Stocking Sudsers

If St. Nick enjoys a choice malt beverage, he'll be especially jolly when he rolls into town in a couple of weeks. Just in time for the holidays, microbrewers along the beer-blessed Front Range are breaking out their inspired seasonal brews, upping the ante on our state's already rich rep as one of America's best beer producers. From the traditional strong ales--rich in malty goodness and higher levels of alcohol--to inspired genre-bending concoctions, the December beer wish list rivals Santa's bag of goodies.

The best versions of craft-brewed Christmas cheer? On the Denver microbrew front, Great Divide Brewing's Hibernation Ale is one of the finest seasonal offerings. An award-winning English-style strong ale, this mahogany welterweight sports a robust malt backbone and an equally muscular amount of hops, making it a perfect choice for shaking off winter's chill. Boulder's Avery Brewing also makes a dreamy English-style strong ale called Old Jubilation. The cola-colored gem is another high-octane holiday fuel brimming with assertive levels of malted barley and alcohol and backed with restrained hints of roasted grains.

Fort Collins's New Belgium Brewing also gets into the spirit of things with a pair of winter treats. Abbey Grand Cru is a heartier version of the brewery's standard-model Belgian-style ale; it's lush with flavors of pear, candy sugars and Belgian yeast. Frambozen is a silky-bodied marvel, a hybrid brown ale brewed with raspberries. Unfiltered, this cloudy garnet-hued jewel combines exquisite texture with a nose and palate of fresh berries, sure to win over the most staunch fruit-brau cynic.

For those who like to drink their suds at the source, a number of brewpubs are also serving pints of seasonal splendor. One of the best is the Red Fish New Orleans Brewhouse, at 2027 13th Street in Boulder. Head brewer Brian Lutz pours one of the state's most distinctive sampler trays, with virtually every tasting glass holding a fistful of character and style. His Belgian-style ales are especially delicious, and this month Lutz is tapping kegs of Maddie's Yuletide Trippel, a Belgian kicker that's aged for a year. It's a rarefied viscous wonder, oozing whispers of spiciness, specialty grains and alcoholic warmth. Get it while it lasts.

If you really want to make the most of your sipping sessions this month, the best place to slake your thirst is Falling Rock Taphouse, at 1919 Blake Street in LoDo. All this month, Rock owners Chris and Steve Black are presenting a delirious once-a-year beer menu, with numerous local, national and global holiday treasures nestled among the joint's seventy-plus taps.

"A lot of my clientele comes in specifically for the Christmas beers we bring in for the holidays," says Chris Black. The winter lineup also helps keep the crowds during the bar's slower baseball-free season. "Our goal is to have a lot of weird stuff so people can compare and contrast them," he adds. "We want to always have something to offer the person who is interested in just beer--that's more of a year-round pursuit."

This year's seasonal selection at Falling Rock includes national faves such as Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale, Anchor Brewing's Christmas beer and Redhook's Winterhook, plus specialty kegs from some of the best Colorado brewpubs and hard-to-get barrels of British ales and other Euro rarities. The pub's bottled selection includes such luxuries as five vintages of Thomas Hardy Ale, the legendary British barley wine, and numerous other under-glass wonders.

Whether you've been bad or good, it's time to treat yourself to some of the area's finest fermented gifts.

--Marty Jones

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Marty Jones

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