Beer is becoming almost as seasonal as salad. Much as a mix of spinach and pears yields the plate to kale and beets, pumpkin beer has ceded local taps to a variety of holiday brews.
"There are no rules" with winter concoctions, says Barrett Goddard, a brewer at Full Pint Brewery. "You can have fun. There's usually some spice involved, but there doesn't have to be."
The brewery's "Festivus" — named for the once fictional, now pseudo-real holiday invented during an episode of Seinfeld — is a malty brown ale with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. The bold holiday spice in the aroma gives way to a more subtle flavor.
Not many people have been airing grievances with the brew, which has quickly developed a loyal following. "We've done 15 30-barrel batches, which is more than double than we brewed last year," says Goddard.
Penn Brewery, Pittsburgh's oldest craft-beer house, has been brewing its ruby St. Nikolaus Bock for 20 years. The wild, festive Santa on the label dares consumers to be a bit naughty. For the last five years, Penn Brewery has also rolled out St. Nikolaus Brewer's Reserve. The beer, a silver medalist at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, is a "bigger, darker, stronger version of the St. Nick Bock," according to brewer Nick Rosich. And if you're looking for sweeter holiday cheer, the brewery introduced Nut Roll Ale this year: It's a lactofermented beer steeped in cinnamon and vanilla.
Then there's Troegs Mad Elf Ale, brewed in Hershey, Pa. "It's pretty much the standard," says D's Six Pax and Dogz manager Rena Agostinone. The boozy blend of malt, honey and sour cherries packs a powerful punch at 11 percent alcohol by volume.
But if you've already grown weary of spiced beer hogging the taps, the season of cinnamon and nutmeg is fleeting. The dark days of February are better suited for mellow, roasty stout beers.
"There's a beer for every occasion and a beer for every season," says Rosich.