Videos and text by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com
DENVER (CBS4) – These are some beers with visions of sugar fermentation dancing in their heads.
Whether they’re IPAs with dry, piney finishes or robust warming ales with hints of chocolate and dessert spices, here are one dozen Denver-area beers that offer a nod to the holiday season.
Each day starting Dec. 14 and finishing on Dec. 25, CBSDenver.com will feature one brew that summons the Christmas spirit and generates plenty of goodwill among beer-drinking men and women.
Dec. 25: Graham Cracker Porter from Denver Beer Co.
Charlie Berger, a co-founder of Denver Beer Co., says the company’s early intention wasn’t to stick to recipes. But when they received tremendous feedback about their Graham Cracker Porter — and won a medal for it at the Great American Beer Festival — they started to perfect the recipe.
“This became our flagship beer,” he says.
The porter has a “good roast backbone,” he says in addition to biscuit and chocolate malts.
“This one, for me, is a particularly good wintery Christmas seasonal because it’s reminiscent of sitting around with friends around a warm fireplace, tasting this beer with an awesome seasonal dessert,” Berger says.
He recommends pecan pie or his mother’s chocolate mint pie, which he says complements the porter’s flavor.
“It’s got a good dark color, but really nice medium to light body, so it’s very approachable,” Berger says. “We think it’s a beer for all seasons, this one in particular.”
Learn more about Graham Cracker Porter:
Dec. 24: Radiator from Renegade Brewing Company
When Brian O’Connell developed a winter warmer as a home brewer, it proved so successful with family and friends that he had to continue making the recipe at his Renegade Brewing Company in Denver.
“I’d give it away or take it to holiday parties. I just found that the more I gave it away, the more I’d have to make next year because they really enjoyed it,” O’Connell says.
The Radiator is an imperial dark brown ale that’s brewed with Maris Otter, an English malt, that gives the beer a “bready, toasty quality,” O’Connell says. He adds crystal malts for sweetness and a touch of roast to dry it out.
It’s spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel and brown sugar.
“This beer is a little on the sweeter side from what we normally make,” O’Connell says, “but it’s a nice enjoyable holiday brew.”
Learn more about Radiator:
Dec. 23: Jingle Belgian from Former Future Brewing Company
The Jingle Belgian at Former Future Brewing Company hearkens to beers of Christmastimes past — with a twist.
“It’s got nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, juniper berries and fir tips — actual pine tree in the beer,” Former Future’s founder, owner and brew master James Howat says.
The addition of fir tips to the recipe is certainly different from what abbeys would have considered hundreds of years ago, but Howat said he wanted to fashion a recipe that was piney and felt like it belonged at Christmas.
The beer is a Belgian quadruple with 12 percent ABV that the brewery collaborated on with a women’s craft beer group called Barley’s Angels.
“It’s got a lot of alcohol warmth and just really full flavor, a lot of complexity. I picture it as something you’d want to sit by the fire drinking, definitely not a session ale by any means. It’s definitely something you sit and sip and savor,” Howat says.
Learn more about Jingle Belgian:
Dec. 22: Snowed In from Copper Kettle Brewing Company
Jeremy Gobien, the owner and head brewer at Copper Kettle Brewing Company, minces few words when describing his Snowed In seasonal:
“It’s a big beer.”
At 12 percent ABV, it certainly is.
Snowed In is a bourbon barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout that’s based on a previous recipe the brewery featured in its taproom.
“It’s a big, strong, chewy, velvety oatmeal stout,” Gobien says.
He says it’s effective as a dessert pairing. He recommends cake, brownies, truffles and crème brulee or rich cheeses like Gouda.
“It’s going to go really well at the end of the meal,” Gobien says.
He says it’s become one of Copper Kettle’s most anticipated beers.
“This beer, for us, out of the hundreds of beers that we’ve done since we opened, consistently gets the highest ratings,” Gobien says. “It’s something our customers look forward to all year round. We only make one batch a year, so it’s something that’s very special for us.”
Learn more about Snowed In:
Dec. 21: Mint Condition Stout from Dry Dock Brewing Co.
The key to Dry Dock’s Mint Condition Stout, says brewer Tim Evon, is keeping the mint mellow.
“We didn’t want it to taste like toothpaste or anything like that,” he jokes.
Based on feedback from patrons, they succeeded.
“People are really liking it,” Evon says. “It’s a perfect holiday beer. There are a lot of holiday beers out there, I think, that are over-the-top sweet. We wanted this to be nice and mellow and have a good balance of chocolate and peppermint, so we dried that stout out as much as possible.”
Mint Condition was brewed as part of an annual competition at Dry Dock in which staff concocted different recipes. The stout was the brewers’ entry.
Learn more about Mint Condition:
Dec. 20: Stock Ale from Sanitas Brewing Company
While many craft brewers differentiate their seasonal offerings with offbeat styles, Chris Coyne peers even further into relative beer obscurity.
The co-founder and lead brewer at Sanitas Brewing Company is pouring a stock ale this season, a very traditional English style but something that he says is “relatively uncommon in modern brewing.”
Sanitas’ stock ale is based on organic two-row English malts and a little bit of caramel malts. It’s bittered with millennium hops and finished with dry organic figs.
“It’s a really nice seasonal, holiday beer,” he says. “It pairs really well with cheese. It goes really well with a lot of holiday meals. It’s kind of a bittersweet sensation with a lot of dried fruit notes.”
