OUT WITH the old, and in with the new - it's time for some new beer in the new year. Here are two for 2011.
A national survey for Samuel Adams beers claims that more than 60 percent of men prefer to toast with beer versus champagne, if given the choice. I think it would have been 100 percent if guys knew they'd get to pop the cork.
Which is exactly what they get to do with Infinium, a fascinating new collaboration between the youngish (25 years young) Sam Adams and Germany's decidedly old Weihenstephan Brewery, founded by Benedictine monks in 1040.
Light, bubbly, dry and - at 10.3 percent alcohol - twice the strength of typical beer, it's an ideal replacement this holiday season for boring, old Château du Snooty Champagne.
The beer is brewed under the strict confines of the Reinheitsgebot, the 500-year Bavarian beer-purity law that permits the use of only water, malt, hops and yeast. While that law protects us from the menace of corn and rice used by industrial breweries, it has also stunted the kind of beer innovation that has been the hallmark of America's young craft-beer industry.
Infinium shows what a brewer can achieve with one hand tied behind his back. Typically, it takes additional enzymes and sugar - ingredients that one Sam Adams brewer called "verboten (forbidden) in Bavaria" - to boost alcohol into double digits. The two breweries instead used multiple yeast additions and unique malt varieties to push the beer, as Boston Beer's Jim Koch said, "into the realm of fine champagne."
Actually, that doesn't give Infinium enough credit. Its solid malt body gives this glass more complexity than sparkling wine and - at about $20 for a 750ml bottle - a better pop for the dollar.
At first, I thought 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco had picked a warming, upbeat name for what I believe is the world's first canned Christmas microbrew.
Fireside Chat, is labeled with the image of a smiling, cigarette-puffing Franklin Roosevelt seated by a roaring fireplace, apparently in deep conversation with a green-costumed elf. Its "retro style," the brewery news release says, "is familiar and inviting and conjures up Norman Rockwell images of American families gathering around a big boxy radio or the fireplace . . . Fireside Chat will brighten the faces of those who enjoy it, near the hearth or at the table."
Cheerful and fun, right?
Then I read FDR's "fireside chat" from Dec. 24, 1943.
It was the only one of Roosevelt's many radio addresses that specifically marked the Christmas season. While the message was of hope, the words were of "international gangsterism and brutal aggression," of "tragic times" and of the "cheerful idiots" who opposed the war - a war, he acknowledged, that had no end in sight.
"We have said, 'Merry Christmas - Happy New Year,' " Roosevelt told his audience amid World War II, "but we have known in our hearts that the clouds which have hung over our world have prevented us from saying it with full sincerity and conviction."
It was straight talk, "a kick in the butt and a hug at the same time," according to 21st Amendment. Frankly, if I had been around to listen to it 67 years ago, it would have taken a full sixpack of Fireside Chat to shake off the chills.
At 7.5 percent alcohol, it's a sturdy, bracing winter warmer. Make sure you pour it into a glass, though; guzzle it straight from the can, and you'll miss the tart mix of spices and cocoa nibs.
By the way, I'm not serious about tossing out all of the old stuff.
One of the winter season's most venerable brews - Anchor Our Special Ale - seems to have had new life breathed into its bottles this year. The recipe for America's original craft Christmas beer, brewed since 1975, famously changes every year with the addition of various spices. In the past few years it seemed to have fallen into a bit of a hoppy, overly bitter rut.
This season, the aroma of spices - notably cinnamon - explode, and its full body fills the palate with a malty, distinctively plumlike flavor.
And you have to love the label, cheerfully offering the California brewery's traditional greeting, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."