By Contributing Columnist Donavan Hall
In the last couple of days I've made partial rounds of our Island's brewpubs to see what the brewers have on tap for us this holiday season. John Harvard's in Lake Grove has my favorite locally brewed holiday ale, the Holiday Red. The best thing about this ale is that it's fully bodied, malty, and isn't a spice tea. You might recall how much I like pumpkin spice ales from my last contribution. I would probably like spiced beers more if the spices were used more subtly to finesse the beer's natural flavor rather than as decongestant.
Over at the Brickhouse in Patchogue you'll find the Blitzen on tap. This is a spiced up version of their red ale with the malt bill ratcheted up to give this Winter warmer a decent kick at 7.3 percent alcohol by volume. If you are having two of these make sure you call a cab.
The Blitzen is fresh right now and probably at its peak so get over to the Brickhouse before "the day" if you want to try this beer at its best. What you'll taste is a scoop of malt and a dash of holiday spice. While I understand the reason for the prominence of the spice character (namely, so that the novelty seekers can get a smack in the tongue even if their palates are fatigued) I find the spice in the Blitzen a little over the top for my taste. The spices end up being a little harsh in the back of the throat after you've made it halfway through the pint.
If you can't make it to your local brewpub in the next few days, keep an eye out for the Blue Point Winter Ale. It's available in fine bars, pubs, and restaurants (and at grocery stores and beer stores in the bottle) all across the Island. This beer is dark and malty and had no spices in it. (If you are interested, check out the review of this beer that I wrote last year.) In fact, the Blue Point Winter Ale is a good seasonal drinking beer. I usually keep several bottles in the beer cellar to enjoy with a home cooked meal or to relax with in front of the fire.
Before signing off, I'll give you a bonus. I went into New York City last weekend and passed some time while waiting for a train at The Ginger Man (on 36th Street just east of 5th Avenue on the north side of the street). I had a pint of Sly Fox's Christmas Ale. (Sly Fox is over in Pennsylvania, but there's a local connection. Southampton Publik House is using Sly Fox's brewery to produce their 750 ml corked and caged series of beers.) Sly Fox's Christmas Ale is another variation of the Pale Ale with spices holiday brew. It alone isn't worth a trip into the City, but if you find yourself wandering around Manhattan you'll be able to find a few holiday beers that haven't made their way out on to the Island yet, like Very Bad Elf or Mad Elf from Tröeg's Brewery in Pennsylvania. And keep you eyes pealed for Santa's Butt.