By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
I was a mall Santa. Not my proudest moment, I was a 20-something who needed an additional gig to support my holiday celebration fund — more commonly called “drinking money.” I was young and slim, but my habitual chain-smoking had given me a gravelly “ho-ho-ho” at an unnaturally young age — probably not the best choice to play Santa but, hey, I’m pretty sure the mall people were as desperate as I was. Plus, I’ve always maintained a short list of jobs everyone should do once like driving a taxi, tending bar and, yes, playing a mall Santa. In my current portly, non-smoking, white-haired state, I definitely see the irony.
Mall Santas are subject to all sorts of abuse such as screaming toddlers, deluded parents and adolescents who, when they sit on Santa’s lap, laugh so hard they fart. Santa also hears the yuletide requests of a few full-sized adults who, for whatever reason, still believe in the magic of St. Nick. But altogether, the hundreds of children, awestruck and excited, eagerly whispering their Christmas wishes into Santa’s ear is a memorable and touching event — even for a young and self-absorbed Santa. Having occupied both the jolly red fellow’s seat and the place of the harried parent, these days I’m pretty understanding. Maybe that’s why I once told the long-suffering Meier & Frank Santaland Santa, whose lap my young daughter had just vacated, that I should’ve brought him a pint of whiskey as a tip.
No matter your take on the holiday season, it’s a good time for celebrating with family and friends. Even if you dislike the yearly display of crass commercialism, you must admit the chill of a dark Northwest December is best remedied with a pint. In celebration of the season, we bring you a selection of winter warmers — Oregon brews created to take the bite out of the long nights.
Three Mugs Brewing Company: Death Czar Russian Imperial Stout, Hillsboro
9.7% ABV; 40 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This huge brew has complex aromas and flavors that will explode in your mouth. It’s black as a winter night in Russia, with a perfect melding of malty, chocolaty and roasty notes that will kill your desire for any other stout.
Consumer Comments: Beer may be a Northwest hallmark, but the Death Czar Russian Imperial Stout comes complete with another regional trademark: coffee! December’s favorite, this darkly ruddy cold-weather brew is built on notes of robust java, a fleeting sweetness and a gently astringent oak-barrel finish, which makes for a very clean mouthfeel. Our panelists declared the Death Czar the quintessential winter warmer!
10 Barrel Brewing Co.: Beer Nog, Spiced Winter Ale Aged in Rum Barrels, Bend and Portland
11.9% ABV; [Unavailable] IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This full-bodied spiced winter warmer is just what you need to get out of the cold. A blend of spices and nuances of raisins, toasted oats, cocoa nibs along with the use of five different malts pack this beer with a ton of flavor. Take off your coat and enjoy this annual favorite.
Consumer Comments: What they said. (I love it when the brewer’s notes and the tasting panel’s are in agreement!) Beer Nog is indeed a spiced winter ale, which reflects its rum barrel aging. This brew’s mulled warmth is enhanced by its sour character, its creators deftly hitting a solid sour-hop balance. Seasonal spices underscore this brew’s fall/winter theme, offering a perfect companion for cold nights in front of a crackling fire.
Falling Sky Brewing: Wet Earth Winter Ale, Eugene
6.5% ABV; 58 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: It’s time to accept it, doom and gloom: the rain is here. Aromas of wet earth and spicy hops sink into roasted nuts and a hint of dark fruit welcoming a hearty winter offering. This mahogany brew has rich malt depth with a touch of alcohol warmth while being dangerously drinkable for an internal sweater when it’s pouring outside. Cheers to the season!
Consumer Comments: IPA lovers, take heed! Wet Earth Winter Ale exhibits all the characteristics you’d expect in a winter beer but with a little something extra: hops. This affable brew leads with moderate hops and malt along with bits of nut and fruit — even reminding several of our panelists of a well-balanced rye porter. This beer easily blends the comfort of a winter warmer with the refreshment of a brisk IPA.
Golden Valley Brewery: Tannen Bomb, McMinnville
8.0% ABV; 50 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Fall is here and it’s time for the release of Tannen Bomb, our winter warmer ale. This strong, tawny amber features a complex malt character derived from the generous use of assorted specialty malts and adjuncts, including flaked barley, wheat, crystal, crystal rye and pale chocolate malt. The robust malt presence is countered by the judicious application of Cascade, Golding and Willamette hops.
Consumer Comments: With the husky hue of raw honey and an invitingly frothy head, Tannen Bomb is a decidedly Northwest seasonal choice. Less weighty than many winter warmers, this amber ale is true to its hop heritage while offering layered malts with just a bit of juniper before a very clean finish. Our tasting panel labeled the Tannen Bomb a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for holiday gatherings!
pFriem Family Brewers: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, Hood River
11.5% ABV; 70 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: The first imperial stouts were high-alcohol concoctions brewed for Czar Peter the Great of Russia. Our own Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout absorbs the tannins of OOLA Distillery’s bourbon barrels for a full year, resulting in huge roasted malt, chocolate mousse, coconut and ripe cherry flavors that may leave you feeling like a bit of a monarch yourself!
Consumer Comments: A distinct nose of molasses introduces the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout. Notes of sorghum, coffee and a hint of raspberry shape the character of this full-bodied brew — several panelists even detected a little teriyaki. Almost Eastern European in its fortitude, this imperial stout isn’t for the faint-of-heart. Serve this meaty pint steakside and follow it with a generous slice of double-chocolate torte.
As you experience the holiday season this year, kick back, grab an Oregon brew and reflect on the connections you have with those close to you. If you’re like me, you’ll take some time to feel gratitude for the people you love, the things you have and for this beautiful state we call home. Even if your life isn’t perfect — whose is? — at least you’re not a mall Santa.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.