Beer Guy: November December 2018

It’s a wonderful beer

by Peter Bailey

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”
– Peter Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life

In the classic 1946 film, Peter Bailey is George Bailey’s father, the “starry-eyed dreamer” who defies mean Mr. Potter and helps local working class people buy homes through the Bailey Building and Loan. Bar owner Giuseppe Martini is the first owner of a home in Bailey Park, a housing development for first-time homeowners financed by the Building and Loan. George (Jimmy Stewart) is itching to leave town but Pa Bailey dies, forcing George to take over the Building and Loan, stymying his dreams of travelling the world. The film has a reputation as corny and sentimental, but after umpteen times of viewing it at Christmastime, one can really see it has a pitch black heart. It’s a story of dashed hopes, with George’s frustrated ambitions fueling some visible rage. It exists within a tradition of other melancholy Christmas classics, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They’re stories of redemption, with bitterness, anger and self-pity giving way to compassion, generosity and self-knowledge.

In our cold northern city, we need to work together to keep the seasonal melancholy at bay. Studies show that what makes people happy is community, a sense of belonging and trust in the people around us. George Bailey understands this at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, surrounded by friends and family. In Edmonton, there is nothing like a bitterly cold Alberta day to bring people together. Saying ‘Cold enough for ya?’ to a complete stranger is just how we say, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together.’ Beer can bring people together too. Sharing a rich stout or porter with a friend by a fireplace as the Alberta winter winds howl outside. Hoisting a local ale with a crowd as the Oilers break our hearts once again. Visiting friends, family or neighbours you haven’t seen in ages, bringing along a growler of that amazing sour you discovered: ‘Oh my god, you have to try this—so good.’ Or even hearing your beer league hockey team groan when you make them try another fancy craft lager. Sure, they groan, but at least you remembered to bring beer. Not all heroes wear capes.

I confess I love our Alberta winters. I love the squeak my boots make on the snow on a cold night’s walk. I love the smack of pucks on boards at the community outdoor rink nearby. I love being able to ski six months out of twelve. And I love the beers of winter. Brewers bring their A game with winter and holiday beers. Big, bold, flavourful Imperial stouts, barley wines and Belgian tripels. Beers flavoured with vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon or aged in wood barrels. Beer buyers loosen the purse strings for the holidays, taking a chance on that thirty-dollar bottle of bucket list beer from Jester King or The Bruery. Best of all, we remember the spirit of the season: it’s about giving, it’s about generosity, it’s about community. It’s remembering that in this wonderful life, all you can take with you is that which you’ve given away. Cheers and happy holidays!

Holiday pack

The holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself, recharge and remember it’s about people, not things. And beer. It’s always about beer. Here are six craft beers to take you through the season, from November office parties to New Year’s Eve.

Click images to zoom

Baltus Van Tassel Cherry Sour, Calgary

Be the hit of the block party with this American-style brown sour brewed with sweet and tart cherries. The fruit and sour will cut through the oil and fat of those Costco hors d’oeuvres your neighbour brought. Dandy Brewing claims this is the perfect companion to shorter days and colder weather. They’re right.

Spruce Tree Ale, Tofino, BC

Is it too on the nose to match a beer brewed with actual spruce needles with decorating the Christmas tree? This bitter golden ale was made with fresh picked Sitka spruce tips but the piney taste is not overbearing. Tofino Brewing says to understand this beer you should walk into the rainforest, quiet your mind and breathe in deeply. We’ll make do sitting by the Christmas tree with a pint.

The Abyss, Bend, OR

Have a beer geek in your life? Nothing would make them happier than a bottle of special beer under the Christmas tree. Perhaps a big beer like this deep, dark Imperial stout from Deschutes Brewing. The 2017 version (available now) has six different malts, four different hops, added molasses, liquorice, vanilla beans and cherry bark and was aged for a year in Bourbon whiskey barrels.

3 Year Belgian Tripel, Lacombe, AB

3 Year Belgian Tripel
3 Year Belgian Tripel

A special meal deserves a special beer. Blindman Brewing created a fine Belgian-style tripel in honour of their third anniversary. Tripels like this excellent version are strong (8.7 per cent) golden ales with a fruit-forward taste, a bit of sweetness and malt. It will pair well with Christmas turkey, cranberry and all the other things happening on a busy holiday table.

Polar Night Chocolate Porter
Polar Night Chocolate Porter

Polar Night Chocolate Porter, Edmonton

Even after a big Christmas dinner my family is known and admired for our ability to hoover large amounts of chocolate from the table. This seasonal porter from Alley Kat Brewing is brewed with cocoa, so it will make a fine companion to chocolate hoovering, or other holiday desserts.

Happy Little Brut IPA
Happy Little Brut IPA

Happy Little Brut IPA, Surrey, BC

Why should Champagne have all the fun? The hot new beer style in 2018 was brut IPA, basically Champagne-like beer that is dry (brut) and bubbly, thanks to the use of the amylase enzyme. Russell Brewing upped the game, fermenting with Saccharomyces Trois yeast and hopping with Vic Secret and Idaho 7 hops. A crisp, dry, bubbly beer with fruity notes, perfect for celebrating a New Year.

Peter Bailey is alive and well but not living in Bedford Falls. He’s @libarbarian on Twitter and Instagram.