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Hoops on Hops: Holiday and winter beer preview

Happy Holidays to you all. At this time of year, I like to call out some great beers to enjoy during the season and into the colder months. It's the time of the year for family and friends to get together to celebrate a good year and look to the future. For centuries, brewers have made holiday- and cold-weather-themed beers. Modern brewers are no different.

The playbook is varied on these beers. Many brewers strive for "extra" or "more," for example, a higher alcohol content, the additions of spices or fruits, or sometimes just more hops, malt and flavor. The packaging is festive, featuring snowfall, fireplaces, wreaths or trees, presents and sometimes a nicely pictured scene of a turkey dinner. The idea is clear: Enjoy this beer with people you love.

First off, I want to mention the ingredients:

Grain: Full flavored pale malts are a staple in these beers. Caramel, toffee, molasses, roasty, chocolate and even coffee notes are common.

Hops: Two different types of hops are most often the choice; fruit-forward citrus, stone fruit, grape and lemon are typical. The second group includes pine, grass, resin and woody.

Spices: These can include ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, pumpkin spice, juniper, coriander, and grains of paradise.

Sweets: Look for vanilla, chocolate, cocoa, marshmallow, caramel and fudge.

Vegetables: You might taste yam, sweet potato, chili peppers and pumpkin.

Fruits: Sweet additions can include cherry, cranberry, apricot, raspberry and blueberries.

I will also mention barrel-aged beers. While I do not consider barrels an ingredient per se, the aging of beer in various previously used barrels that housed other liquors, such as cognac, whiskey, wine, tequila and cordials, provide a rainbow of flavors that the beer picks up. Many brewers release special, long-aged beers during this time of the year.

Now, on to some of my favorite holiday and winter beers available to us here in the Twin Ports.

Locally made Danger: George Hunter Stout and Choice Pils

Bent Paddle: Barrel Aged Double Shot Double Black and Old Fashioned ESB

Blacklist: Cran and Cherry Stout

Lake Superior: Old Man Winter Warmer

Earth Rider: The Crush beers (raspberry and cranberry), and the Duluth Coffee Pale Ale

Indeed Brewing Co. Wooden Soul: various fruited sour beers

Last, but certainly not least, make sure to visit the local brewpubs that do not distribute. They always have a wide variety of draft beers brewed for the winter.

Outside Minnesota

Here's a short list for some recommendations from around the beer world available locally at retail shops. Schneider Aventinus Barrique: Barrel-aged strong wheat beer (Germany)

www.dogfish.comCascade Brewery sours: Some of the best sour beers made in the U.S. (Oregon)

Rodenbach Fruitage: Fruit added to the Flanders red style they invented (Belgium)

Duchesse Chocolate Cherry: Dessert in a glass (Belgium)

Founders CBS: Barrel-aged stout with chocolate and coffee (Michigan)

Rekorderlig ciders: A wide variety of apple ciders with added fruits (Sweden)

Dogfish Head Fruit-Full Fort: Amber ale with four berry types added (Delaware)

New Belgium: Wood Cellar sours and Transatlantic Kriek (Colorado), a series of sour beers with Transatlantic Kriek being the benchmark cherry beer collaboration with Oud Beersel in Belgium

Dave's Picks

www.anchorbrewing.comAnchor Steam's Christmas Ale (California): The granddaddy of American holiday beers, Anchor's releases its 44th version. Each year, the label features a new "Yule Tree." This year, the featured tree is the Korean Pine Tree. The label art and story on the bottle is worth a look each year.

Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale (California): My all-time favorite holiday beer. First brewed in 1981, this beer is one of the first examples of an American IPA and one of the rare hoppy holiday ales. Dry hopped with whole fresh Cascade hops.

Schlenkerla Helles Lager (Germany): The most famous smoked beer brewery in the world offers this light lager featuring a subtle smoke flavor perfect with cheese, crackers and fruit.

After the meal

New Glarus Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart (Wisconsin): Brewed with huge amounts of fruit in a malty, sweet base beer.

Surly Darkness Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (Minnesota): A perfect fireside sipper.

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Enjoy the season, everyone. Happy Holidays!

Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at