Curing the winter blues

Spoiler alert: Winter is long and cold

“I have the winter blues,” my wife said to me many years ago.

At the time, the phrase and concept was new to me and I was perplexed and largely unsympathetic.

“You’re sad because it’s cold?” I said.

Turns out that might not have been the best response. A hug may have been a better move.

I get it now though. Winter doesn’t really bother me in that it’s cold. Cold is OK by me. But while spring, summer and fall seem especially fleeting, winter just seems to carry on longer than it should, comparatively speaking. When you get to late January, not even the biggest ski bum on the planet could convince me they don’t think about warmer weather when scraping the ice off their windshield or taking the trash out on a bitter cold night.

That is quite enough complaining about the weather. The fact is winter is cold and long, and beer is the only cure.

During the coldest nights, I tend to find myself turning to higher-alcohol brews, big beers I can sip and savor as I let the alcohol warm me up from the inside out. Imperial stouts, barrel-aged brews and barleywines are just what the doctor ordered.

These are beers with layers of complex flavors that deserve your attention, and with plenty of alcohol to numb your senses to the cold.

I should add that these big beers are perfect for sharing. A whole pint of a 13-percent ABV brew is a lot, so find a friend who needs help with the winter blues, too.

Here are five big beers from New Hampshire to help you through the coldest stretches of the winter.

Erastus by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)

This Belgian-style tripel is just wonderful stuff, boasting a little peppery spice, some interesting fruit notes and a deliciously dry finish. This complex brew is one of my all-time favorites and I would drink this any time of the year but it’s perfect on a cold winter night. Erastus gives you plenty to consider as you sip. The fruitiness, coupled with the spice, is tasty and unique.

Fat Alberta by Throwback Brewery (North Hampton)

This is a chocolate peanut butter Russian imperial stout. Full stop. This is dessert in a glass with big notes of, you guessed it, chocolate and peanut butter. It’s so rich and so warming thanks to the 11 percent ABV — deliciously decadent. Enjoy this by the fire with or without a couple peanut butter cups.

Barrel-Aged RIS 2015 by Stoneface Brewing Co. (Newington)

This is another Russian imperial stout but this one is aged in bourbon barrels, which adds notes of oak and vanilla to an already flavorful and complex brew. At 9.5 percent ABV, the brew packs a punch but it’s still approachable compared to other bourbon barrel-aged brews that can exceed 14 percent ABV.

Quadracalabasia by Lithermans Limited (Concord)

This limited-release brew is a Belgian quadrupel that is brewed with roasted pumpkins and graham crackers. I haven’t had the pleasure of trying this incredible-sounding brew but I look forward to it. The brewery says the beer is “medium bodied and deeply complex with notes of plum, dark fruits and molasses.”

Ironside Barleywine by Kelsen Brewing Co. (Derry)

When it comes to big beers, Kelsen has cornered the market. Ironside is an English-style barleywine aged in brandy barrels for 18 months. The brewery describes it as “boozy and complex with notes of caramel, toffee, oak, vanilla and Werther’s candies.” Hello. This is exactly what I’m looking for when I’m completely sick of winter.

What’s in My Fridge

Modernism by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)

This Czech-style dark lager is tremendous, featuring notes of chocolate and coffee and a smooth, extremely easy-drinking package. The beer is a perfect example of how dark beers don’t have to be heavy. You’ll want another. Cheers!

Featured photo: Fat Alberta Chocolate Peanut Butter Russian Imperial Stout by Throwback Brewery. Courtesy photo.

Quarantining with beer

You’re going to need something

At about 3:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning, my youngest daughter woke up with a fever. As we are in a global pandemic and we happened to have a couple rapid tests on hand, we tested her for Covid, and sure enough she came back positive.

The following day, my son developed what I will delicately call an “annoying” cough — he also tested positive. Later that evening, my wife noticed that I, too, had developed an annoying cough. I could feel her cringing every time I coughed, or grunted, as she said. Spoiler alert: I had it too.

Hard to call it anything other than an outbreak. My wife remained like a beacon of strength refusing to succumb but for the rest of us, we had to work through what ultimately felt like a pretty standard, fairly fast-moving, if annoying cold.

