Here's a sampling of what our contributors and editors are drinking...
Donavan Hall: Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout
When the days get shorter giving way to the early approach of darkness, and the air picks up a chill, my taste for beer darkens and, instead of a thirst quencher, I want something to warm me up. Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout does just that. At 10% ABV, this one is a sipper, but it's not so big that it doesn't play nicely with others. Last night, I cracked open this bottle and paired it with a selection of cheeses we'd brought home from a recent visit to C'est Cheese in Port Jeff.
The Black Chocolate Stout is one of Brooklyn's winter specialties, always brewed in limited batches and marked with the year of its production. This beer is one of the connoisseurs who like to do vertical tastings. You can profitably cellar BCS for years. Though my bottles tend to get consumed. If you want to store the beer, keep it at cellar temperatures, but for serving you'll want to let it stand for awhile and warm up. Don't drink this beer cold or you'll miss some wonderful flavors and won't be able to appreciate the balance.
This tar colored beer is rich and thick. Just about every dark flavor your can think of is blended here to perfection. The chocolate flavor all comes from the malt, but together with the chocolate is a dark roast coffee, tobacco, and black cherries. Enjoy!
Let me explain, because I sound like a politician. This wine, the second wine of a highly regarded second growth, comes from a tremendous vintage. It's nicely made and well built. But it's not memorable, no matter what the high scores for this wine would have you believe. And that's most Bordeaux: Nice, solid, boring.
This is unfair as a generalization, so let me elaborate. The best Bordeaux is stunning, the kind of stuff I wish were more affordable for more people. It's sad to think how few of us will drink the best Bordeaux anymore. I've been fortunate enough to enjoy first-growth Bordeaux in its prime, and it shows the kind of stature that most wines will never sniff. Second-growth and third can reach those heights, too. But below that level, Bordeaux rarely thrills. I think of a huge range of wine from Piedmont or the Rhone Valley or the Loire or the Mosel that simply excites me. Wines that I can buy for $18 or, as was the case with this bottle, $55. Those regions regularly provide character to go with quality -- rough edges and distinction.
Anymore, Bordeaux often only provides quality, not character. It's careful. Nice nose, predictable descriptors, smooth and good-tasting, varietally correct. That hardly sounds like a criticism, but where's the personality?
Tracy Weiss: Hog's Head Ale
The truth? I am not much of a beer drinker. I shunned keg stands and Natty Light in college and concentrated on my first obsession, Jack Daniels. But now loving wines the way I do, I’ve started to appreciate the flavors and layers of well-crafted beer. Which is why when I traveled to Hogsmede (aka Universal Studio Florida’s Harry Potter land), I was excited to try the Hog’s Head Ale.
Available in the Hog’s Head Pub, a place that feels “Brit lite” ripped from the pages of JK Rowling’s series, the namesake ale looked to my untrained eye like an approximation of Killian’s.
The beer had clean flavors with a hint of caramel and a nutty quality to it. It was chewy, but not unpleasantly so. It wasn’t the best beer and I have ever tasted or a shine to the hop, but in the venue it seemed to make sense. Also interesting is that it was created exclusively for the park and allegedly is imported from Scotland. I was also extremely happy to see alcoholic beverages in a theme park and a dark place to sit down and hide from small children.
As for the Hog’s Head Ale, I might have one or two just to get into the spirit of things, but then will stick to the Strongbow in the future.