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Wednesday Food: Coming Home, Santa’s Little Helper

For our fourth and final installment of holiday beer tasting, I bring you a seasoned beer taster very close to my heart.

Meet Ron Bolden.  He’s not your average parent.  Of course he provided fatherly instruction on the typical childhood rites-of-passage like riding a bike, wilderness survival, and the basics of barbecuing.  From him I inherited a love of gardening, books, and astronomy.  On his insistence I learned the importance of standing up for your values– in the same year he protested the Vietnam War he picketed NBC for pulling Star Trek off the air. Lesson learned: get off your butt and get in the game.  Also, the object of your passion isn’t as important as remaining passionate.

Finally, my Dad taught me about beer.  He started brewing at home when Carter legalized it in 1979.  When my sister and I were born he repurposed the equipment for root beer making and showed us the ropes.  I always had positive associations with lawn mowing because he would let me sit under the trees and “supervise” his Negro Modelo.  If you haven’t deduced by now, Vanessa is my wiser, leggier older sister.

The beers featured tonight were the only untested holiday ales left in town.  They’re of equal availability in California.  NOTE: I had a sampling of Anchor Brewing’s Christmas and Happy New Year Special Ale 2011 a few weeks ago and found it steeply in decline from the 2010 batch.  Granted, it was from a Magnum bottle so maybe things were off but the beer was one note, and that note was nutmeg.  Humbug.

Grand Teton Brewing Company Coming Home 9% abv

V: Lots of apple at first approach.  Nice, dense color.  Oh it’s surprisingly delicious!  I don’t know much from Grand Teton but this is a quality introduction.  It’s dryer than most Belgians, still bready and yeasty.  It’s sort of like a heady glass of Martinelli’s.  Crisp and light, actually kind of the more mature cousin of a Pale Ale who went to Brussels on a student exchange program and never came back.

R: Mmm.  Smells like ripe fruit.  The color is light but completely opaque.  It’s strange how light it tastes for so much alcohol, well-hidden.  Sure ain’t Miller Life!  Er, Miller Lite.  High Life?   Whatever. Is that a Volkswagon on the label?  Looks like the one I used to drive cross country in the ’70s.  Oh no, guess it’s a Studebaker.  Too bad.  Should have been a VW bus.

E: It smells like a damp, dewy orchard.  Can something smell like water?  I realize that makes next to no sense.  Well this does.  Very clean.  I love the fogginess.  Ness is right, it’s a lot like unfiltered cider.  Surprisingly bitter at the end but beyond that almost no aftertaste.  The bomber was $6.99, I’d say for the abv and it being a seasonal beer this is a slammin’ good deal.

Port Brewing/ Lost Abbey Santa’s Little Helper 10% abv

(Not to be confused with Mikkeller’s seasonal)

V: Smells like tobacco or cigar.  Tastes heavy of molasses, tar, and boozy cherry.  I assumed it would be sweeter like most Imperials but this is very smokey.  As far as stouts go I’m used to the very dry Irish, like the ones we’ve brewed on a couple occasions– Christmas 2009 Bolden Brew day was a dry stout, I think.  This is so much smoother than those.  Wait, what’s this garlic smell?  Is that?… oh phew, just my hands from making dinner.  I just love the beer.  I don’t care about anything else.

R: Is that a reindeer, an elf, and a bear on the label?  (Vanessa: geez Dad, it’s Santa.  In silhouette.  Can’t you see?  Ron: Nah.  Looks like a bear to me.)  Hmm.  Smells like roofing tar.  Not too strong.  Tastes a bit like it too.  I guess, carbon.  Can an element be a tasting note?  YES?  Then bring it on!  It has some unexpected fruit flavors.  This is strange but, I’m getting like, burnt chicken feathers.  My mom used to ring the necks of the chickens that we raised in the 40s.  I don’t know if it’s the color or the smokey taste but it keeps giving me visions of the coal we used to burn in the basement in Pennsylvania until we switched to oil in the 50s.  There was an entire room under the patio that was a devoted coal cellar.  My dad had a building supply store with a coal delivery that he ran with my Uncle.  They used to bring it by.  Maybe it was after he died that we switched to oil.  The beer is better warmer.  Very sippable.

E: Vapors!  I’m getting sticky, gooey molasses and alcohol.  While it’s thick it doesn’t have the cloying, syrupy sweetness common in these big stouts.  And yes, it’s quite smokey, like someone forgot to open the flue for a few minutes and the living room has gone into complete disaray.  Oh! It IS a silhouette of Santa on the bottle.  I thought it was a Sasquatch.

*     *     *

I hope you’ve gathered at this point that we never take ourselves too seriously at these tastings, even if we do take beer seriously.  There has been a moment at some point during each of the previous gatherings where someone has closed their eyes, put the glass to their nose and a finger to their ear and professed that “there’s just like the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese.”  Moments of pretension require notation in my family.

This time last year was Adoration, a different Santa’s Little Helper, and Gruyere tart.  The week before was one of my absolute favorite meals of 2010– Rugbrod and Currywurst.

Happy Holidays.

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December 21, 2011 - Posted by | Wednesday Food

1 Comment

  1. I’m dying to try the Port Brewing beer, but I’ve had a heck of a time finding it.
    Btw, what makes a “holiday beer,” other than going by the label?

    And of course, another great post. In another generation, you may have been a wealthy writer, too bad we all see this for free over the internet.

    Comment by TeeTown | December 28, 2011


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