Two-plus decades into the craft beer renaissance, we (the craft beer consumer) are tuned into the rhythms and releases that each season brings. Goses, lagers and (now) seltzers in summer, maybe a special IPA on the Fourth, marzens and pumpkin beers in fall… you get it.
But no seasonal craft beer variety gets me more excited than Christmas, holiday and winter ales and lagers. Often (though not exclusively) darker, these beers often start with amber, porter, stout, barleywine or IPA bases, and brewmasters take great care to make the embellishments set their seasonals apart: barrel-aging, spice editions, style-mashing; it’s all fair game.
Brewers in New Jersey have several offerings this year that we’re looking forward to drinking throughout the holiday season. Some of the beers highlighted below are available in stores, others via online sales and still more as tap-room-only exclusives, so check availability with each brewery.
Cape May Brewing’s Boughs of Barley is a whopping golden barleywine ale delicately hopped with Styrian Golding hops. Half the batch was aged in wheat whiskey barrels for an 11.1% ABV brew, the other in mezcal barrels for a 10.9% beer.
“We did an extended four-hour boil on this, beer which causes the wort to undergo a significant Maillard reaction. This causes the wort to darken and develop all those delicious deep and complex caramel and toasted biscuit flavors. We added just enough Styrian Golding hops to add some stability and act as an accent to the wonderful malt character,” says Cape May Brewery operations manager James Fox.
The mezcal variety has tasting and aroma notes of BBQ smoke an an agave sweetness, while the wheat whiskey version provides vanillin and coconut notes. Previous versions of the whiskey variety were aged in Bourbon barrels, but Fox says the move to wheat whiskey offers a softer profile.
“Wheat whiskey has a much softer and smoother flavor than typical whiskey, which lends itself quite beautifully with the caramel and toasted malt flavors in the base barleywine,” he says.
The fantastic Kane Brewing in Ocean Township, meanwhile, is offering a Flemish-style red, the Bière de Noël. Brewed in batches in 2018-19, the beer is an homage to the traditional beers of West Flanders, Belgium. A nine-hour boil promoted deep flavors of plum and figs, the brewery says, and aged hops bring citrus to the party.
The beer was then aged on oak for over two years, before 10 months of bottle conditioning. Tasting notes on this mahogany-colored brew are berries, vanilla, figs, dates and orange rind, with a hint of chocolate and coffee.
At Bradley Beach’s Bradley Brew Project, Christmas Was Tomorrow dives into the flexibility of stout. The 8.5% ABV horchata-inspired stout is made with milk sugar, almonds, cinnamon and vanilla. If you’ve had the chance to taste a variety of stouts, you know what a perfect base the beer is for holiday spices as in the Christmas Was Tomorrow. BBP also has a Holiday Break Imperial IPA, brewed with Citra, Motueka and Galaxy hops.
Ewing’s River Horse is offering the Belgian Freeze this year. A “malty, full-bodied” amber ale brewed with dark crystal and caramel malts and fermented at a lower temperature to tamp down any sweetness. Belgian Trappist yeast brings a familiar, unique flavor.
And longtime purveyors of unique beer Magnify Brewing in Fairfield has three holiday offerings worthy of a few sips.
First the Candy Cane Mind over Matter is an 8% ABV double chocolate milk stout with lactose, cocoa nibs and peppermint. Creamy, chocolatey, with a punch of mint, it’s like a Peppermint Patty in a glass.
Magnify’s also got the Fill Up the Moose Mug, a new 5% ABV eggnog-inspired smoothie sour (what a time to be alive!). Brewed with vanilla ice cream, barrel-aged vanilla and a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg, you’ll get big notes of vanilla milkshake and those baking spices. And, the brewery released Got Yo Coquito, a collaboration brew with LA’s Mumford Brewing that pays homage to the Puerto Rican holiday drink, the Coquito. It’s an Imperial IPA brewed with coconut, cinnamon, vanilla and lactose. Balance smoothness and spice with a tropical flare and a hoppy bite.
Get ’em all.