Coyne says stock ales fall between English strong ales and barley wins in alcoholic content.
“It’s something that not that many brewers are brewing,” Coyne says. “I really like to find relatively obscure and unexplored styles and have fun with it.”
Learn more about Stock Ale:
Dec. 19: Christmas Ale from Upslope Brewing Company
There’s a reason why Upslope Brewing Company calls this winter seasonal its Christmas Ale.
“It reminds you of the holiday cheer,” head brewer Sam Scruby says. “One of my favorite things … is a slight warming note from a higher alcohol.”
Part of that cheer indeed arrives with a healthy 8.3 percent ABV, while ginger, blade mace and orange peel spices happily complement cherry fruit notes.
“It’s got a nice rich malt character (and) more interesting darker fruit notes. It really has a Belgian character to it in the nose,” Scruby says.
Loosely based off the founder’s homebrew recipe, the Christmas Ale pairs best with holiday meats like duck and roasts. “Things that are a little more savory,” Scruby advises. “It is just a little bit sweet but not overdone.”
Learn more about Christmas Ale:
Dec. 18: Old Jubilation from Avery Brewing Company
In Avery’s Old Jubilation holiday seasonal, Matt Bessey says he tastes hints of hazelnut, cinnamon and ginger spices.
Not that they’re in there. Old Jubilation — a.k.a. Old Jubie, a.k.a. Old Jube — presents those spice flavors from a complex malt blend.
“We don’t use any spices in the beer,” Bessey, a taproom employee at Avery, says. “It’s all from the malts.”
Old Jubilation clocks in at 8.5 percent ABV, so it “does really warm you up around this time of year. It does keep you nice and toasty by the fire,” Bessey says.
He says he’d pair the beer with holiday meats, including pork chops and roasts.
“It is an awesome Christmas beer,” Bessey says. “It’s one my favorite winter warmers out there.”
Learn more about Old Jubilation:
Dec. 17: Yule Hop IPA from Mountain Toad Brewing
Those who love the scent of freshly cut Christmas trees might want to give Mountain Toad Brewing’s Yule Hop IPA a whirl.
Josh Robbins, a brewer at the not-quite-2-year-old Golden taproom, says the seasonal IPA is dry-hopped with symco, citra and Amarillo hops to “give it a bit of a piney, resiny sort of aroma and feel to it.”
The beer is a take on the brewery’s regular IPA.
“The way we did that is we added extra dry hops … to give it that piney aroma we wanted for winter,” Robbins says.
Mountain Toad brought back the Yule Hop, which follows its summer and fall IPAs, because of its popularity last winter.
“It’s very popular this time of year,” Robbins says. “People love it as an alternative to our Mount Zion IPA.”
He calls it “a middle-of-the-road” IPA with a 6.5 percent ABV. The brewers add cascade and centennial hops into the boil, followed by the dry-hopping.
Learn more about Yule Hope IPA:
Dec. 16: Gingerbread Man from Strange Craft Beer Company
It’s the beer grandma would’ve have made — if she wasn’t so busy making gingerbread cookies.
Tim Myers’ Gingerbread Man beer at Strange Craft Beer Company is based on his grandmother’s cookie recipe. He substituted the cookie flour for his American brown recipe.
“We spiced it up exactly the way grandma used to, so we always like to say it’s a gingerbread cookie in a glass,” he says.
The beer is based on an English malt and adds a little bit of caramel and very little chocolate for color “to give it that golden brown,” Myers says. “The real showcase is the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves.”
He says the only complaint he’s received about Gingerbread Man is that it’s not widely available.
“It’s only available on draft on limited tap counts around town,” Myers says. “Everybody is hollering at us: When are we going to start bottling this?”
Gingerbread Man may be distributed next year at liquor stores as part of Strange’s bomber rotation.
Learn more about Gingerbread Man:
Dec. 15: Ugly Sweater from Wit’s End Brewing Company
More than two years ago, when Wit’s End Brewing Company owner Scott Witsoe experimented with a winter ale recipe, he noticed the finished product wasn’t the most beautiful.
“It looked like a brownish, murky, milky liquid, which actually wasn’t very attractive,” he says.
But its true beauty lay within, he discovered.
“When I tasted it, I absolutely loved it,” Witsoe says. “I thought, ‘It’s too bad this beer is so ugly because it’s such a good beer.’ And that’s how Ugly Sweater was born.”
Like many winter ales, it offers spice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. But Witsoe doesn’t use any spices in his recipe.
“I wanted something that finished a little bit cleaner — spiced beer without actually putting spices in it,” he says. A Belgian yeast fermented at really high temperatures mimics spicy notes.
He uses palm sugar in the boil to give the beer “a nice floral sugar” that “adds almost a bit of a liquid Sugar Daddy to it.”
Learn more about Ugly Sweater:
Dec. 14: Hibernation Ale from Great Divide Brewing Co.
One of the original beers that Great Divide brewed, Hibernation Ale is one of the more celebrated Denver winter beers. It’s been in production for roughly 17 years.
Brewed with a lot of barley and brown malt, the beer pairs well with holiday food, head brewer Ethan Osborne says.
“It gives us this awesome chocolate chip flavor,” he says.
At 8.7 percent ABV, Hibernation Ale is “a larger beer,” Osborne notes. “We consider it a warming ale. A couple of them are definitely going to get you in the right place.”
Learn more about Hibernation Ale: