In 2014 beer began to get more of the respect it deserves as a serious beverage that delivers serious flavor to those willing to dive into the sea of styles and varieties. Why not celebrate beer’s new-found respect by ringing in the new year with some malted barley beverages instead of the staid sparkling wines?
For under $30 (usually well under) you can pick up a large-format bottle of craft-brewed or imported beer that will be as at home in a festive champagne glass as any bargain-bin bubbly. Picking a bottle isn’t tough; here are suggestions for styles and bottles to share on the holiday.
The Champagne of beers
Bright, dry, and festively effervescent, these bottles of (usually) golden ale are treated to a special refermentation and conditioning process akin to what traditional Champagne goes through. The result is a refined and complex glass that will beguile those grape fans who claim to dislike beer. A classic example is DeuS from Brouwerij Bostells, while Malheur Brut Noir is a curiously dark and fruity version of the emergent style. Some American craft breweries — like Missouri's acclaimed Side Project Brewing — are beginning to experiment with the style, and perhaps by New Year’s 2016 there will be more craft brewed options for such beverages.
If you find yourself in a liquor store stumped by what bottle of bubbly to buy for the party, take a trip to the Belgian beer aisle instead. The classic abbey-style ales have the refinement, the class, and the booze to fill the flutes of the midnight toast. Tripel Karmeliet is a perfect choice — it’s spicy and dry with a great depth of flavor and a beautiful presence in the glass. If you’re looking for something even a bit stronger (in alcohol and in flavor profile) try a dark, heavy quadrupel like the Saint Bernardus ABT12. A classic American-brewed example of the tripel is Curieux from Maine’s Allagash Brewing. Curieux starts off as a bright and peppery golden ale before getting an extended rest in used bourbon barrels, and the result is one of the most iconic brews in the craft beer world. The recently released 10th anniversary magnum bottles of the brew are a perfect bottle to pop during your celebrations.
Higher alcohol beers
One of the hallmarks of the explosion of craft breweries are the bold beers that push past the 10% alcohol mark and have the bombastic flavors to match all that booze. Imperial stouts, double (and triple) IPAs, and American-style (read: more hoppy) barleywines are all fitting libations to accompany the start of a new year. Look for the Holiday 2014 ale from Temecula’s Black Market Brewing Co. The beer is a triple black rye IPA that comes in at over 11% alcohol and will pelt your palate with pungent hop flavors and a burly malt body. Stout lovers can hoist a snifter of inky Barrel Aged Old Rasputin from North Coast Brewing or the coffee-tinged Speedway Stout from Alesmith Brewing. You know that special bottle that you’ve been saving for just the right special occasion? The New Year’s Eve party might be just the excuse you’ve been looking for to crack it open.
Sour beer continues to captivate drinkers, and — especially in Los Angeles — 2015 looks to be the year of sour beer. There are as many different varieties of sour brews as there are tongues to taste them, and one of the most approachable sour ales — the light and tart Berliner Weisse — was even called “the Champagne of the north” by Napoleon Bonaparte a couple of centuries ago. The more complex sour brown ales of Flanders make for more festive toasts, and the special bottles of Rodenbach Gran Cru are particularly good for a celebratory salute. The delicately fruited lambics from Brouwerij Boon or Drie Fonteinen will also fill a champagne flute with aplomb.