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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Liquor Store Spice Shop

There are a ton of liquors and liqueurs out there that specifically feature spices—things you might not always have or have access to because of seasonality, location or lack of a gourmet grocer. With the flavor living in a bottle though, there is no worrying about shelf life. These leaves won’t turn brown and mushy in the fridge or die on your window sill because you forgot to water them for a few weeks (come ‘on, like it hasn’t happened to you?!).

I put together a little shopping list: all great options to add to your cabinet over the next couple of weeks that can work in place of, or in harmony with, the spices they feature. Some are definite splurges, but can be enjoyed on the rocks while you cook—others are great for mixing or strictly to add to the pot

Art in the Age Suite: Rhubarb Tea, Root, Sage, Snap.

  • fruit chutneys, cookies, soups, cake, icing, stews…and just about everything els

St. Germaine—elderflower.

  • vinaigrettes, cakes, jams, champagne cocktails, fruit chutney

Jagermeister—citrus peel, licorice, anise, poppy seeds, saffron, ginger, juniper berries and ginseng.

  • roasted leg of lamb, gingerbread, chocolate glazes

broVo suite: lavender, Douglas Fir, Ginger, Lemon Balm, Rose Geranium.

  • ham glazes, poached salmon, braised beef, drunken fruit, champage cocktails

Rosolio—rose petals.

  • chocolate truffles, icings, ice cream, sorbet

Kummel—caraway seed, cumin, fennel.

  • MEAT. braising, poaching, searing, roasting, marinades for grilling…

Menta—peppermint.

  • hot toddies, brownies, cakes, with pasta (& garlic!)

Jaan Paan—betel leaf, saffron, cardamom, sandalwood.

  • chicken, salmon, waffles

Goldschlager—cinnamon Red Hots.

  • chili, chicken, pork, sugar cookies.

Ouzo—anise, fennel.

  • seafood, marinades for meats, Greek pastries

Old Liquor Store Ginger Liqueur—ginger!

  • vinaigrettes, marinades, seafood, cranberry sauce, pho

Voyant Chai—chai, cinnamon.

  • whipped cream, icings, tomato sauce, braising meat

Y Chilli—chili peppers.

  • chili, chocolate cakes, salsa

Galliano—vanilla, star anise, Mediterranean anise, ginger, citrus, juniper, musk yarrow, and lavender.

  • beef stew, brisket, braised chicken

Booze for Thought: Dessert Vodkas

It’s completely normal to spend a decent part of a Sunday afternoon in the liquor store, wandering dreamily down the aisles, considering every bottle that catches a glint of sunlight and tosses a come hither look my way…right?

Some would say I’m like a kid in a candy store. They really don’t know how right they are…

The number of whipped cream, marshmallow, caramel, bubblegum and s’mores flavored bottles there are in existence is pretty amazing. Dessert vodkas have been steadily increasing their shelf space since Pinnacle was introduced to the market in 2009. I never paid them much attention especially after seeing quite a few of these sweet spirits crust over on the bar shelves where I used to work — where one bottle lived for over a year—but after seeing the shelves today, I’m wondering why are there so many?

There’s something inherently wrong about infusing liquor with children’s snack flavors. Artificial flavoring (because there is definitely not a piece of cookie dough infusing flavor in those blue bottles), and steering under-agers to drink aside, I worry about any drink that doesn’t taste like alcohol is involved. These types of liquors will almost always be mixed with a concoction of juices or soda and before you know it, heywhahappened?! you’re wasted. The hangover to follow might make you wish for death. There’s just no reason to do that.

More importantly than that is that the experience of the flavors is removed. There’s no texture battle between the layers of sweet pastry and rich frosting. There’s no fruit filling or little bits of wax from birthday candles that burned too long. You don’t get to search out the perfect stick to roast that marshmallow or try to avoid hitting anyone when it bursts into flames and you’re trying to put it out in the most laughable way possible. You didn’t have to stick your thumb in half the contents of Russell Stover’s Holiday Pack to find what you were looking for.

Oh, and remember this scene? It’s exactly why I won’t walk down the liquid dessert path. Thanks for the warning, Willy…

There’s something to be said for simple pleasures. Creating a memory around a set of flavors instead of forgetting everything because of them seems like the better route. Expect to see me cook with some of these puppies — can’t tell me salted caramel won’t make a killer icing — but I’m not sure they’ll ever see my cocktail shaker.

I do love my sweets though but for me Frangelico, Domaine de Canton and Limoncello are just enough…