Holiday beer season 2009 has begun

Are you still in summer mode? Having trouble folding up your linen and packing it away in favor of fleece? Still pretending to be warm while shivering on some bar's patio?

Well, here's a sudsy fact that might shock you into reality: local breweries have already begun rolling out their holiday beers -- those sticky, powerful, warming, wonderful concoctions that do for your brain and body what a roaring fire does for the house.

Odell released its winter warmer, Isolation Ale, on September 28, while Great Divide put out its English-style strong ale, Hibernation, on October 2. And Ska Brewing Company in Durango has released its winter offering, Euphoria, in cans for the first time; because of that, the brew is also now available in Denver.

But there is also sad news that has me wiping a yeasty tear from my eye: Longmont's Left Hand Brewing Company has decided to discontinue its unbelievably delicious spiced beer, Snow Bound Ale -- which has been on my top-five list of best holiday brews every year.

"This beer tastes like the holidays feel and smell, of butter and brown sugar, nutmeg and allspice and cloves, pumpkin pie and gingerbread and pine trees," I wrote last year for Westword's 10 Holiday Beers to Help You Forget 2008 slideshow. "You could almost serve it warm with a cinnamon stick, but it's much better cold by a raging fire."

"A couple reasons why we decided to kill that beer," explains Chris Lennert, vice president of operations for Left Hand. "It was expensive to make because of the quality and the number of ingredients. And Left Hand wanted to start selling it in six-packs (it was in 22-ounce bottles only), but the cost would have been 'out of control.'"

In its stead, Left Hand has come up with a cool idea: to make a different holiday beer each year -- but always with the same name, Fade to Black, so that beer drinkers are surprised.

"It could be a Scotch ale one year or a Baltic porter the next," Lennert says. "This year, Fade to Black will be a foreign-export stout, a style that was created in England with a higher alcohol content so it could be exported.

Fade to Black will be available in November. Maybe I can use it to drown my sorrow over Snow Bound.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes