Holiday beers that don't suck

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drinks_holiday beers Smistletoe_122415The holidays are here again, and with them, the trials of interacting with family members, the massive lines at the post office and the spunky drone of holiday-themed muzak everywhere you turn. Give thanks that holiday beers are here to help! In the age of religious and cultural pluralism, the notion of a “holiday beer” is a cloudy one. Is it a beer laced with frankincense? With schmaltz? With ghee? Last year, I picked a selection of beers that looked appropriately festive, selecting largely by the label. A drunken Santa? Sold. Stumbling elves? Sure, I'll drink it. That tasting resulted in a fiesta of wassail-scented burps, and a hangover of Scrooge-like proportions. After tasting assistant Alex B., a seasoned imbiber in his own right, reported a significant hangover after approximately 1.5 beers, I said, “never again.” This year, I'm tasting a diverse selection of holiday-themed beers with one unifying criteria: They don't suck. Without further adieu, let's get festive!

Smuttynose Smistletoe

Format Sampled: 22 oz capped bottle

ABV: 8.5 percent

Tasting Notes: Pours a festive crimson, with brisk bubbles and no head at all. Aroma is tart, with cranberry, currant and a hint of wine. Initial taste is sharp and fruity with more cranberry, sour cherry and raspberry exploding in every direction. There's a darker, muskier fruit there, almost a Concord grape flavor. The malt is only evident in the aftertaste, as a smooth, bread-like foundation for the soaring spires of fruit flavor that precede it. This would pair well with turkey, ham and chicken. Frankly, I think it would beat a Rosé or a Pinot gris at its own game, or serve as an amazing New Year's Eve bubbly.

Two Roads Brewing Company Holiday Ale

Format Sampled: 22 oz capped bottle

ABV: 7.3 percent

Tasting Notes: Pours a lovely mahogany, with no head. Aroma is grape, herbal and “fresh.” Initial flavor is warm, round and malty. There's a sharp tang that underlies the broad, treacle-like blanket of malt and saves it from being cloying. Hops are subtle, contributing no real bitterness to speak of, just a faint warming spice. This strong, subtle beer would make an excellent table beer. I see it pairing especially well with beef, Shepherd's pie and leftovers. There's no sizzle here, just a solid, strong beer to see you through the holidays.

Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Noël

Format Sampled: 22 oz capped bottle

ABV: 10.0 percent

Tasting Notes: Pours a light amber, with a big pillow of tan head. Aroma is light, filled with fresh apple and grape aromas. Initial flavor is a swirl of sweet and sour contrasts. There's a bracing acidity reminiscent of a nice cider that mingles with the syrupy-sweetness of rock-candy. For a beer with this strength, it's filled with light fruit flavors of apples, pears and grapes. The hops are only mildly bitter, and seem to contribute a clove-like spiciness. This spicy bitterness, combined with the bracing acidity, save this beer from being too sweet. Try it with ham, as a dessert beer, or to blunt the impact of annoying relatives.