We know we’re fortunate to have had a mild experience with the illness, but I also know that it’s tough to be stuck in close quarters with the same people day after day after day. It was like we regressed to the early days of the pandemic when we never left the house.

I love my family dearly, but all that closeness begs for a beer or two — especially since whatever variant I ended up with took it easy on my taste buds. I know my wife needed something as she dealt with — and tried to avoid — all of us.

As the omicron variant seems to be running roughshod through masks and vaccines and social distancing, I suspect I’m not alone in finding myself back in quarantine, if not dealing with the actual illness, then certainly isolating due to a “close contact.” Here are three beers that I think just might help you through it. Stock up now.

Peanut Butter Imperial Stout by Mighty Squirrel Brewing Co. (Waltham, Mass.)

From the brewery’s “Indulge Series,” this is just that, an indulgence, a wonderful indulgence. This is rich and creamy and silky and so, so smooth, bringing together the delicious flavor of peanut butter and chocolate. You’re thinking this is like a peanut butter cup in a glass and that’s about right. Savor this one at the end of a long day spent in your house, alone.

Line of Sight Triple IPA by Stoneface Brewing Co. (Newington)

When you’re in quarantine, you’ve got to amp up the alcohol content sometimes. While I haven’t tried this one, at 10 percent ABV this should do the trick when it comes to alcohol. It’s at the upper threshold with regard to alcohol content for what I consider drinkable when it comes to IPAs. The brewery says it features notes of “ripe melon and sweet lychee fruits.” (Lychee is a tropical fruit that has a strawberry-melon flavor, according to the Spruce Eats.)

Velvety Antlers Brown Ale by Granite Roots Brewing (Troy)

Brown ales are perfect anytime, so why not when you’re trying to grab a moment of relaxation in the middle of your isolation? This brew is nutty and flavorful in a balanced, drinkable package — as it should be.

What’s in My Fridge

Celebrator by Ayinger Privatbrauerei (Aying, Germany)
My brother brought a six-pack of this fantastic brew to a family get-together on New Year’s Day and I’m personally quite thankful that he did. This “doppelbock” features a deep, dark, reddish pour — almost black, honestly — and a delicious maltiness. But don’t be fooled. This is not heavy at all. This couldn’t be more welcoming; I cannot imagine anyone not liking this. It has a touch of sweetness and maybe a touch of coffee flavor before you can embrace the incredible smoothness. I know “smooth” is an overused phrase when talking about beer and the like but it’s definitely the right fit here. Find this beer. Also, am I trying to butter up my brother with this description to make up for the fact that my daughter gave him Covid? No comment. Cheers!

Featured photo: Peanut Butter Imperial Stout by Mighty Squirrel Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

Shaking things up

Take the beer less tasted

When someone asks me what kind of beer I like, I usually say something along the lines of, “I drink everything but I primarily gravitate to stouts and IPAs.”

That’s more or less accurate. I love stouts and IPAs and at the same time I’m happy with Pilsners and brown ales and sours and so on and so forth.

Still, it’s easy for me to get stuck on stouts and IPAs — now more than ever — as there has never been a greater variety and quantity of both styles available to us from craft brewers. Plus, they taste really, really good.

But one of my goals for the new year is to find more opportunities to step outside my comfort zone to explore not only a wider variety of styles, but beers that are especially unique.

There’s so much great beer easily accessible and I don’t want to close myself off to anything. I feel like we’re in this together.We might need to hold each other’s feet to the fire. Sure, we’re not going to like everything we try, and that’s OK, but you must be at least somewhat bored with trying yet another variation on the IPA featuring the newest, most exciting hop strain? Don’t worry, IPAs aren’t going anywhere.

Let’s keep an open mind and let’s dive in. Here are five unique New Hampshire brews I’m looking to seek out in 2022.

Razzmatazz Raspberry Wheat Ale by Throwback Brewery (North Hampton)

The description says “spicy and fruity,” and it features “aromas of raspberry sugar cookies,” and honestly, it scares me a little. But I like that it’s got a little zip with an ABV of 7.4 percent and that the brewer notes flavors of “bitter berry, currants and sweet caramel malt.” You start mulling this over, and how is this not an intriguing brew? (The brewery has a Raspberry IPA that fascinates me as well.)

