Holiday beers take center stage

December 12, 2013

It's not only the most wonderful time of the year – it's also the busiest. Between office gatherings, friends' house parties and ugly sweater happy hours, most social calendars are bursting at the seams. But if you love holiday beers, or you just enjoy having a drink for a good cause, you'll want to carve out some time in your schedule for a busy week of tappings and tastings.


St. Bernardus Belgian Christmas Ale. (Photo by Evy Mages for The Washington Post)

Monday, December 1617
The biggest holiday beer selection anywhere in Washington is ChurchKey's Holiday Ale Total Tap Takeover. All 50 draft lines will be given to holiday beers from around the world. The massive list includes nine from England's Ridgeway, ranging from Bad Elf to Insanely Bad Elf; a pair from Belgium's De Struise; two strong beers from Denmark's Mikkeller; and a trio from Germany's the Monarchy. (Since these are strong beers, you'll want to sample them in 4-ounce pours instead of full glasses, especially if you have to work on Tuesday.) The kicker is that this event is a fundraiser for local charity So Others Might Eat. Bring a canned good and you'll receive a free 4-ounce taster of your choice.

Monday-Tuesday, December 16-17
For 26 years, the Brickskeller and its surviving sister bar R.F.D. have brought together local and Mid-Atlantic breweries for a tasting of seasonal beers called the Winter Holidaze Extravaganzee. The format is simple: Brewmasters get onstage and talk about their strong holiday ales while audience members sip the beer in question. The Extravaganzee is spread over two nights to avoid too much holiday cheer. Monday's lineup features Franklin's, Red Brick Station, District ChopHouse, Capitol City Brewing Company, Three Notch'd, Heavy Seas, Gordon Biersch and Devils Backbone. Tuesday brings Chocolate City Beer, Union Craft Brewing, Mad Fox, Monocacy, Brewers Alley, Rock Bottom Bethesda, Duclaw and Roy-Pitz. Tickets are $45 per night, or $80 for both. (Buy tickets in advance in case of sellouts.) Start time is around 7 p.m. each night.

Monday-Wednesday, December 16-18
Pizzeria Paradiso's annual Give a Can, Get a Can fundraiser is one of the most creative and successful holiday charity events. It's exactly what it sounds like: Bring a canned good to Paradiso's bar and you'll get a free can of beer -- and we're talking Dale's Pale Ale or DC Brau, not Schlitz or Coors Light. Bring two cans of food and you'll get two cans of beer, and so on. Last year, the three locations together collected 640 cans for the hungry. Additionally, they made 100 loaves of bread using DC Brau's spent grain. This year, each location will again hold a special night of pizza and canned beer. Monday is in Dupont Circle, where DC Brau will unveil a new seasonal English stout, called Pauncy Stout, and pour barrel-aged versions of Citizen Pale Ale and Yonder Cities farmhouse IPA. The party moves to Old Town Alexandria on Tuesday. Everything wraps up at Birreria Paradiso in Georgetown on Wednesday, where California's the Bruery will take over all the taps. Bring a new, unwrapped toy for Children's Hospital and you'll be entered into a drawing for one of six "extremely rare" bottles of the Bruery's "weird, awesome craft beer" such as Chocolate Rain or Windowsill, says Paradiso's Greg Jasgur.

Wednesday, December 18
Rustico's seventh annual Festivus Celebration includes the traditional Festivus pole and public Airing of Grievances, put it also has its own traditions, including a plethora of great holiday beers, such as the Christmas Ales from Bell's, Great Lakes and Schlafly; local offerings from DC Brau and Port City; and a number of strong, spiced Belgian favorites. In the spirit of the holidays, staff will hand out glassware and other swag from participating breweries. The party begins at 6 p.m.

Thursday, December 19
It's no secret that holiday ales are boozier than normal beers. This keeps you warm on cold winter nights, but also makes gatherings a little more merry. Scion's Strong Ales for Your Holiday Ails highlights 11 drinks that might make your nose turn as red as rudolph's, including Sierra Nevada's Barrel-Aged Narwhal (12.5 percent alcohol by volume), the Bruery's 5 Golden Rings and 6 Geese-A-Laying (both 11.5 percent) and Troegs' Mad Elf (11 percent). Nothing is wimpier than Ommegang's Game of Thrones-inspired Take the Black, which checks in at a relatively lightweight 7 percent. Each beer will cost just $5 from 5 p.m. until the keg kicks.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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