25 beer drinking days till Christmas

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YOU BETTER watch out, you better not cry: Christmas beer is coming to town. Here’s an advent calendar for the occasion.

1. Try something new. Debuts for 2011 include New Belgium Snow Day, a hoppy black ale, and Mikkeller 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 the out-of-season White Ale and replacing them with a 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 a case.

6. Celebrate St. Nicholas Day with Penn St. Nikolaus Bock Bier.

7. Remember: That fancy bottle of Blue Moon Grand Cru is 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. Skip shopping. Instead, see what your local brewpub is pouring for the holidays and join the Craft Beer Bus Tour on Dec. 10 when it visits Nodding Head and Dock Street. There’s also a quick stop at South Philly’s Bell Beverage, where I’ll be leading a tutored tasting of Christmas beer. $85, includes a share in Joe Sixpack’s Case Club. Info at www.craftbeerbus.com.

11. If you see it, buy 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 onto the fourth verse of the never-ending song, with 4 Calling Birds, a spiced, strong dark ale.

13. 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.

14. Spice things up. Many Christmas brews are as spicy as ginger-man cookies. Try Sly Fox Christmas Ale, Fegley Brew Works Rude Elf Reserve, or go completely over the top with barrel-aged Frosted Frog Christmas Ale.

15. Go to Belgium. A visit to the Dec. 15 Essen Kerstbierfestival is a dream come true for any beer fan.

16. Save your bucks. Look for Stegmaier Winter Warmer and Long Trail Hibernator at less than $30 a case.

17. Don’t miss Corsendonk Christmas. Every year, this dark, chocolaty Belgian is among my favorites.

18. Don’t miss Affligem Noel or Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux, either.

19. Learn “Santa Claus” in another language. Imports named after St. Nick include Père Noël (French), Nissefar (Norwegian), Kerst Pater (Dutch) and Samichlaus (Swiss-German).

20. Celebrate Hanukkah. He’Brew (“The Chosen Beer”) has released Jewbelation Fifteen to mark the Festival of Lights, with 15 different malts and hops and 15 percent alcohol. On Dec. 18, I’ll host brewery founder Jeremy Cowen for a pairing of Jewbelation with traditional Christmas beers. Join us at the Foodery (2nd and Poplar, Northern Liberties) at 4 p.m. and Devil’s Den (10th and Ellsworth, South Philly) at 7 p.m.

21. Get naughty. Southern Tier Krampus is named for the red-tongued Bavarian creature that punishes bad kids. His Belgian counterpart is De La Senne Zwarte Piet (Black Pete).

22. 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 icebreaker.

23. 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.

24. Enjoy visions of sugar plums dancing in your head with a bottle of Cigar City Sugar Plum Brown Ale, spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, rose hips and chamomile.

25. Raise a toast to St. Nicholas. He’s also a patron saint of brewers.


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