Winter feasting with beer

Beer is not often considered a cold weather beverage however the spices and roasted malts that usually are used in wintry beers have a warming quality that makes beer a good fit for the season. Their complex flavors also lend themselves to the dinner table and many winter warmer style beers pair nicely with traditional holiday foods. Here are a handful of local beers to consider serving this holiday season.

Third Window, The Bruery, and Potek Winery 2016 Bierbara

Burbara is the traditional dish of wheat grains, pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise and sugar that is eaten during The Feast of Saint Barbara. For the past few years, Third Window Brewing Co, Potek Winery, and The Bruery have gotten together to make a beer inspired by the dish that honors our town’s namesake. The recipe changes each year and the 2016 vintage is a Belgian-style golden strong with Potek’s Riesling grapes, dried apricots, star anise, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It has a marigold hue adorned by aromas of apricot, peach, and cookie dough with the tartness of green grapes and a complex spice character. It is only available for a limited time so pick up a growler while it is still about. The 2016 Bierbara pairs well with a traditional ham dinner accompanied by sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts.

This is the second year that the three collaborators have held a beer and wine dinner on the night of Saint Barbara’s feast day (Dec. 4th). The dinner is a night of drinks and revelry featuring beverages from all three Bierbara collaborators and food by the neighboring Wildwood Kitchen. It was recently held on a brisk night with guests dining on one long table running alongside the brewery. Heaters and candlelight warmed the conversation as Third Window’s Kris Parker, The Bruery’s Patrick Rue, and Potek’s Dave Potter hosted the dinner. The meal began with a glasses of lager and sparkling Shiraz paired with an amuse bouche that included a stuffed mushroom, bratwurst bite, and roasted squash soup. The first course was Grilled Little Gems Lettuce Salad with Parsnips, Beets, Radishes, Carrots, Walnut Pesto, and Aged Goat Cheese alongside The Bruery Humulus Terreux, a 100% Brettanomyces-fermented IPA, and 2014 Potek Chardonnay, Bien Nacido Vineyard. Humulus Terreux has the aromas of green mangoes and Brettanomyces funk with a grassy background. The main course was Smoked Pork Belly paired with the star of the show, 2016 Bierbara. The beer accented the pork’s peppery spice rub and complemented the earthiness of the Brussels sprouts and toasted mustard side dish. Dessert was a Smoked Vanilla Pot du Crème with Fresh Baked Madeleines and a Persimmon Compote. It was served next to 2014 Potek Ice Wine, Kick on Ranch Vineyard, and The Bruery Blue BBLs, a soured imperial Russian stout with blueberries and aged in bourbon barrels. Blue BBLs has a ripe berry flavor with a touch of acidity and a rich chocolate character.

Figueroa Mountain 6th Anniversary Ale

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.’s anniversary falls on the holiday season and their anniversary ale released each year is always a nice choice for a festive meal. This year’s 6th Anniversary Grand Cru Ale is a blend between three barrel types with the final mixture coming in at 50% whiskey barrels, 15% grape brandy barrels, and 35%  apple pear Calvados barrels. Calvados is an apple (sometimes with pear) brandy that only comes from the Normandy region of France (similar to how champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France). The barrels are extremely rare so when the Figueroa Mountain crew knew they would be getting their hands on some it immediately became the theme for this year’s anniversary beer. This blend balanced the smokiness of the whiskey with the fruit-forward flavors of the Calvados and brandy barrels.

This beer’s brown sugar, wood char, and fruity aromas, combined with its high alcohol content, makes it a good fit for duck or goose, both of which often find themselves onto the dinner tables during this time of year. I recently served this beer alongside a duck with apple and orange stuffing, dumplings, and roasted root vegetables.  The high alcohol content cuts through the duck fat while the stuffing encourages the brandy character in the beer. The whiskey barrel flavors add a smoky accent to the duck that also draws out an earthiness in the root veggies.

Figueroa Mountain held their own beer and food soiree at their 6th Anniversary Party in Buellton. The event was a rare chance to taste the single barrel-aged beers that went into the blended Grand Cru. It featured small bites paired with each of the three barrel types and ended with the final blended version. The Apple Pear Calvados Barrel was served first. It had a pear and cookie dough flavor accented by aromas of almond nougat and caramel apple. This version was served next to a Butter Poached Lobster with Saffron Buerre Blanc atop a Fine Herb Polenta Cake. The gentle fruit notes of the beer blended with the decadence of the buttery lobster and was sharpened by the herbs.

The second barrel featured in the blend came from a Grape Brandy Barrel which brought out more of a dried plum and cocoa-like flavor in the beer. This version was served alongside a Torchon (duck pate) with Candied Orange Onion Marmalade, Butter Fried Brioche, and Pickled Onion. The hotter alcohol notes of the beer cut through the richness of the dish while the marmalade and brioche brought out the wheat malt character. A Tennessee Whiskey Barrel was used as the final component in the blend. This version had a burnt wood character with a gentle brown sugar and vanilla flavor. It was served with a Sugar Seared Venison and Salsa Verde on top of a Herbed Crostini. The beer blended with the salty, smoky flavor of the venison and the acidity of the salsa cut some of the beer’s sweetness. The blended 6th Anniversary Grand Cru was served alongside a caramelized pork belly and grilled pineapple skewer that highlighted the fruitiness of the beer and brought out some of the warmth of the alcohol.

Telegraph Winter Ale

Now in its 10th year of production, Telegraph Winter Ale blends a Belgian-style dark strong ale with Mexican hot chocolate. Brewed with crystal and chocolate malts and spiced with cinnamon, allspice, and Ancho chilies, this beer has an invigorating flavor of sweet malts and warming spices while remaining fairly dry and brisk. The spiciness of the chilies is subtle and just leaves a warmth in the chest that is soothed by the caramel and raisin flavors of the beer. Holiday tamales are a long standing tradition in my family and this brew goes perfectly with a full plate of tamales and fresh salsas. The combination of roasted malts and spices in this brew especially lends itself to a red mole sauce. Moles can be intimidating to make but as long as you take your time, have a decent blender, and plenty of bowls to keep the different purees separated, it is not nearly as daunting as one might think. Mole freezes fairly well so I suggest making a large batch and storing some of it in your freezer. Just add a little water or broth when reheating. Telegraph’s Winter Ale is a good food beer in general and can go with beef stews, roasts, and other wintry dishes.

Firestone Walker XX Anniversary Ale

XX Anniversary Ale marks the 20th anniversary of Firestone Walker. Each year Firestone Walker invites out a group of local vintners to peruse a selection of Firestone’s beers and concoct their own blend. Once finished, the group sits down for a blind tasting where they sample each other’s mixtures and determine which one they like best. Out of the seventeen vintners this year, Scott Hawley of Torrin Vineyard designed the winning blend. XX Anniversary Ale has strong notes of cocoa, vanilla, coconut, and an accent of peppery oak with a rich undertone of pie cherries and brandy. The decadent flavor of this brew make it a nice accompaniment to a wide range of desserts. Try it alongside everything from chocolate cakes to ice creams or crème brulee to bring out the fruitcake-like character of this brew. The beer comes individually boxed in a 22-oz bottle with a full page of tasting notes making it nice to give as a gift or end your eve. 

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Celebration Ale

This brew originated as a celebration of the hop harvest and featured an intense hop character long before it was common on beer shelves. It has a deep pine-like aroma with accents of bitter orange peel and a caramel malt flavor. Celebration Ale is a historic beer and a classic for the winter.

Anchor Brewing Co 2016 Our Special Ale

The recipe changes each year making this a must-try brew each holiday season. This year has more of a charred wood character with undertones of anise and cranberries. Anchor also bottles Our Special Ale in magnums so make sure to pick up one before your next holiday party.  

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel, December 12, 2016

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