniformly gushing mass of fanboy nerdery. The relaxed drinker in the geek likes it, and the geek resting within every casual fan likes it. It brings people together, warms up a chilly December night, and tastes like it was made just for you. Cheers to that.