Raise your stein daily 'til Christmas
You better watch out, you better not cry: Christmas beer is coming to town. Here's an advent calendar for the holidays.
1. Try something new. Debuts for 2011 include New Belgium Snow Day, a hoppy black ale and Mikeller Happy Lovin' Christmas, flavored with pine needles.
2. Take a peek at the Sam Adams Winter Classics Variety Pack. They finally got the mix right by dumping fizzy Cranberry Lambic and out-of-season White Ale, replacing them with warming Chocolate Bock and the new Black & Brew coffee stout.
3. Don't drink it all. High-alcohol treasures — especially those in large bottles — are ideal for cellaring. Best bet for aging: Delirium Noel.
4. Guess the secret spice in Anchor Our Special Ale. The San Francisco brewery changes it every year. Spruce? Cinnamon? Nutmeg?
5. Organize a case share. Invite your buddies to a swap meet where everyone empties a single case of 24 bottles onto the kitchen table then takes turns refilling his case.
6. Celebrate St. Nicholas Day with Penn St. Nikolaus Bock Bier.
7. Remember: That fancy bottle of Blue Moon Grand Cru is actually made by Coors. It's not terrible, but you can get an authentic Belgian in the same ($10) price range. Try Petrus Winter Ale.
8. Host a Scaldis horizontal tasting. Belgium's Brasserie Dubuisson pulls out the stops for the holidays with Scaldis Noel, cognac-like Scaldis Noel Premium, oak-aged Scaldis Prestige and triple-fermented Scaldis Prestige de Nuits.
9. Hire a designated driver. Nothing takes the cheer out of the holiday more than a night in the hoosegow.
10. Enjoy visions of sugar plums dancing in your head with a bottle of Cigar City Sugar Plum Brown Ale, spiced with cinnamon, ginger and chamomile.
11. Buy it when you see it. It'll be gone from the shelves by next week.
12. Savor the 12 Days of Christmas. This season The Bruery of California is on to the fourth verse of the neverending song, with 4 Calling Birds, a spiced strong dark ale.
13. Skip shopping. Instead, see what your local brewpub is pouring for the holidays.
14. Go Mad. Troegs Mad Elf, a strong, cherry-flavored ale, is a must-drink every year. This year its yeast spiciness is a bit subdued.
15. Go to Belgium. A visit to the Dec. 15 Essen Kerstbierfestival is a dream come true for any beer fan.
16. Don't miss Corsendonk Christmas, a perennial favorite.
17. Don't miss Affligem Noel or Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux, either.
18. Save your bucks. Look for Stegmaier Winter Warmer and Long Trail Hibernator at less than $30 a case.
19. Spice things up. Many Christmas brews are as spicy as gingerbread man cookies. Try Marin Hoppy Holidaze or go completely over the top with barrel-aged Frosted Frog.
20. Learn "Santa Claus" in another language. Imports named after St. Nick include Pere Noel (French), Nissefar (Norwegian), Kerst Pater (Dutch) and Samichlaus (Swiss-German).
21. Celebrate Hanukkah. He'Brew ("The Chosen Beer") has released Jewbelation Fifteen to mark the Festival of Lights, with 15 different malts and hops.
22. Get Naughty. Southern Tier's Krampus is named for the red-tongued Bavarian creature who punishes bad kids. His Belgian counterpart is De La Senne's Zwarte Piet (Black Pete).
23. Bring a large bottle to a party. A 1.5-liter magnum of Christmas Goliath or a 3-liter jeroboam of Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws is an instant ice-breaker.
24. Blend it. If spiced beers are too much for you, mix one with an IPA. That's what Saint Arnold Brewing did with its new Sailing Santa, a blend of two other styles.
25. Raise a toast to St. Nicholas. He's also a patron saint of brewers.