Goose Island's Christmas ale (Bonnie Trafelet/Chicago…)
Some people get into the festive spirit by shopping at Christkindlmarket or taking a ride on the CTA's holiday train. Others find their seasonal joy in a beer bottle. After Thanksgiving each year, Chicago's breweries release their holiday ales and stouts. With flavors of spice, dark fruit and coffee, these beers compliment a hearty winter meal and offer a good reason to step into a bar and out of the cold. Here's a look at what's on tap this season.
Fistmas, Revolution Brewing
Red Ale, 6.1 percent ABV
Revolution's Fistmas is an annual release with a name that pays homage to the brewery's distinct tap handles and labels. With a reddish color and flavors of orange peel, ginger, caramel and plenty of malt, it's a wintertime brew that works with both sweet and savory foods. Find it on tap now at Revolution's Logan Square brewpub for $6 per tall pint, or check liquor and grocery stores for 22-ounce bombers.
Intemporelle, Atlas Brewing
Belgian Quadruppel, 9 percent ABV
Lincoln Park newcomer Atlas Brewing only opened its taproom doors in July, but brewmaster Ben Saller already is set to unleash his first holiday creation. It's a Trappist abbey-style quadruppel, a Belgian ale that he's aged in French oak cognac barrels. The strong, dark ale will taste of fruits like fig and plum, with a bit of spice courtesy of the Belgian yeast. The first sips will be available Dec. 12 and will be sold at $7 per 13-ounce pour until the beer is gone. If you miss it this December, you're not totally out of luck. Saller says he will reserve some of this batch to age until next year's holiday season.
Festivus, Piece Brewing
Belgian Dark Ale, 9 percent ABV
So, are the guys at Piece just really big Seinfeld fans? Not really. This annual release from the Wicker Park pizzeria and brewery is a "non-denominational holiday ale," according to brewer Jonathan Cutler, designed to be enjoyed "no matter who your big guy in the sky is." Though it tastes of spices, dark fruit and nuts, the beer actually contains no added spices, drawing its flavor completely from the yeast strains. It's available now for $7 per tulip glass at Piece, and generally lasts on tap through December.
Christmas Ale, Goose Island
Strong Brown Ale, 7.3 percent ABV
One of the most readily available locally brewed holiday offerings, Goose Island's Christmas ale is released annually on tap and in bottles across the city. Balancing pale and caramel malts with a dose of hops, the beer is neither overly roasty nor bitter, making it a safe bet for all palates at a holiday party. Find it in 12-ounce bottles at Goose Island's Clybourn pub for $7, or look for it in 4-packs on store shelves for about $8.99. There's even a reason to feel good about drinking this particular bottle: For each case of Christmas Ale sold, Goose Island makes a donation to Erie House, a charity that assists low-income families.
Big Hugs, Half Acre
Imperial Coffee Stout, 10 percent ABV
In this case, "Big" really means big. Half Acre's annual imperial stout release not only packs a high alcohol content, it's also one of the most sought-after releases of the season. Liberal amounts of Dark Matter coffee are added to the stout just before bottling, ensuring that the roasty flavor of the beans shines through. This year, the release is set for Dec. 16, when the North Center brewery—and its just-opened tap room—starts sales at 11 a.m. Do expect a line for 22-ounce bottles ($12), growler fills and draft pours.
Hearths Ablaze, Half Acre
Holiday Stout, 6.5 percent ABV
In addition to Big Hugs, Half Acre also has brewed a second holiday release, Hearths Ablaze, specifically for the brewery's holiday gift basket. Unlike Big Hugs, this stout contains no coffee and has a lower alcohol level, meaning you can pop that bottle this year instead of aging it. Gift baskets have already sold out, but 22-ounce bottles ($8.99) and growlers of Hearths Ablaze will be available at the same time as Big Hugs, along with draft pours in the brewery's tap room.
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