Whoa, what a big, delicious stout! This chocolate-y and mildly toasty brew weighs in at 9% ABV. Pour it and let it warm to 45 degrees or more to enjoy the wonderfully round, full taste. (Rating: Excellent)
No to rock-hard fruitcakes. No to hideous neckties that match nothing in one’s wardrobe. No to useless contraptions like the Ronco inside-the-egg scrambler. And no to more electronic gadgets that pester and scatter the mind with pings, bleeps, and jangles.
Go for drinky gifts instead, which cannot fail to delight and provide hours of levity in these weird times of creepy willy-wavers in America and belligerent lunatics on the other side of the globe.
Thirty years ago, the best beer I could find in most groceries was Michelob or Lowenbrau. How times have changed in our grand land. These days, you can throw a rock in any direction and it has a high probability of hitting a good bottle of beer. Which makes shopping for brews easy.
Icky sweet apple ciders in 12-ounce bottles are common in U.S. grocery stores. Skip them and grab a 750 milliliter bottle of old style cider. Le Lieu Cheri’s Cidre Fermier and Cave de la Lotterie (imported by Wine Traditions Ltd) are dry, light, and decidedly earthy ciders ($10-$12). The aromas arising from these sparkling beverages are sour and mushroom-y. I served these ciders as whistle-wetters before our Thanksgiving dinner. At a mere 5 percent alcohol they can be enjoyed without getting you loopy.
Bourbon, whiskey, and rye
Never has it been a better time to be a whiskey drinker. Newer brands like Angel’s Envy Bourbon (aged in port barrels and $50 a bottle) and the splendid Filibuster Dual Cask Bourbon (finished in French oak barrels and $40 a bottle) are among the brands that have reconceptualized the flavor profile of bourbon without abandoning its essence: sweet and fiery. Traverse City Whiskey Company’s flag ship straight bourbon whiskey (86 proof; $35) gives the tippler a sense of what the whiskey century ago must have been like: a thick with charred barrel flavor and a little hot on the swallow.
Iowa’s Cedar Ridge Distillery, which won the American Distilling Institute’s distillery of the year award, offers the whiskey lover a veritable smorgasbord. They make a wheat whiskey, a bourbon, a malted rye whiskey, two single malts, and an unaged whiskey. All retail for $40 to $60. Smallish (200 ml) bottles of five different Cedar Ridge whiskeys come in the oh-so-givable American Whiskey Explorer package ($70).
Rye, as everyone knows, has made a yuge comeback. To get a sense of old rye versus new, consider giving someone a bottle of Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye (100 proof; $27) and a fifth of Filibuster Dual Cask Rye (90 proof; $45). The former tastes of grain, black pepper, and a little apricot. The latter is gentler, slightly sweet, and offers apple and floral notes. I love each of them. If you want to impress a rye aficionado, pony up $110 for WhistlePig 12-year old rye (86 proof).
Wine and fortified wine
Hands down, the best wine I tasted this year was also the priciest: Ken Deis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($60 most places; $25 via NakedWines.com). This red tasted like a cross between Bordeaux and a new world fruit bomb. It was utterly succulent, and showed faint blueberry and cedar notes. I nearly wept when the bottle was empty.
If you want remarkable bang-for-the-buck, wrap up some bottles of Jose Maria da Fonseca wines (imported by Palm Bay International). These Portuguese red wines have remarkably diverse flavor profiles. Da Fonseca’s Ripanço ($12) reminds me of beauojolas nouveau. It is light bodied, floral, and only a little fruity. The Jose se Sousa 2015 ($17) is very old world—it is dry, vegetal, and shows a clove note. Meanwhile, Da Fonseca Periquita Reserva 2014 ($15) is very new world. It offers immense fruit and vanilla notes and all but screams for pairing with steak, roasted vegetables, and gooey or salty cheese. For those with deeper pockets, the $40 Domini Plus 2014 would make a welcome gift for a wine collector. This inky red wine is very fruity, tannic, and dry, and will age well. Da Fonseca, I should add, produces terrific fortified wines. The Alambre Moscatel de Setubal 2010 ($17) would appeal to those who enjoy port. It has floral and peach notes. Yum.
