February — a desolate time of year. The trees are barren, the mornings are cold, and there's only Presidents Day to ward off work (if you're lucky). The glitz of Super Bowl has passed, and the fun of March Madness has yet to come.
It seems that all that's left to do is trudge through the dark frigid mornings into the gray glacial evenings and hope the monotony doesn't incite a harsh dose of cabin fever … and the resulting damage it creates. (I still owe my girlfriend a new blender and pillows.)
But fear not! Beer is here. Libations of high alcohol, and equally high complexity, begin to trickle out from local breweries as they prepare for beer fest season. You name it, and you'll begin to see it: the extended aging, barrel aging, spirit additions and crazy fermentation practices. Don't get me wrong; offerings like these are available year round, but these are the ones that shine.
History and tradition dictate most of the happenings in the beer world. This is the time of year that Lent begins, and monks (Trappist and otherwise) would begin to turn to beer as their sole means of sustenance. In order to survive that long without food, a strong, hearty beer was required. Beers of high alcohol content, which could last through the harsh winters and warm the monks and their visitors with the "holy spirit," were needed.
In England and Germany — and later in America — only the strong beers could survive the long winter when growing was impossible. The addition of sprits, different types of woods, fruits and spices all derive from the need to create and preserve beer from long ago.
Now, it's by choice.
So, what do the local breweries have to offer? Here is what’s on tap to get us, and our taste buds, excited:
Sly Fox Brewery
Prometheus: A smoked Imperial Porter, a bready roasted offering with peat- smoked hops. It's a high alcohol, low hopped, sweet pint that goes down surprisingly easy. Its nice balance between the roasted, sweet and smoky flavors make this a well-balanced beer that's easy to sip. Seek to pair this with meat or poultry dishes, along with excellent conversation and an old friend.
Victory Brewing Company
St. Victorious Doppelbock: This is a seasonal offering, not a specialty — but I had to put this up here for one reason and one reason only: It's the beer that made me love American craft beer and made me realize that Americans make the best beers in the world. If you had this happen, you understand. I remember when and where I was when I drank it. It was my moon landing. Do yourself a favor and drink it.
Troeg's Brewing Company
Scratch #40: The fourth of four in an experimental IPA series. This is really a double IPA by the numbers. Amber in color and over three pounds of hops per barrel, this one will warm and bite you at the same time. Brewed with solely citrus hops (including the new Citra strain), it has a flavor and aroma likened to the “Orange Julius" of IPAs by brewers.
Yards Brewing Company
Tavern Spruce Ale: As authentic a throwback as it gets. Spruce was a common component of many New England beers prior to the cultivation of hops in the U.S., which didn't occur on a commercial scale until after the 17th century. While the spruce flavors in this beer are much more subdued, and subsequently more balanced than its historical counterparts, it makes for a flavorful, woodsy, herbal beer. It's relatively low in alcohol, but the full malty body fills the stomach like comfort food. Do not seek out this beer without an adventurous mind and palette.