The holiday season is upon us: Time to drink like you mean it, or at least enough to act like you’re thrilled-just-thrilled to see everyone with a seat at the Thanksgiving-Hanukkah-Christmas table, even creepy Uncle Ned and your sister’s insufferable boyfriend. Happily, there are loads of new or otherwise notable beers and spirits that, even if they’re not available in Pennsylvania, can be found across bridges, through toll booths and on the other sides of local bodies of water.
As Hanukkah comes as early as Thanksgiving this year, let’s start with the excellent new He’Brew holiday releases from Shmaltz Brewing Company, located in a brand-spanking-new 20,000 foot brewery in Clifton Park, New York. These guys have been crafting serious suds for some time now, but lately, it seems, they have stepped their game up to the stratosphere. He’Brew’s Death of a Contract Brewer Black IPA is phenomenal, as is the massive Jewbelation Reborn, which boasts 17 percent alcohol, 17 types of hops and 17 styles of malt. Drink one of these, and even your impressively skilled Jewish mother won’t be able to make you feel guilty for not calling more often—Its powers of fortification are that impressive.
On the spirits end of things, there is also plenty to be thankful for. Whiskey, in my family and so many others, is as important a part of the annual festivities as the roasted bird. This year, I plan on drinking plenty of the magnificent Four Roses 125th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon, a stunning sipper that you may (justifiably) decide not to share and instead keep all for yourself.
I also have become a fan of the wonderful, aged Irish whiskies of Knappogue Castle—particularly the single malt, 16-year-old twin wood Sherry finish bottling. Seek this out, and sip with glee.
If you want that comforting, caramel-tinged character but tend to shy away from whiskey, make sure to try the excellent Casamigos Reposado Tequila. It has smoothness and soul to spare, and, based on extensive personal testing, is difficult to have fewer than two glasses of. (Their blanco is also lovely, either on its own or in a well-made cocktail.)
Rum, too—while not necessarily the first spirit most people think of when talk turns to the great holidays of autumn and winter—has its own unique appeal right about now. I find that a great glass, like of the marvelous Caliche Rum from Puerto Rico, is a perfect way to remind yourself that the cold days and long nights of winter won’t last forever. Plus, this one is treated to solera aging, not terribly different from good Sherry, and is rich and rewarding enough to warm you up on the coldest winter nights.
All of these are standouts in their respective category. And while they may not all be on shelves in the city proper, they’re more than worth the effort: Good drinking always is—especially this time of year.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014