For the person who loves to read of drink, there are abundant choices. Alexei Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell’s Alcohol (Fuel, 2017) carries eye-popping photographs of Soviet anti-drink posters from the 1960s to 1980s. The government produced bazillions of them, but the downtrodden citizenry kept boozing. Steven Grasse’s Colonial Spirits (Abrams Image, 2017), as I previously wrote, is a wild and amusing romp through early American drink.
Robert Simonson’s A Proper Drink (Ten Speed Press, 2016) is a lengthy, deep-dive report on how America’s cocktail scene revived over the past 30 years. As someone who was in the thick of the whole New York City drink scene in the 1990s, I can attest that Simonson got much of the truth. Those of an antiquarian bent might enjoy receiving a copy of Sherry Monahan and Jane Perkins’ The Golden Elixir of the West (TwoDot, 2018). It is filled with amusing old yarns about American whiskey.
Friends and family who like to DIY can be given Emma Christensen’s Modern Cider (Ten Speed Press, 2017), a pretty tome that teaches how to make various fruit ciders, shrubs, and wines.
And those feeling charitable to the industrious hack who has written innumerable columns for your eyes, you can help feed his family and fishing habit by filling stockings with his slim tomes on whiskey and moonshine.
I saw this in a bargain bin at Ace Beverage in Washington, DC. Tall-boys with a cause—terrific!
Except that it isn’t. This stuff is contract brewed by Pabst, and it is rough. It is bitter in that Oiels or Red, White, and Blue sort of way, with little malt or other flavors. Even a little salt did.not make it o.k. This was a rare instance where I dumped a brew down the drain. (Rating: Not good.)
When you think of Mexican beer, light lagers like Corona, Pacifico, and Negro Modelo probably come to mind. But American-style craft beer also has been gaining market-share for years. With 60 million potential customers and $20 billion in annual revenue, the Mexican beer market is an appealing target.
Some U.S.-made stouts, ales and other hearty beers currently are imported to Mexico. Most full-flavored microbrews, however, are being produced by local breweries.
As best anyone can tell, the craft brew trend began in the mid-1990s. Which brewer came first is unclear. Some say it was Pepe y Joe’s brewpub in Mazatlán. Others point to Cerveza Cosaco microbrewery in Hidalgo or Cervecería San Angel in Mexico City.
Small brewers got a boost in 2013 when the Mexican Federal Competition Committee banned some of the most egregious protectionist practices of big brewers. No longer would the big boys be permitted to lock bars and retailers into exclusivity agreements that shut out smaller competitors. Starting a small brewery in Mexico remains a challenge, but perhaps 300 of them have sprung up.
I had my first one maybe 20 years ago. I can’t for the life of me recall what brew it was—a Sierra Nevada? An ale produced by one of my home brewing friends?
Regardless, the flavor was a revelation. My palate was so used to the thin, flaccid, weak lagers that were omnipresent in our great nation. This pale ale or India Pale Ale boomed in my mouth. It offered both malt sweetness and a florid, crisp finish.
Clearly, I was not the only American who was impressed. Highly hopped brews moved from brewpubs and beer-geek shops to groceries and the corner bar. And, America being the competitive place that it is, these brews got hoppier and hoppier. Making the bitterest beer possible became a point of pride for brewers, and a way to grab media attention. The hop shark was jumped a five years ago when Ontario’s Flying Monkeys claimed it had produced a 2,500 IBU ale. A Budweiser contains about 10 IBU, and more than a few online sources note the human palate has trouble discerning differences above a 100 or so IBU. Even Dogfish Brewery, which make some very fine and intriguing ales, not long ago touted Hoo Lawd, which scored 658 International Bitter Units (IBU).
These days, hoppy beers end up in my glass more often than not. In part, that’s because the eateries I go to tend to offer a bipolar beer menu—Coors, Miller, and the like, and lots of big ales, with maybe a few stouts and such. Chain grocery stores also stock these two extremes of beer heavily, along with shandy and fruit beers that little appeal.
So, I was delighted when an unexpected package arrived the other week carrying Riegele beers from Augsburg, Germany. The Wall Street Journalhas reported that some brewmeisters are rebelling against German government rules limiting how brews may be made. I, however, am glad to see German breweries continue to make beers that taste, well, like a grain-based drink.