Food & Wine

Seasonal brews make your feast more festive

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
Gnoel de Abbey from The Lost Abbey in San Marcos is billed as a “holiday brown ale.”

Sure, you can enjoy a nice bottle of wine with your holiday feast, but why not enjoy some delightful winter seasonal craft brews from California instead?

Following is a roundup of what the breweries are offering for holiday imbibing.

The Bruery

The Eleven Pipers Piping Scotch Ale from The Bruery in Placentia poured a deep mahogany color, clear but still translucent due to the dark color, with a dense, moderately long-lasting tan head.

The rich malt aroma was dominated by caramel and bread crust malt character, backed by toffee and raisins with hints of spice – somewhat reminiscent of fruitcake. The Belgian candi sugar and coriander contributed interesting notes to the balance, but neither drew attention to itself. The flavor was very similar to the aroma.

There was no detectable hop bitterness, but it must have been present because the malt sweetness was nicely balanced. Highly carbonated with medium body and noticeable alcohol warmth (11 percent alcohol by volume), the finish had elements of both sweetness and dryness.

While The Bruery is not always known for subtlety in its brews, this was very nicely balanced.

With the mild spice and dark fruit, Eleven Pipers Piping would be a great pairing with a HoneyBaked Ham, candied yams and pecan pie.

Hermitage Brewing Co.

San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing Co. produced Cranberry Peach American Sour (6.5 percent ABV), which was, well, cranberry-peach colored with a very fizzy white head that dissipated immediately after pouring. The aroma was bitingly acidic, with a touch of horse blanket from the brettanomyces, and sweet peach underling. The beer had no hop aroma, flavor or bitterness. The cranberry was not distinctive in the aroma or flavor, though I’m sure it contributed to the tartness. Stonefruit flavor was slightly present but overwhelmed by the sharp acidity – this was an aggressively tart beer. With the acidity, medium-light body, relatively low carbonation and tart finish, the beer shared some characteristics with Sauvignon Blanc, albeit an extremely sour version. Pair this beer with roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and apple pie.

The Lost Abbey

While Gnoel de Abbey from The Lost Abbey in San Marcos is billed as a “holiday brown ale,” it reminded me more of a Belgian strong dark ale than anything else. Dark brown in color with a long-lasting moussy head of tiny khaki bubbles, the aroma was a complex blend of vanilla (likely from oak aging), espresso, currants, orange peel and mild spicy Belgian yeast esters along with a hint of alcohol (8.5 percent ABV). The flavor was very similar to the aroma, with an exquisite marriage of oak, coffee, alcohol and dark fruit.

I’m not sure whether spices were added to the beer or whether the spice character resulted from the Belgian yeast, but the result was complex and delicious either way. With a medium-light body, moderately high carbonation and a long, complex dry finish, Gnoel de Abbey would pair well with roast duck, candied carrots and frosted sugar cookies.

Lost Coast Brewery

Lost Coast Brewery’s Winterbraun Brown Ale, which hails from Eureka, is an imperial version of Lost Coast’s staple Downtown Brown Ale. With a very clear reddish-brown color and a dense, moderately long-lasting beige head, the aroma highlighted floral Saaz hops, which created a citrusy orange character when they interacted with underlying brown malt notes of milk chocolate and pecans, as well as mild cherry esters.

On the palate, hop bitterness came first, with the clean, dark malt character and notes of brown sugar underneath. Moderate citrusy hop flavor was the highlight midpalate, followed by a semisweet, bitter finish. With medium body and carbonation, this brew was simple but very pleasant and drinkable for 8 percent ABV. Pair with beef tenderloin, roasted Brussels sprouts and Buche de Noel.

Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit

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