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The Fruits of Their Labor 

Dump the fruitcake—these beers are all you'll need.

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click to enlarge MIKE RIEDEL
  • Mike Riedel

Epic - Cranberry IPA: Epic is probably the most adventurous of the local breweries when it comes to IPAs. Between their sour, fruited, spiced, smoothie and barrel-aged varieties, you can always count on something different from the Epic portfolio. Their cranberry version certainly follows suit.

The body of the beer has an unfiltered amber color with big ruby highlights. The entire pub seems to be filled with the aroma of cranberries, and there is a fruity hop punch that just works wonderfully with the cranberry. I can pick up the actual fruity hop aroma with a bit of an herbal edge.

Up front, there is a good deal of bitterness, a bit like eating an orange pith. The cranberry is there, but it isn't sweet. There is a touch of sweetness from the malt character, along with a bit of a resinous quality to the flavor, giving it just a touch of pine sap and some herbal hops at the finish. It is a very rich-tasting beer—a sipper not because of high alcohol content, but because of the richness in flavor. I feel it's important to note that this doesn't taste like a cranberry soda, pie or candy. The can says there's lactose added, but the typical dairy sweetness is not immediately present, and is likely keeping the tartness of the cranberry from getting out of control.

Overall: Pairing this beer with holiday foods will not be too difficult. I've already tried leftover turkey sandwiches and leafy greens with balsamic dressing. They were both quite satisfying, but drinking it on its own was probably my preferred option.

SaltFire - Grievance: The Saltfire brew team, headed by Mike Dymowski, took a nice and malty Scottish style ale and gave it a 10-month nap in Laird's AppleJack Brandy barrels. The timing couldn't have been better, as this is precisely the type of beer that you want to enjoy over the holidays.

It pours a deep ruby brown; it's surprising to see how clear this barrel-aged beer came out. Not much head to speak of, which speaks to effects from the barrel, most likely. There's a simple tan collar, and some spotted lacing while drinking. The bouquet on this beer is nuts—a great example of making the barrel give the spirit life. Huge notes of soft and warm apple brandy emerge, along with a heavy dose of cinnamon, and can you believe there is even pie crust on this thing? Other aromas include nutmeg and a slight hint of roasted coffee. Like a piece of fresh baked apple pie, it's warm and inviting.

The palate brings all the accolades, much of which comes from what the nose hinted at—flavors of toffee and of course apple pie. Sweet nutmeg and cinnamon spices are all over this thing, though it starts off with a milk and creamy texture, almost giving some vanilla sweetness on the finish, along with some crusty dough. Mouthfeel starts off impressive, but gets into much stronger sweetness and a fizzy quality. An odd bit of cola aftertaste comes out as the body gets much lighter, oddly.

Overall: This beer is just incredible: phenomenal execution, great apple pie notes, vanilla, crumble, brandy, awesome nose and taste. This is easily one of the best winter warmers that I've had so far this year.

Both of these beers are seasonal offerings, and are perfect for food pairings and sharing. Of the holiday styled beers I've had so far this season, these two seem to have goods to get you through the parties you want to attend, as well as those you have to attend. Both are available at their respective breweries in 16-ounce cans. As always, cheers!

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