Cranberry Wit by Great North Aleworks (Manchester)

The brewery says this slightly tart Belgian-style witbier is brewed with orange, coriander and cranberry. This sounds refreshing, exciting, not at all over-the-top and perfectly seasonally appropriate.

Spit Fire Joy Juice: Maple Smoked Peach Sour Collaboration by 603 Brewery (Londonderry) and Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. (Merrimack)

What a fascinating beer! This is just so interesting bringing together sweet maple smokiness and the tang of peaches. I feel like the smoke would add some balance and provide some depth to what sounds like a very sweet brew. This screams complex.

Bubblewrap by Loaded Question Brewing (Portsmouth)

This Belgian “singel” is brewed with “bitter orange peel,” Willamette hops and Belgian ale yeast. What I’m expecting is a light, refreshing Pilsner-like brew featuring some acidity and some fruitiness from the orange peel. I can’t wait to try this.

Monadbock by Granite Roots Brewing (Troy)

OK, this isn’t a brew that I would classify as especially unique or innovative. Based on the description, it sounds like this is about as traditional as it gets. Beyond looking for unique beers, I also want to revisit more traditional styles. The brewery says this amber bock “boasts rich malty caramel and fresh baked bread,” and honestly, how could that not be good? Sometimes, we get so excited about all the experimenting brewers are doing these days, that we, or at least I, forget what made us enjoy beer in the first place. I’m thinking this brew might be a good, delicious reminder.

What’s in My Fridge

On the Gogh by Breakaway Beerworks (Manchester) Yes, I’m trying to step away from IPAs, but before I do, I enjoyed this unfiltered, dry-hopped IPA that boasts big tropical fruit flavor and a little spiciness. This was quite nice and one I would recommend tracking down. Don’t let the spice scare you; it’s not overpowering and instead helps balance out the bold citrus flavors. Cheers!

Featured photo: Razzmatazz Raspberry Wheat Ale by Throwback Brewery in North Hampton. Courtesy photo.

Sugar and spice

’Tis the season for holiday beers

I used to be obsessed with holiday brews. As in, there wasn’t enough holiday beer in the world to satisfy me.

There was just something about the slightly sweet, slightly spicy style that drew me in and helped me to appreciate the holiday season. Let’s be honest, we’d all like to be in a good mood for the holidays and the right beer can help. Why not have a beer that tastes like Christmas in a glass?

I’m calling it a style but I’m not sure you’ll find “holiday brew” listed in the dictionary of beer styles. To me, these are beers that can run across styles and to categorize them would be to ask yourself, “does this beer put me in the holiday spirit?” If you answer yes to a particular brew, then, bingo.

These are beers that tend to feature a hearty malt character amplified with cinnamon, brown sugar, peppermint, vanilla and nutmeg — and, I don’t know, maybe chocolate. You’ll find holiday beers that are wheat beers, amber lagers, stouts, porters, sours, brown ales, bocks and dunkels, and there is probably some brewer right now trying to offer patrons a holiday IPA.

I wasn’t alone in my obsession. To this day, one of my college buddies receives an annual shipment of Harpoon Winter Warmer from his mother on his doorstep in California.

Then again, holiday beers aren’t for everyone. I can never forget the look of utter disgust — classic bitter beer face — on an acquaintance’s face as he tried to get through a sip of some holiday beer, wondering aloud, “What is that?” (The “that” in holiday beers is always nutmeg.)

I’m not as obsessed with holiday beers as I used to be, probably in part because there’s just so much incredible craft beer available that it’s hard to be too focused on one style, regardless of the season. Plus, more and more craft brewers are cranking out delicious, decadent stouts boasting huge flavors of chocolate, coffee and vanilla that aren’t necessarily holiday brews but are awfully hard to ignore at this time of year.

For a while it at least seemed like craft brewers weren’t really exploring holiday beers in earnest. That might not be reality, but it seems to me the style has received much more attention from brewers in recent years. That’s good news.

Here are four New Hampshire-brewed holiday beers to enjoy right now.

Footy Pajamas Belgian Style Holiday Ale by Henniker Brewing Co. (Henniker)

Dark fruit, spices and brown sugar: you can sip this 8.7 percent ABV brew slowly by the fire and let the beer and the flames warm you right up.

