Warm Up with Winter Ales

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While partying down in my ugly Christmas sweater, I noticed that the beer I was drinking – a Sam Adams Old Fezzywig Ale – was doing a number on my constant chilly state.

Even though the weekend never really got too cold, I came into the bar with little feeling and little blood in my fingers and toes—a result of some fun circulation issues and backlash from a bit of frostbite I suffered in college. This was only beer #1 so the heat had little to do with the flush that graced the faces of those a few deep. This cold beer was warming me up from the inside out.

Seasonal beers of the fall, winter and holidays typically fall into the category of herbed or spiced beers. They have things in them like nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, spruce and even hot peppers that pack just the right amount of punch to get blood moving.

How you might ask? I wondered that myself. So I asked my acupuncturist and Oriental Medicine guru, Sharon Sherman of Empirical Point Acupuncture, how these herbs and spices can have an actual effect on our internal body temps. “The Oriental medicine classification of foods by temperature is evaluated in both the thermal nature of the food itself and the way it is prepared. This measure – expressed as hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold – is an energetic temperature that indicates the effect a particular food has on the body when ingested.

“All herbs are different in their thermal properties; mint is cooling, cinnamon is hot, turmeric is warming, licorice is cooling, green tea is cooling, fennel seeds are warming, ginger fresh is warm—but dried powdered ginger is hot.

“In Chinese medicine, alcohol is described as acrid and hot. While it moves the qi and quickens the blood, it also engenders fluids. This means that in moderation the alcohol invigorates circulation and warms the body do to its spicy and moving properties. Alcohol will synergize the heat in the herbs because the alcohol being used as a vehicle is also considered warming.”

So—in moderation of course—herbed and spiced brews are a good way to stay warm this winter season. I know I’ll be adding them to my regimen of finger saving herbal teas and decoctions. And I’ll be honest: they taste a whole hell of lot better than the herbs I’m supposed to drink every morning and night (think 5 ounces of warm cinnamon, sticks, bile and yogi armpit). Some of my favorites include:

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