Beer For A Cold Winter’s Night
Originally published January 6, 2010
Every New Year’s Day brings the promise of a whole new year filled with new beers to try. And breweries tend to release some of their most exciting beers in January and February. Beers released at this chilly time of year are usually stronger in alcohol — to warm you with their inner glow — and they’re designed to be sipping beers, served in smaller glasses so they can be shared on a cold winter’s night.
Getting your goat
Traditionally, German brewers often release Doppelbocks in the early months of each year. Bock itself is a strong style of German lager, and its name is thought to derive from the word “goat,” which in German is bock. That’s why you see so many goats on bock labels. Other theories include the notion that these beers are brewed under the sign of Capricorn, or that the word is a corruption of Einbeck, the Northern German town where the style originated.
Whatever the real story, Bavarian brewers in the south — beginning with the monks of St. Francis of Paula — made a stronger version and called it doppelbock, or double bock. These beers are usually around seven to 10 percent alcohol by volume, and are rich and malty. Because of their strength, their names often end in —ator, a decidedly masculine suffix. There are many German examples of this, including Paulaner Salvator (the original doppelbock), Spaten Optimator and Ayinger Celebrator.
One of the best American examples is made by the Boston Beer Co. Samuel Adams Double Bock was the second beer made by the company, right after their popular Boston Lager, and the double bock has won many well-deserved awards since its debut in 1989. Using all-German noble hops and rich malt, the beer is sweet, strong and a delight to drink on a cold January evening, especially with a dinner of pork tenderloin or braised duck.
The wine of barley
The English, on the other hand, turn to the curiously named barley wine. Its name is believed to come from the fact that the beer is as strong as many wines, which normally range from eight to 12 percent a.b.v. The style originated around 1900 with a beer named Bass No. 1, brewed by the famous Burton brewery known for its iconic Bass Ale.
One of the most famous local examples is Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, released each February. While most English-style barley wines are malty, Bigfoot is decidedly hoppy, like many other American barley wines. Sierra Nevada has been making Bigfoot for 25 years and it’s one of the most eagerly anticipated releases on the beer calendar.
If you can’t wait until February, you’re in luck. America’s first barley wine — at least in modern times — is available all year long. Anchor’s Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale varies from batch to batch, but is usually between eight and 10 percent. It adheres more closely to the English style, and so is malty and a little sweet.
Other local barley wines worth seeking out are Marin Brewing’s Old Dipsea Barleywine and Mad River Brewing’s John Barleycorn Barleywine. In addition, most local brewpubs will have draft-only versions of barley wine on tap.
Coming soon: SF Beer Week
Mark your calendars. SF Beer Week, the Bay Area’s 10-day celebration of all things beer, is less than a month away. Last year, the festivities included 155 events through the Bay Area. This year we — I’m one of the event’s founders, sponsors and planners, as you may have guessed — are expecting at least 200, including meet-the-brewer events, dinners and other beer-related affairs.
An opening gala, hosted by the San Francisco Brewers Guild, will take place Feb. 5 at Yerba Buena Gardens in the city. But if you want to get an earlier start on the events, that same Friday at 11 a.m. Russian River Brewing also will debut its highly anticipated Pliny the Younger, their diabolically hoppy, but heavenly and delicious triple IPA. The next day, the first marquee event will take place in Hayward with The Bistro’s annual Double IPA Festival. For full details, check out the SF Beer Week Web site at http://sfbeerweek.org.