Happy — and maybe Hoppy — New Year

New Year’s Eve is just days away, which means the libations will be flowing freely at parties and special events everywhere. And while champagne traditionally helps to ring in the new year, craft beer lovers have plenty of alternatives to make their spirits bright.

Milkstout-DamianathegirlAs is the case when consuming any alcoholic beverage, it’s important to designate a driver and drink responsibly. Craft beers not only come in many styles, but also have typically much higher alcohol content than the mass-produced beers from the large national breweries.

Heavier beers like stouts and porters are especially popular during the colder winter months, and many also carry a higher percentage ABV (alcohol by volume). If you’d like to stay true to the darker beers but also drink something you can enjoy for the entire evening, try a nitro stout or porter.

More and more craft breweries are embracing the nitrogenated method as the gas used to carbonate select beers. The result is a creamier brew than the typical CO2-carbonated beverages.

“The nitro has a completely different mouth feel,” said Jacob Rivera, beer buyer at Liquorama in Upland. “It’s silkier on the palate and doesn’t have that beer heaviness.”

Claremont Craft Brewery features a nitro milk stout among its rotating taps, it is currently pouring two other stouts on nitro. Hamilton Family Brewery in Rancho Cucamonga also offers a nitro Irish style dry stout. If you’re looking for something to open at home, try the Milk Stout Nitro from Left Hand Brewing Co. in Colorado. It’s readily available at most local liquor stores.

Stone-Coffee-Milk-StoutMilk stouts in general offer a delicious, subtle sweetness that makes them easy to drink. Old Stump Brewery in Pomona has nice milk stout. I’m not as wild about the Eight Maids-A-Milking milk stout from the Bruery in Placentia, but there are plenty of others at local bottle shops, including Stone Brewing Co.’s nicely balanced Coffee Milk Stout and several from Belching Beaver in Vista, including its famed Peanut Butter Milk Stout.

Mark Heffernan at Rök House Brewery in Upland recommends yet another alternative to the big dark beers – his brewery’s “Legend of Old Baldy.” The beer is a spiced English pale ale made from the original recipe from Old Baldy Brewing Co. in Downtown Upland. Originally called “Old St. Nick’s” and then “Winter Spice” at the long-shuttered brewery, the beer is a tribute to the late Bill Romero, who ran Old Baldy Brewery.

Rivera says another popular option for this time of year is a seasonal mint porter. San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing Co. recently introduced its Peppermint Victory At Sea imperial porter and Bootlegger’s Brewery in Fullerton offers its winter seasonal Mint Chocolate Porter. However, the Bootlegger’s version tastes more like the mint you’ll find in toothpaste than the mint you taste in a peppermint patty.

Holiday Brews Abound During Winter Months

IMG_3630As popular as a cold easy-drinking beer might be on a hot summer day, darker and more robust brews have become equally attractive during the fall and winter months.

With Thanksgiving behind us, most of the seasonal pumpkin beers are no longer on shelves, but there is no shortage of brews featuring cinnamon and spice as we approach Christmas and colder weather ahead.

“The biggest difference at this time of year is that people are more interested in darker and fuller beers than they would be during the summer,” said Jacob Rivera, beer buyer at Liquorama in Upland. “The specialty themed beers for Christmas really don’t drive the market, but rather the styles like stouts, porters and a lot of barrel-aged beers. But here in Southern California, people still want IPAs and other styles throughout the year.”

If you missed the annual Black Friday release of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, there’s no need to fret. There are plenty of barrel-aged, spicy and other seasonal ales from which to choose. Plus, you might still be able to find the limited-release at bottle shops around the area.thumb_IMG_3633_1024

This year will bring a much-anticipated rare and highly priced seasonal beer release. Samuel Adams Utopias reportedly hits stores every two years and checks in at a remarkable 29 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Not surprising, the price tag is pretty outrageous for this limited production of 10,000 bottles. While the 10th anniversary edition of this very unique barrel-aged American strong ale lists at around $200 a bottle, but you’ll more likely pay several times that amount if you can find it.

For the rest of us looking for holiday beers that are readily available and far more affordable, Anchor Brewing offers its annual Christmas Ale, which it has been brewing since 1975. It’s now available in six-packs and oversized magnum bottles.

Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale has been another Christmas-time beer tradition since in 1981 and is one of the earliest examples of today’s American-style IPA.thumb_IMG_3621_1024

Samuel Adams offers a seemingly endless selection of holiday specials, including several that are grouped in seasonal variety packs. Old Fezziwig Ale, Chocolate Bock, Holiday Porter and Winter Lager are all in packages, and White Christmas (white ale with spices) and the limited edition Merry Maker (gingerbread milk stout) can be found separately.

Among the best of the Christmas-themed beers is an imperial stout released each summer. Santa’s Little Helper by Port Brewing in San Marcos, Calif., celebrates the brewery’s annual “Christmas in July” fundraiser. Nevertheless, both the imperial stout and the barrel-aged versions are fabulous at the holidays.

Port’s sister brewery, The Lost Abbey, has several brews that tie to the Christmas season, including The Gift of the Magi, Merry Taj and Agave Maria (aged in tequila barrels).

From Orange County, The Bruery recently released the eighth annual brew in its 12 days of Christmas series – Eight Maids a Milking, a milk stout with a Belgian twist. Some of the previous beers of the series are available at the Placentia taproom.

Another delicious and affordable brew is AleSmith’s winter red Yule Smith. Among the others that ring in the season are Ninkasi Sleigh’r dark double alt ale, St. Bernardus Belgian Christmas Ale, Rogue’s Santa Private Reserve, Scaldis Noel Belgian, Delirium Noel and Affligem Noel.

If it’s novelty you want, then there are plenty to fill the Christmas theme, including the, Santa’s Butt Winter Porter, Bad Elf IPA and a series themed after the “Christmas Vacation” movie.