Monks Vice Belgian Quad by Loaded Question Brewing Co. (Portsmouth)

This isn’t brewed specifically for the holidays as far as I know, but with big flavors of complex caramel up front, it seems perfectly suited to this time of year. The brewery says the finish is “reminiscent of crème brulée from black strap molasses.” This is another slow sipper you can savor with friends and family.

Smuttlabs Peppermint Porter by Smuttynose Brewing Co. (Hampton)

This is basically a glass full of peppermint patties.

The Great AK; Dunkles Bock with Gingerbread by Northwoods Brewing Co. (Northwood)

I haven’t tried this one but it is now on my list for the holidays. Tabbed as the brewery’s “ode to the Master Woodsman of the World,” the beer is brewed with gingerbread and actual gingerbread men, resulting in “aromas of dates, plums, toffee and cinnamon.” Frankly, it sounds delicious.

What’s in My Fridge
Samuel Adams Holiday White Ale by Boston Beer Co. (Boston) Probably 15 to 20 years ago, if a beer was described as “citrusy and hazy,” this is what you’d expect. Nowadays, someone says citrusy and hazy, and approximately 1,000 percent of the time that person is talking about an IPA. This is a delightful brew; flavored with holiday spices and orange peel, it has a smooth, festive flavor with borderline nonexistent bitterness you can enjoy all winter long. Cheers.

Featured photo: Footy Pajamas by Henniker Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

Coffee and beer

It’s a magical combination

I go into most weekends with high expectations for my own productivity.

Generally speaking, though, my expectations rarely prove to be anything other than unrealistic. I have visions of yard work, cooking elaborate meals, tackling some long overdue painting, cleaning out the garage and any number of other chores and tasks.

Aside from the fact that my kids have dizzying weekend schedules sending my wife and me criss-crossing town for the bulk of the day, I am also just one person.

By 3:30 p.m. or so most Saturdays or Sundays, I find myself in a familiar spot: tired, maybe a little frustrated and probably stressed — and probably having made minimal progress on my to-do list. A cup of coffee would pick me up but maybe amplify my stress. A beer might nudge me toward completely giving up on my productive goals.

Perhaps I could combine the two? Well, you know, a coffee stout isn’t going to provide a caffeine boost but a slow-sipping brew featuring big notes of roasted coffee and dark chocolate might be just what the doctor ordered for easing frustration, while still allowing some modicum of productivity. Or maybe I just have a never-ending ability to find ways to justify having a beer?

I’ve written about coffee stouts and porters before and I’ll write about them again. These beers are like a coffee drinker’s dream: smooth, creamy brews boasting rich flavors of decadent coffee. And, might I add, it’s the perfect time of year to explore darker beers. Picture yourself spending the day Christmas shopping and running holiday-related errands, and then turning to a deliciously smooth coffee-flavored brew as you shake off the edginess from navigating holiday crowds.

In the age of buying local, brewers are more and more turning to local coffee roasters to flavor their coffee brews as well, which is a great touch resulting in unique, flavorful beers. And you can feel good about supporting your local economy.

Thankfully, craft brewers have fully embraced this style. Here are five coffee stouts and porters from the region to help you get through this busy and hopefully somewhat productive month.

Java Roots by Granite Roots Brewing (Troy)

This is just a coffee and chocolate bomb in a smooth, silky package. Granite Roots sources its coffee beans for this brew from Barrington Coffee Roasting Co., which is based in western Massachusetts. A perfect iteration of the coffee stout.

Gunner’s Daughter with Coffee by Mast Landing Brewing Co. (Westbrook, Maine)

The original Gunner’s Daughter boasts huge notes of peanut butter, chocolate and coffee and the “with Coffee” version — you guessed it — features an even bigger coffee presence. Decadent doesn’t seem to cover this beer. This is dessert in a glass.

Gepetto by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)

The brewery makes the late addition of whole-bean coffee in this brew, which results in a slightly sweet brew that features not only coffee but also sweet chocolate and marshmallow. It’s kind of like drinking a glass of coffee milk, which my mother reminded me was my favorite childhood drink.

Velvet Moon by Mighty Squirrel Brewing Brewing Co. (Waltham, Mass.)

This brew is especially smooth and creamy and relies on a blend of Honduran, Nicaraguan and Ethiopian beans from Atomic Coffee Roasters for its unique, amplified coffee flavor. This one hits you with waves of coffee.

Coffee Cake Porter by 603 Brewery (Londonderry)

While this has plenty of rich coffee flavor, this brew goes beyond that with coffee flavors complemented by notes of vanilla, cinnamon and a little smokiness. This is perfect for the holiday season.

What’s in My Fridge
Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig by Boston Beer Co. (Boston)
This is such a nostalgic choice for me, as I have many memories of enjoying this brew during holiday get-togethers. What I like about this brew is that it does have a little holiday sweetness and spice, but it’s not overpowering. This is quite drinkable, while still feeling like you’ve captured the holiday season in a glass. Cheers!

Featured photo: Coffee and beer together as one. Courtesy photo.

Too much hops

Sometimes you need anything but IPA

There are so many incredible craft-brewed IPAs and pale ales these days that it seems they are everywhere you turn. In fact, sometimes, it feels like hops are just slapping you in the face every moment of the day. If you go out to a restaurant for dinner, you might as well just ask for the “IPA list” instead of the beer list. It’s all IPAs anyway.

That’s all well and good because IPAs are delicious and they are packed full of fresh, hoppy exciting flavors — and let’s be honest, they haven’t taken a break from driving the bus for the craft beer movement since it started, I don’t know, 15 years ago.

Sometimes, though, and I feel at least somewhat confident I don’t just speak for myself, enough is enough. Sometimes you want anything but an IPA. Give me a stout or a Pilsner or a sour or a Bud Light or even one of those Cranberry Lambics from the Sam Adams holiday mixed pack that’s probably still in your fridge from 2006.

I was rummaging through my parents’ fridge recently and spotted a Mike’s Hard Raspberry Lemonade that I absolutely know has been there for more than a decade, so don’t just discard the notion that there might be a Cranberry Lambic lurking somewhere in your home.

It can be so rejuvenating for your palate to walk away from the hops for a bit and just appreciate that there’s a lot more great beer out there than just IPAs and pale ales.

Depending on my mood, when it hits me that my mouth needs a hop break, I tend to turn to what I call basic styles: Pilsners, stouts and amber ales. I’m not typically turning away from IPAs to turn toward some crazy sour that’s brewed with elderberry, jalapenos and peanut butter.

When I say basic, I don’t mean beers that are in any way lesser. I just mean brews that are more what I think of as traditional beers. Here are three basic brews that speak to me and I think will speak to you when your taste buds want to step away from IPAs.

Love Me For A Long Time by Throwback Brewery (North Hampton)

This Bohemian Pilsner is the epitome of crisp and clean. It’s a beer. It’s light, refreshing and flavorful. Pilsners get a bad rap sometimes and, when it gets right down to it, I just don’t understand it. They’re easy to drink, they taste great and they pair with basically any food and any situation. If your vision of pilsners starts and ends with Coors and Budweiser, it’s well worth exploring the array of craft brewers pumping out Pilsners these days.

Nations ESB by Millyard Brewery (Nashua)

I love the ESB or extra special bitter style, though it’s almost funny to think of this style as bitter compared to the pronounced bitterness you find in today’s brews. I haven’t had this particular brew, though I will, but I typically equate the style with a rich amber pour and a nice malty mouthful in a very, very easy to drink package. At 4.1 percent ABV, this is a beer and a style that begs for another.

Working Man’s Porter by Henniker Brewing Co. (Henniker)

This is a hearty brew but don’t be fooled; this is exceptionally easy to drink at 5.2 percent ABV. This English-style dark ale lends big malt flavors and a little complexity. This is just a terrific all-around porter. This is a great beer to grab when you want something smoother and richer.

What’s in My Fridge

Oktoberfestbier by Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu (München, Germany)
Actually brewed in Germany, this true Oktoberfest brew is about as authentic as it gets when it comes to the Marzen style. The classic brew features a rich amber pour, mild bitterness, a bready malt and a medium body. This is flavorful, easy to drink and makes you feel like you’re in Germany for Oktoberfest. Cheers!

Featured photo: Love Me For A Long Time Bohemian Pilsener by Throwback Brewery. Courtesy photo.

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