It’s about two weeks away from Christmas — about the time of year I should be thinking about Christmas shopping, but I dislike the whole concept enough that I push it to the back of my mind and think about what beer I’m going to buy for myself over the holiday season. It’s a recurring theme every year because if there ever was one, I’m your quintessential ‘bah humbug’ kind of guy.
I convince myself to take a rare day off from work, or at least leave early enough to coincide with the bars and pubs opening in the downtown corridor with a loose agenda of doing my shopping in that area. I don’t know why, I can never find what I want – or even know what to look for, for that matter – so I console myself by starting at Humpy’s to see what seasonal libations might bait my palate there. Oh, and for the record, I get dropped off because I know where the day will end up and I’ll be getting a ride home later in the day with a nose rosier than Rudolph’s.
Humpy’s always has a killer selection of local, regional and international Christmas-inspired beers and solid, reasonably priced pub grub that helps prepare me for the shopping debacle ahead. Alaskan Brewing Company’s 2019 Smoked Porter is out now and likely I’ll have a pint of that, even though it’s darker than what I like to start with early in the day, but it fits my mood. I know later I’ll be hitting the Brown Jug Warehouse or the La Bodega Liquor Store in the Metro Mall for a couple of bottles of this award winning beer, both to gift for my discerning beer drinking friends and to put in my vintage collection like I do every year.
It’s too early to hit Glacier Brewhouse – which is where I really want to end up — to drink through some of the incredible beers in the annual 12 Days of Barleywine festival that started on December 10.
Every year, Glacier brewmaster Dan Weber pulls heady behemoths from the famous Wall O’ Wood in the cellar below the bar floor. This collection started shortly after Glacier Brewhouse opened in May of 1995. Most of these beers are barrel aged and have been snoozing in the cool cellar over the years to be featured at this very special time of year.
Every day during the celebration at least three different beers are featured and a fourth each day is one of three different cask conditioned beers. Make no mistake that this is an internationally famous collection of world class big beers and long time readers are familiar with my claim that I think no other brewery in the world can feature this much barley-wine class beer all at once.
I pulled the list in anticipation of my “shopping day” and studied it far more than any Christmas gift I am yet to conceive. I count 27 different amazing beers at Glacier this year. If my calculations are correct, the average alcohol by volume in the knee-knockin’ selection is 9.99 percent with a low of 9 percent and with Glacier’s 2017 Big Woody Barleywine – aged one year in Hungarian oak barrels – tipping the scales on the high end at 11.4 percent alcohol by volume.
There are a number of big beer veterans up here that hit this gig hard every year and show up every single day and drink every single selection. To me, that’s true world-class beer dedication and through the years, I’ve only pulled that off once. The year I did it, it became such a routine that I showed up on autopilot on the 13th day expecting more.
Certainly the namesake barleywines are the showcase beers and there are 15 different version in the mix this year, most of which have been conditioned in wine and whiskey barrels. Two of this year’s selections are on the rotating cask conditioned lineup... but there’s more.
Not all of the selections are barleywine by style, but they are all big beers. My favorite non-barleywine style in each year’s series is Glacier’s Eisbock. Eisbock is the strongest of the bock style beers and is typically made by dropping the temperature of the beer until ice is formed on top. This ice is removed which concentrates the beer in a process known as ice distilling. Sometimes this is repeated a couple of times to really fortify the beer.
This year, Glacier’s featuring six Eisbocks. One was served on December 10 – a 2011 vintage conditioned in Napa Valley Smith Madrone wine barrels. The next is a 2012 vintage aged three years in Buffalo Trace bourn barrels. This was served December 11. Going forward, on December 12, sample a 2013 version aged for two years in Buffalo Trace beers, on the 13th, a 2017 version from Laphroaig Scotch Whiskey barrels, and two more versions on December 16 and December 19.
Imperial stouts are another feature at Glacier at this time of year. Look for six of them through the celebration, with the first one coming out on December 14. When it comes to this style, I’m a traditionalist and prefer non-wine/whiskey aged versions, so I’ll be visiting on December 18 to get my share of a 2018 Russian Imperial Stout that was aged in steel. I also enjoy barley wines, eisbocks and imperial stouts that are aged in virgin oak barrels and there are a number of these to choose from this year.
With 27 incredible beers to choose from, you don’t want to miss out, but if you go in to drink through the collection, or what’s on tap each day, this could easily be a designated driver event, so plan accordingly.
Feeling a little warmer, I’m sure I’ll do my obligatory drag-through at the 5th Avenue Mall and maybe actually get a little shopping done before my ride shows up to take me to one of my favorite grog shops for gifts for myself and those in my life that are easiest to shop for: other craft beer lovers like me.