by Erik Wollschlager

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us. The clocks have properly been set back. The last echoes of “trick-or-treat” have faded into the pervasive darkness. The first flakes of the dreaded ‘s’ word have tumbled down, only to melt on a waiting toddler’s tongue. Armed with only a shovel and a will to survive, Buffalo prepares to battle the demons of cold, darkness, and the dreaded seven foot monster that is lake effect.

Perhaps this battle is a bit exaggerated, for winter also brings many blessings. Ovens flame perpetually, producing roasts, pies, cakes, and cookies, seemingly by the hour. Homes fill with the warmth of holiday cheer and the air is blanketed in the scents of holiday spices—clove, fennel, ginger, nutmeg—each weaving with each other to create a mouth-watering tapestry. Celebratory gatherings require three things—cheer, food, and, of course, beer. Local brewers have been working diligently to fill their taps with fine winter offerings, and just as the day slips to night ever sooner, so too do the ales become darker and richer.

With temperatures already dipping toward freezing, Community Beer Works was well prepared to warm the cockles of the chilled Buffalo hearts, and released their Stout Affective Disorder just in time for the first chills in the air. Likewise, Hamburg brewing has released their winter seasonal, Oatmeal Milk Stout. OMS is available at the brewery and in taprooms locally, but it is also available in bottles at your local grocer or bottle shop. Both SAD and OMS offer a malty, roasted character, and at just over 5 percent ABV, are easy-drinking, sessionable beers that go well with friends, cards, and roasted meats or vegetables.

Flying Bison has a pair of ales that are sure to enhance the holiday experience. Blizzard Bock is personally one of my favorites, and is always the highlight of the Freezer 5k race held in the Cobblestone District in December. New to us, though, is Bison Warmer, a fantastically spiced ale, rich with cloves and ginger. Because of the varied spices that one can find in a Warmer, it may be difficult to find a good food pair, but trust me when I tell you, it goes perfectly with at least a dozen of the varieties of Halloween candy you have around the house right now—especially bars with caramel and peanut butter.

Speaking of peanut butter, Resurgence Brewing will resurrect their Peter B Porter, a rich and surprisingly tasty peanut butter porter. In addition to this limited edition, Resurgence will be featuring their Belgian Winter, as well as the ever-popular Imperial Sponge Candy Stout, and for the first time this year, Bourbon Barrel Aged Imp. Sponge Candy Stout, which will be available in very limited quantities. With so many to choose from, your best bet may be to head to the brewery for a flight of your fancy.

South Buffalo’s favorite brewpub won’t be left behind. OFW at Gene McCarthy’s has thrown their hat in the ring with a pear kolsch that is unlike anything you can get locally. Staying crisp like the winter’s air, they’ll also have a Czech pilsner on tap. Be sure to Czech it out. In January, OFW will release a smoked marzen and a schwarzbier, to help cut through the sub-zero chill.

Chris Herr, head brewer at Pearl St, Pan-Am Grill, and soon-to-be Riverworks, has been busy on the collabo tip lately. Just announced is a beer brewed in conjunction with Public Espresso—a Vanilla Cream Stout, with some of the malts roasted in PE’s coffee bean roasters. This will be released in a few short weeks, so be sure to watch for the tapping announcement.

Big Ditch Brewing’s taps have seemingly not turned off since their opening earlier this year. Their seasonal offering, Vanilla Oatmeal Stout, is a hefty, mealy stout with a strong dose of sweet vanilla. This beer is great for an evening around the fire, or to pair nicely with any fruits of a successful hunt this season.

Woodcock Brothers’ porter is a local favorite, and they are currently serving Devil’s Hole—a black IPA. Though the beer may be more hoppy than a traditional winter beer, the dark malts and spicy hops would pair well with roasts and desserts alike, making it a great beer for your holiday festivities.

Unfortunately, there is not enough room in these pages to list all of the fantastic beers available locally this winter. There are some great regional and national beers, too—Southern Tier’s 2Xmas, Anchor’s Christmas Ale, Great Lakes Christmas Ale, and Sierra Nevada’s Celebration, just to name a few. These beers are unique in body and character and are picking up as you stroll down the aisle for your final pre-party purchases. Enjoy this amazing beer season. Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail, too!