Happy holidays! It’s the most festive time of the year, when my favorite beers hit the shelves and taps.
Winter beers are by far my favorite … big, bold and brassy, but not to be guzzled. Sit back and enjoy a snifter full of a 10+ percent barleywine or an Imperial Stout laced with vanilla beans or fruit and aged in various liquor barrels. Yum! Relaxing in your Lazy Boy in front of the fireplace, watching Christmas movies with the odor of freshly-baked Christmas cookies wafting through the house is a dream. This is the time to stay home and spend with family and friends enjoying these big beers responsibly and staying off the road.
If you do head out for a drink, you needn’t travel far to enjoy some different flavors and bring home the best, with the plethora of breweries, wineries and distilleries in the area.
Skip the holly and head to Cape May Brewing Co. for their Deck the Halls with Boughs of Barley. It’s a bold Belgian-style dark ale with two different agings: one in cognac barrels and another in bourbon barrels. After 10 months, these barrels impart great fruit flavors and exceptional mouthfeel to the beer. To make it more festive, this beer is being sold in 32-ounce growlers with gold labeling. If you haven’t already stopped by, make the trip to the tasting room and stock up on all their great beers.
Just down the road is the newly-opened Bucket Brigade Brewing at 205 N. Main St., Cape May Court House. This fire service-themed venue pays homage to all public service and military members in a comfortable tasting room surrounded by memorabilia. The owners, twin brothers, Kurt and Karl Hughes, are retired chiefs and decided to take up brewing as a hobby and now as a business. Assisted by brewer Mark McPherson Jr., the guys keep the tanks full and family close by to help them serve all of their great beers.
I stopped in at the grand opening and had a great time enjoying their wide selection of beers. My favorite seasonal was the Fall Fest, a spicy, low ABV session beer that can be enjoyed all day. I was quite surprised by the flavorful beers on the list that belied their higher alcohol content. The Pry Bar IPA, Five Bugle Belgian, Brotherhood Black Ale and Axe Head Amber are so good at 7 percent, 7.4 percent, 7.5 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively. Stop in and have a flight or two, choose your favorite and carry home a few growlers. Hours are 2 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, 12 to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 12 to 6 p.m. Sundays.
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Then there are the imports from regional and national breweries. Troeg’s from Pennsylvania has released its famous Mad Elf once again. Certainly a favorite of anyone who has ever tasted it, this cherry-infused, 11 percent spice bomb will be enjoyed for years to come! Troeg’s has added a 750 ml Mad Elf Grand Cru this year, too. Hard to believe they can improve on perfection, but they have.
A sister beer from Fegley’s in Pennsylvania is Rude Elf’s Reserve, a 10.5 percent spicy Belgian strong dark ale. On your nice list should also be Founders Breakfast Stout and the very elusive Kentucky Breakfast Stout (Breakfast Stout aged in bourbon barrels), as well as Backwoods Bastard (Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale aged in bourbon barrels for a year).
Even though the holidays are a busy time, be sure to make time for some beer-related events. At 9 p.m. Saturday Dec. 9, Ye Olde Mill St. Pub will host an Ugly Sweater party with craft beer specials and prizes. Look for beers from some of New Jersey’s best. On the first day of Winter (Dec. 21) at 7 p.m., make your way to Chickie’s & Pete’s in Egg Habor Township for 24 taps of local beers from Ludlam Island, Slacktide and Glasstown, eight taps each.
And for those who enjoy a good cigar with their libations, Goodfellas Cigar Lounge will open soon at 112 Woodland Ave. in Somers Point. It will be BYOB, so guests will be free to enjoy the strong beers and whiskies.
No matter which holiday you celebrate, great beer should be a part of it. Wishing you the happiest of holidays and safe travels.