Friday, December 02, 2005

Party Time

This evening will be my 10th time hosting a Holiday Beer Party, the 8th time with Kathy. With one exception, the party has always been held on the first Friday of December (when my sister got married that weekend, it got moved to the following Friday), and guests who have attended most of them have learned to set aside that date in their busy seasonal calendar. Originally the party started simply as a recognition that winter seasonal beers make some of the best beers out there. Holiday beers are when brewers get the most creative, and the designation doesn't necessarily mean anything other than that the brewer decided to brew something special for the winter. Generally speaking, there are two types of winter beers. Quoting from an article I wrote a few years ago:
The first is a spiced treat - the most commonly used spices seem to be nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, orange peel, and cardamom. Probably the most well-known examples in the U.S. are Anchor Our Special Ale and Harpoon Winter Warmer. Quite a few of these beers, including Our Special Ale, change their recipes from year to year, thereby increasing the excitement associated with their annual appearances. The differences each year also encourage one to try vertical tastings, assuming you can stand to leave some to sit for a couple of years.

The second type of winter seasonal is big and bold, and likely high in alcohol. Certain barley wines, imperial stouts and Belgian-style strong ales only make their appearance to counter those brutal winter nights. Victory Old Horizontal is one example, the Belgian treat Delirium Noël another. One of the most extreme examples is the relatively recent Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, all 23% ABV of it. A few of the beers in this second category also change recipes, but even when they don?t, the beers can still vary noticeably across the years.
This isn't a party just for beer geeks, as it's anything but a formal tasting. That being said, we provide tasting glasses, which lets people drink less than a whole bottle at a time, thereby giving them a chance to sample more beers without acquiring an otherwise certain hangover (though they're still welcome to hangovers
if that's what they really want). Not everyone partakes of the beer -- some even stick to soda. Imagine, some of our friends find they have a good time with us even if they're not drinking alcohol!

The first time Kathy joined me in hosting the party, she started decorating like crazy. When I asked her why, she answered that she was preparing for the Holiday "Beer Party." I tried to explain that it was a "Holiday Beer" Party, but to no avail -- now it's both (ah, the compromises one makes in a relationship).

That first year together was also the first year we started the tradition of serving up a U.S. Capitol made out of Belgian chocolate (in recognition that we live on Capitol Hill) -- it's delicious, and I find myself enjoying the leftovers for the following month. One tradition that's been around since the first party is chili. That being said, what started as a double batch of the chili I've been making regularly since college (though it's evolved considerably, and switched from ground beef to ground turkey) has turned into my making 2 quadruple batches that add special ingredients (this year each quadruple batch includes
a bottle of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout), and Kathy making a veggie chili that's about half that amount. We cook the chili at least one night in advance (that's right, this year's is already made). Aside from making it easier to do set-up when not also having to cook, it tastes better -- the meat (and in Kathy's case, the beans and veggies) does a better job of soaking up the seasonings, resulting in a more flavorful chili.

With Kathy's adherence to the "better to have too much than run out" school, we offer up a lot beyond chili and chocolate. Almost makes me wonder why we don't start the party at 6 rather than 7:30. Almost.

Hope everyone has a similarly fun holiday party to attend tonight.