COLUMN WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
The holiday season in the greater Philadelphia region is traditionally launched by Santa and Mrs. Claus appearing in a sleigh at the conclusion of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. While this marks the beginning of candy canes, Christmas trees, and the Budweiser Clydesdales with sleighs full of beer, some craft brewers have been readying for this season for months, letting specialty “holiday” brews age to perfection. These brews that incorporate ingredients associated with the holidays such as cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg, ginger, chocolate or mint, are now beginning to appear on the taps, providing even more reason to enjoy the season!
One of the first local holiday beers to hit the market this season was Troegs Brewing Company’s “Mad Elf.” A delicious whopper of an 11 percent ABV ale that is brewed with honey and cherries and belgian yeast, on its website ( www.troegs.com) Troegs explains, “The holidays at Tröegs start with our inner Mad Elf momentarily taking over the brew deck. So blame ‘him’ for this cheerful ruby red creation reminiscent of ripened cherries, raw honey and cocoa with notes of cinnamon, clove and allspice.” Mad Elf was so sought after by its fans that Troegs increased its production in recent years to ensure that it could be enjoyed by many more.
One of the best places to enjoy Mad Elf this time of year is McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Center City Philadelphia (www.mcgillins.com). Opened in 1860, McGillin’s is Philadelphia’s oldest continuously operated pub and is centrally located to the extremely popular holiday traditions that many go into the City each year to experience, including Macy’s Christmas Light Show and Christmas Dickens Village (http://www.wanamakerorgan.com/xmas.php); the Comcast Holiday Spectacular in the Comcast Center lobby; and the Christmas Village in Love Park (http://www.philachristmas.com). In addition to these events, McGillin’s is a must visit because starting Nov. 8, it is a spectacle of holiday spirit.
Every year, the McGillin’s staff puts up more than 10,000 lights and thousands of feet of garland, inside and out, adding to the festivity of the season. McGillin’s owners Mary Ellen Spaniak Mullins and her husband, Chris Mullins, residents of Narberth, have run the pub since 1993. According to Chris, “The bar has always decorated, but we just upped the ante.” Chris believes that “People come to restaurants for service and entertainment, so we are making sure that you enjoy your experience during this time of year.” Mad Elf will be on draft at McGillin’s around Dec. 1, and Chris quickly reminds, “While supplies last!”
Another favorite local holiday beer is Sly Fox Brewing Company’s “Christmas Ale,” which Sly Fox announced on Nov. 13 is now available (http://www.slyfoxbeer.com/index.php/front/beer_christmas). The Sly Fox 2015 Christmas Ale was brewed using traditional mulling spices: ginger, clove, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Such a combination of holiday spices will surely evoke fond memories of Christmas past, and as Sly Fox suggests, “If this one doesn’t get you into the Christmas spirit, you truly are a Scrooge.”
Spring House Brewing Company from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, focuses on the flavors of chocolate and mint in its “Satan’s Bake Sale Mint Chocolate Stout.” Using fresh peppermint leaves and dark chocolate from Lititz-based Wilbur Chocolate Company, Spring House explains “This stout is smooth, dark, full-bodied, and satisfyingly rich.” In addition to pumpkin and apple pies, Satan’s Bake Sale could be a fantastic dessert all to itself after a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast.
In a departure from a traditional holiday ale, Evil Genius Brewing Company has released “Santa!! I Know him!,” a saison style beer brewed with rose hips, chamomile, black currants and dark Belgian candi syrup. As described on their website www.evilgeniusbeer.com, “Santa!! I Know him!!” is “deep, complex and intriguing, this bone-dry Belgian-style ale is sure to seduce you, or the one you’re with. Roses, chamomile, and currants have long been considered powerful aphrodisiacs, so we decided to combine them with mysterious and beguiling Belgian saison yeast. The result is something very special and sure to help spice up nights spent at home during the cold winter months.”
If there is a flavor associated with the holiday season, chances are you’ll be able to find it in a beer between November and December. Keep an eye out for these limited seasonal releases as you are running your holiday errands and pick up a bottle or two. Showing up to a holiday get-together with a bottle of spiced Christmas ale to share will confirm that you are no Scrooge!
Columnist Matt Brasch is a Souderton Area High School graduate and a beer enthusiast. For more, check his blog at http://thebrewholder.com.