Greeting the season in very good cheer with holiday brews

HAPPY EATER

December 19, 1993|By ROB KASPER

What to our wondering eyes has appeared but an extraordinary number of holiday beers. This year, so many rich winter brews hit town that I couldn't taste them all. Instead I rated only some of those made in the U.S. of A. In addition to not being able to quaff everything on the horizon, I detected another change in my holiday beer-drinking behavior. I was less tolerant of "big spice" in my beer. In previous years I was willing to go along with the dramatic flavors of spices and hops in some seasonal brews. But this year I didn't seek a complex statement of the brewing art, I wanted a full-flavored beer.

My favorite holiday beer in a bottle was Samuel Adams Winter Lager, made in Boston. My favorite holiday draft was Santa Class, edging out the Christmas Ale of the Wharf Rat brew-pub and Sisson's Prancer's Pride, all local brews. Here, in alphabetical order, is the rundown. Phone numbers of beer distributors and brewers are listed -- they have the 410 area code unless otherwise stated -- so the curious can find a nearby source of holiday suds. Supplies are limited.

* Anchor 1992 Special Ale, Anchor Brewing Co., San Francisco. About $10 a six-pack. Quality Brands, 787-5656. Anchor has gone dark, making a spiced holiday beer that looks like a porter. "We like to take a chance," says Fritz Maytag, owner of Anchor Brewing Co., "without betting the future of the company."

* Blizzard Bock, Buffalo Brewing Company, Lackawanna, N.Y. About $6 a six-pack. DOPS, (301) 839-8650. An icy buffalo is on the label, and drinking this beer is similar to eating buffalo meat. The flavor is different, but not remarkable.

* Catamount Christmas Ale, Catamount Brewing Co., White River Junction, Vt. $8 a six-pack. Wines Ltd., (301) 210-4000. One of my favorites last year, but this year it is so hopped and so spicy, it overpowered me.

* Coors Winterfest, Adolph Coors Brewing Co., Golden., Colo. About $7 a six-pack. Bond Distributing Co., 945-5600. More body than the normal Coors, yet not too heavy for most light beer drinkers. An ideal office-party beer.

* Geary's Hampshire Special Ale, Geary Brewing Co., Portland, Maine. About $8 a six-pack. Bacchus, 633-0400. The seasonal spices are there but don't clobber the ale. Good balance.

* Oldenberg Winter Ale, Oldenberg Brewing Co. Fort Mitchell, Ky. About $6 a six-pack. F. P. Winner, 646-5500. A quiet winter ale with the best seasonal label, an image of Old Man Winter.

* Pete's Wicked Winter Brew, Pete's Brewing Co., Palo Alto, Calif. About $2.40 for a 22-ounce bottle. F. P. Winner, 646-5500. The surprise of the season, an amber ale flavored with raspberry and nutmeg. Folks who like raspberry wheat beer will like this.

* Samuel Adams Winter Lager, Boston Beer Co., Boston. About $7 a six-pack. Bond Distributing, 945-5600. My favorite of the bottled brews, it doesn't try to bowl you over with spices.

* Saranac Adirondack Winter, F. X. Matt Brewing Company, Utica. N.Y. About $6 a six-pack. Quality Brands, 787-5656. Full-bodied amber brew with a tongue-tingling finish.

* Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, Calif. About $8 a six-pack. F. P Winner, 646-6500. The best-smelling holiday beer, with big hop flavor. Is it too much? My waffling answer is: not if you slowly sip one bottle.

* Snow Goose Winter Ale, Wild Goose Brewing Co., Cambridge. About $7 a six-pack. Best Way Distributing Co., 732-9100. Sharper and hoppier than the Wild Goose, the brewery's mainstream beer.

* Winter Anniversary, New Amsterdam Brewery, Utica, N.Y. About $6 a six-pack. Quality Brands, 787-5656. A mild-mannered holiday beer, not as interesting as its modern art label.

ON TAP

* Baltimore Brewing Co.'s Christmas Double Bock, 104 Albemarle St., 837-5000. About $2.50 a glass. A powerful lager with too much wallop for me.

* Oxford Brewing Co.'s Santa Class, Linthicum, 789-0003. About $2.50 a glass at area pubs. Dark, sweet without being cloying. My favorite of the drafts. Makes me dream of a dark Christmas.

* Sisson's Prancer's Pride Christmas Ale, Sisson's South Baltimore Brewing Co., 36 E. Cross St., 539-2093. About $2 a glass, A holiday ale with the spice under control.

* Wharf Rat's Christmas Ale, Wharf Rat brew-pub, 206 W. Pratt St., 244-8900. $1.50 a glass. Sweet, spiced, wonderful. A beautiful red beer. Made me feel as sunny as Tiny Tim.

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