In true holiday fashion, this post will be a last minute rush job to get done in two days what should take weeks to do. Today I baked two kinds of cookies and homemade fruitcake (yes fruitcake but actually good fruitcake), wrote and addressed Christmas cards and shopped for presents. It’s a fraction of what still has to be done, which makes the cover photo of this paperback edition of Holidays on Ice ring so true, and as I stare at it, enticing. I also want to cover two Christmas beers. No, four.
Like probably tens of thousands of people, I have enjoyed the experience of working at a department store during the holidays. Macy’s, in fact, the store David Sedaris worked at as an elf and which is the basis of “SantaLand Diaries.” I actually probably worked at Macy’s (in San Diego) around the same time that Sedaris did, or at least close enough so that his description of trying to learn the NCR 2152 cash register system Macy’s had especially hit home. I first read “SantaLand Diaries” in Barrel Fever, and that set off an immediate love of Sedaris’ work. It’s so dark and funny and precisely written, it’s no wonder why he became so popular. A friend and co-worker of mine in San Francisco shared this love of Sedaris with me, bought this copy and had it signed for me.
Holiday’s on Ice contains three must read holiday stories, the other two being “Season’s Greetings to our Friends and Family!!!” and “Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol.” In a previous role in my insurance job, I did a type of work that allowed me to listen to audio books, even learn Czech, while working. I would listen to David Sedaris reading these stories over and over. There’s a great recording of Julia Sweeney from Saturday Night Live reading “Season’s Greetings…” worth finding on the net and listening.
Like “The Night Before Christmas” or watching some old version of “A Christmas Carol,” Holiday’s on Ice is an easy Christmas tradition to keep.
Another easy tradition is enjoying Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale this time of year. I first had it in San Francisco, probably in 1991 because that year my roommate threw a Christmas party with a keg of Celebration Ale. The thing I love about this beer is that it’s really NOT a “Christmas beer”. There are no spices that typically end up in holiday beers (not that there’s anything wrong with that), yet for what is basically a strong pale ale, it somehow manages to taste like something meant for this season. It is a deep amber wet hop ale, meaning the hops are not dried or pelletized before added to the kettle. They come right from the bine (hop vines are called bines, Spellcheck) and into the beer imparting a fresh pine and citrus-peel profile.
Another more recent tradition is getting a magnum size bottle of Anchor Brewing Company’s “Our Special Ale.” 2016 is their 42nd year brewing this beer for the holiday season. They say that each year their recipe changes, but if that’s the case it must be by the slightest degrees. It is a mild dark beer with hints, no suggestions, of what I guess to be nutmeg, maybe some cinnamon, and juniper. This magnum tradition started about 4 years ago. My favorite bar Hamilton’s had acquired a run of each year of this beer back to the year 2000! They put up a challenge that if you bought a bottle of each year, the first to try each year so would win a prize. Well, I came in second and missed a couple years, but my prize was the best one anyway—a magnum of that year’s edition. So I really can say from experience that at least since 2000, their recipe doesn’t stray year to year all that much. By the way, curious to know what a 12 year old bottle of beer taste like? In an oddly pleasant way it tastes like a beer that has absorbed the essence of an attic in an old house.
I’m a label nut so I kept all those bottles and get the labels off. Someday they’ll make a nice wall thingy. Speaking of labels, each year they select a different tree as the image on the label. This year is a tree found 1,000 miles away from Omaha during the westward construction of the transcontinental railroad. How cool is that?!
A final holiday season beer. If you like the taste of licorice or anise, my favorite Christmas beer of all time is Het Anker’s Gouden Carolus Noel. Dark, Belgian, and star anise. I somehow liked it better on draft than in the bottle, but it’s still very good. Whole Foods once carried it, but selection is going to vary store to store. I have to say that my own attempts to brew a beer similar to Gouden Carolus Noel have gotten me in the ballpark. The hard part is that I find that the star anise flavor I try to impart is best within the first three months. As it ages it dissipates. Still, I like it and it gets high marks from my father-in-law, so I’ll continue tweaking the recipe here and there.
As it may be a few weeks before I get around to a new post, possibly longer since my limited time will be focused on getting a new job. Priority uno. Until then, in whichever way you celebrate this season or not…enjoy, Happy New Year, and here’s to you and your loved ones good health!