‘Tis the season! Bad traffic, angry crowds, mediocre renditions of Christmas carols by floundering rock stars, cinnamon-scented everything, and hard selling plastic crap to kids who believe in a fat elf lord with NSA-like surveillance capabilities. Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise, NOISE! Perhaps these shoes are too tight, but I need a drink.
It’s hard to reach for a beer this time of year without having a winter warmer pushed on you. Traditionally these beers are big on malt. The definition seems to be a bit nebulous regarding the spice issue. Many do without it, but some toss in frankincense and myrrh just willy-nilly and declare it a winter warmer. I find definitions in general rather claustrophobic, so I won’t fight that fight; instead I’ll just note that the spicy variety are pulling from the tradition of wassail, which is strong ales mixed and matched with spices — a tradition begun before hops were discovered to be the godsend they are. And a tradition celebrated in the holiday tune “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” best parodied in a 1980s claymation Christmas special with “Here We Come A-Waffling.”
It’s no secret that highly-spiced beers like pumpkin ale or Christmas ale are not my fave; I’ll leave the spicy stuff to the people who also think it’s okay to wear Santa hats in public for the full six weeks before Christmas. Instead I’ll continue to hoard cases of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration during the winter months as though those Jehovah’s Witnesses were right and the end-times are nigh…in which case I’d much rather be drinking a beer in a bar than sipping flat soda in the Kingdom Hall basement, but to each his own.
I believe I’m an exception in regards to my ambivalence toward the style. For many, winter warmers are the highlight of the beer year. Cleveland’s Great Lakes Christmas Ale sells like gangbusters, whatever those are. I remember one year they ran out before the season was over and the public was distraught near to the point of rioting. The next year there was more than enough and the price had risen three dollars. I have beer snob friends who live outside Ohio now who say they’re coming back to see their family for the holidays, but are really just coming back for the Christmas Ale.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good stuff. And, to quote Cleveland Lampooner Extraordinaire, Mike Polk Jr., “Oh my God, that shit is strong!” (Seriously, this is funny.) But one pint a year is enough for me, especially when they doll up the glass with cinnamon and sugar on the rim, prompting a rim job joke from some drunken asshole every time. But everyone has their holiday traditions, I suppose.
So, you have to let me know: am I just being a total Grinch or are there others out there with a similar distaste for the spicy brews? If I am, which beers do I need to try?