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Sugar, Spice, Bitter Or Nice: Your Guide To Seasonal Beverages

Zach Sparks
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November 22, 2017

With New Year’s around the corner, the time for resolutions will soon be upon us. Why not get a head start and resolve to relax this holiday season while trying a new beverage or two? There are enough beers, wines, cocktails and spirits to satisfy both connoisseurs and occasional drinkers.


Whether you’re headed to the local liquor store or grabbing alcohol from the grocery aisles — Angel’s Food Market in Pasadena, for example, carries Belgian beers and seasonal craft beers — you will find holiday refreshments, which are usually strong and malty. As Arnold resident, brewer and Cult Classic Brewing Company managing partner Jesse McNew aptly put it, “Who wants a light beer when it’s freezing outside?”

The holidays also mean spices. “We don’t want to confuse winter spices with fall (think pumpkin pie) spices,” McNew said. “Yes, you will see some of the same spices being used, but more often, just one or two spices, used sparingly, rather than the very recognizable fall blends. A little cinnamon, allspice, or even cloves can work wonders in a strong, malty winter ale. Star anise and nutmeg are popular choices, as well. As a brewer, I resist the urge to grab everything in the spice cabinet — less is more.”

Whether spiced or not, malty beers rule this time of year. “For some, it might be hard to put down the hop-blasted IPAs, but your taste buds will thank you for the change of pace,” McNew said.

McNew recommends a classic British old ale. “The style covers a lot of ground, but expect a deep copper to brown color, alcohol in the 6.5 to 11 percent range, and a rich malt character. Commercial examples include Theakston’s Old Peculier and Founders’ Old Curmudgeon. Enjoy the warming alcohol character from these beers, which is increased due to the common addition of treacle, molasses or cane sugar. Old ales are often aged in oak, so you may pick up some tannins in there as well. Long-aged varieties will pick up a bit of tartness and possibly some oxidation in the form of a sherry-like character.”

If you’re looking for a beer to pair with the Thanksgiving turkey, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Celebration IPA offers a bold flavor along with scents of citrus and pine. Another good choice is Sam Adams’ winter lager, a bock spiced with cinnamon, ginger and orange peel.

The 2017 Anchor Christmas Ale melds cacao, toffee and rusted nuts, with subtle hints of honey and herbal spice. For a Belgian-style beer, try Mad Elf, a ruby-red concoction of cherries, honey and cocoa with notes of cinnamon, clove and allspice.

Looking for a complement to grandma’s fruitcake or sugar cookies? Port Brewing Company has a rich imperial stout called Santa’s Little Helper that will assist you in guiding all of that savory food through your system. With a touch of cocoa, this beverage will go down smoothly.

In addition to some of the aforementioned beers, Victoria Stagmer of Magothy Wine & Spirits recommends Two Roads Holiday Ale, Heavy Seas Winter Storm, the White Russian from Jailbreak Brewing Company, and K-9, a winter ale produced by Flying Dog Brewery.

“With shorter days and longer nights come the limited-release seasonal beers of winter,” Stagmer said. “These fuller-bodied and malt forward brews often feature fruitier profiles or notes of spice — perfect for sipping on a chilly evening.”


If you’re hosting a party, cabernet (red) or chardonnay (white) are simple but crowd-pleasing options. White wine should be paired with chicken and fish whereas red wine should be paired with meat.

For white wine, Stagmer recommends Alsatian or dry Riesling because both are suitable to many tastes. As for red wine, she suggested pinot noir, such as the reasonably priced Pacific Pinot.

Around the holidays, sparkling wine is always a winner. “It enlists a festive mood, awakens the palate, and it just simply makes folks happy,” Stagmer said. “We like Schramsberg Vineyards from California, who in our opinion make the finest sparkling wines in this country. If seeking a bargain bubbly, go for Prosecco from Italy or Cava from Spain. And if only French champagne will suit, opt for Champagne Deutz, a lesser known house that delivers major quality for a very minor price.”

Kim Lawson, owner of Fishpaws in Arnold, also recommends sparkling wine. She’s also a fan of glühwein, Nordic gløgg and wassail.

“As far back as medieval times, and before, red wine — heated and mulled with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, long pepper, nutmeg, marjoram, cardamom, star anise, and sweetened with sliced oranges, raisins and sugar — has been a savory and warming treat for the soul during colder months,” Lawson said. “To take a little bit of the work out of creating your own mulled wine, we have a pair of tasty selections on hand.”

If in doubt, the clerk at your local liquor or grocery store is readily available to help. “We have glühwein, eggnog and a large selection of bubblies,” said Walt Clocker, owner of Angel’s Food Market. “We have wonderful table wines to go along with your holiday meal, from any price point. If people need help, they can ask for me.”

Cocktails And Spirits

For cocktails, the options are endless: mulled cranberry juice, Irish eggnog, candy apple daiquiris and gingerbread martinis. For a refreshing candy cane cocktail, mix an equal amount of vanilla rum, peppermint schnapps and white chocolate liqueur.

Lawson recommended a tasty vodka recipe. Mix 1.25 ounces of Smirnoff Peppermint Twist and 0.5 ounces of Baileys Original Irish Crème liqueur over ice, strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with grated nutmeg and a mini candy cane.

For spirits, popular winter choices include single-barrel bourbon and Stoli Salted Karamel vodka, which balances sweet caramelized sugar with soft English toffee and a light saltiness that draws out the caramel.

Vic Brocato, a manger at Mother’s Peninsula Grille, said sangria is a big hit as the holidays approach. As people are switching to darker ales, cocktail drinkers are moving toward stronger booze as well.

“We like to do a lot of hot cider drinks. Closer to Christmas, we’ll incorporate more peppermint,” Brocato said. “People tend to go from drinking vodka to drinking more whiskey. They might go from a light vodka cosmopolitan to a chocolate martini.”

For an easy transition from the beverages of fall to winter, try a pumpkin pie martini. Stagmer shared the following recipe: two parts RumChata, one part Stoli vanilla vodka, three tablespoons of pumpkin pie filling, and ground cinnamon as a garnish. “Shake first three ingredients with ice and strain into a martini glass,” she said. “Sprinkle with cinnamon. Sip. Relax.”

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