Holiday celebrations are fading quickly from our memories and the reality of long winter nights remain as we shift from frenetic activity to contemplative moments. This is the perfect time for warm fires, long books and big beers.
Understand that by big beers, I’m not referring to supersized versions of the brews of summer. In fact, quite the opposite. These are beverages where as little as twelve ounces easily satiates and, in some cases, pushes beyond the boundary of desire. Full bodied and occasionally bordering on viscous, you’ll find the most enjoyment in small sips over the course of an hour or longer. Each one contemplated for a moment or two, before resting again on the side table as you dig back into the hefty tome on your lap.
Most, if not all European and American brewers craft at least one beer per year that fits squarely into the category of big beers. Doppelbock and Eisbock’s in Germany, Barleywines, old ales and imperial stouts on the British Isles, strong lager fermented porters from the Baltic states, spicy Belgian varieties too numerous to list and all of these plus barrel aged versions of many of them from American craft brewers. An entire winter’s worth of diverse beer flavors for you to explore awaits at most well stocked liquor stores.
To maximize your enjoyment, I recommend a bowl-shaped glass, those red wine glasses in your cupboard have never seen a better use. This allows the beer to breath and the complex aromatics to concentrate as you sip. I also suggest pulling the beer from your refrigerator maybe 15 minutes or so before you intend to drink. Cold is the enemy of flavor so let that beer warm at least into the mid 40s before you dive in. Actually, go ahead and pour it into your glass and take a sip cold then wait 15 minutes before sipping again, experience is the best instructor.
A final word on aging. Beer is packaged as the brewer intended it to be enjoyed. There is no need to set it aside for years. However, time can create some interesting and enjoyable flavor changes in these higher alcohol beers. If you intend to do so, keep them cool (ideally in the 50s Fahrenheit) and out of the light. Several times I’ve enjoyed a six pack that took a full six years to drink and was beguiled by the changing flavors and aromas I encountered. Not necessarily better, but different and interesting. The beer I’m drinking now and in the photograph above is the last bottle of a barley wine that my brothers and I brewed in my kitchen in 2015, not bad if I do say so myself.
May you find the right beer for the right moment in 2019!
Cheers – Keith