And he revived the age-old tradition of Christmas beer with this beautifully simple spiced (spruce, cinnamon) ale. We wouldn't be enjoying most of the beers below if it weren't for him.
Sierra Nevada Celebration. I know that some hopheads shrug off this beer as passé, saying that it's been surpassed by double India pale ales and other hop bombs. But for me, the appearance of Sierra Nevada's red and green cases is the first true sign of Christmas. Celebration is sublimely balanced, its Cascades and Centennial hops a firm but gentle partner - not a bully - to its rich malt body.
Samichlaus. Now brewed in Austria by Castle Eggenberg, this beer was almost lost several years ago during corporate reshuffling by its previous brewer. An Internet campaign sparked by British beer writer Michael Jackson saved one of the world's strongest lagers, at 14 percent alcohol. This rich, brandylike brew ages exceptionally well; enjoy it in a snifter by a roaring fire.
Corsendonk. There are other holiday beers from Belgium that you could call "classic." Stille Nacht, Scaldis Noel and Affligem Noel come to mind. But in the last two years, this abbey-style ale has come to define the type: dark, rich, with a chocolate aroma and complex fruit flavors. Try to track it down on tap - it's stellar.
Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome. Stacked up against the bold, spicy character of other Christmas beers, this simple ale is too easy to pass by. But pour it into a British pint glass, let it reach a suitable temperature of 50 degrees and then quaff it like you're in a London pub.
Creamy and malty, it's the benchmark winter warmer. And importer Charles Finkel's label artwork is worthy of collection.
The localsTroegs Mad Elf
. The makers of this Belgian-style strong pale ale brew more and more every year, and every year it sells out within weeks of hitting the shelves.
While it's brewed with honey and cherries, it's the yeast that gives this beer its distinctively spicy kick. This is the ale you share with wine lovers to convince them that there's more to life than grapes.
Stoudt's Winter Ale. The Adamstown brewery changes the recipe for its seasonal brew every other year. Last year, it added cocoa powder. This year, dip your nose into a glass and you'll think you're headed back out to Hershey, Pa.
Turns out, though, there's no chocolate in this beer, just chocolate malt that gets its flavor entirely through the roasting process.
Flying Fish Grand Cru Winter Reserve. I can't tell you how many public tasting sessions I've hosted where the most popular beer of the evening is something brewed by Flying Fish. The other night, it was the same story, with this Belgian-style ale drawing raves.
It's big and bold, with an invigorating allspice aroma - a product not of any spice, but of its yeast fermentation.
St. Nikolaus Bock Bier. Made with five different roasted malts, this smooth-tasting, chocolaty, dark Munich, Germany-style lager from Penn Brewing is one of the world's classic bocks. If its 7.5 percent alcohol content isn't quite enough, scout around for the larger, foil-wrapped, 25-ounce bottle packed in an embroidered velvet bag. It's a nice gift, and it'll warm the recipient with 9 percent alcohol.
Sly Fox Christmas Ale. Christmas spiced beer goes back centuries, to the days when merry gentlemen reeled from door to door with cups to be filled with good cheer. Wassail! This brew from Royersford, inspired by that tradition, is spiced with ginger, clove, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Weyerbacher Winter Ale. Like Samuel Smith's, this beer is decidedly understated, with a magical body of malty goodness - a surprise, coming from a brewery known for its big, high-alcohol ales.
Lancaster Winter Warmer. Its pleasant, light body is deceptive for such a strong beer (8.9 percent alcohol). An old ale with a mildly fruity aroma and a boost of caramel.
River Horse Belgian Freeze. It starts out like a classic, British-style winter warmer with a firm malt body. Then it takes a sharp turn, thanks to a Belgian yeast strain that gives it a spicy pinch and a dry finish.
Rude Elf's Reserve. From Bethlehem Brew Works, this baby gets right in your face with ginger, clove, allspice and cinnamon. Then it gets right into your brain with 10.5 percent alcohol.
Legacy Nor'Easter Ale. An oatmeal stout from Reading, available after Dec. 1 in 22-ounce bombers.
Stegmaier Holiday Warmer. Light, almost orange, with a mild malt aroma.
Beer on the Rox
Tomorrow, I'll be hanging out at the football field next to the Roxborough YMCA (Ridge Avenue and Domino Lane) for the first Roxy Brewfest. Grab the Route 9 bus and join me for the fun. (I'll be the guy sucking down all the Rogue Old Crustacean
.) Taps pour 1-5 p.m. Tix: $30. Info: 215-482-3900 or myspace.com/roxybrewfest. *
"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to email@example.com.