As the holidays approach and seasons change, so do our palates, causing regional offerings of food and drink to adapt in reply.
Soups and hearty stews replace summertime salads and fresh lobster rolls and local breweries turn from bright, thirst-quenching kölsch, lagers and saisons to the deeper layered flavors of stouts, brown ales and Belgians.
Christmas ales and winter warmers abound, but one North Fork brewery is serving up something steeped in tradition and history.
North Fork Brewing Co. released a graf — Sir Brewton’s Law of Graf-ity — for the holidays. This brew is more malt forward (rather than sharp and hoppy) with special spices to create a festive flavor.
Since cider is a key ingredient, the blend has noticeable apple notes making it readily comparable to a wassail, another historic beverage, which was consumed while wassailing (the progenitor of today’s caroling).
Peter Barraud, North Fork Brewing Co.’s co-owner and head brewer, first experienced a graf when living in New Hampshire.
“I remember being blown away that a combination like that even existed,” he recalled. “It [was] everything you would expect [from] a seasonal ale but [also] had this juicy backbone from the blend of cider. That particular beer had no spices or adjuncts added, just a pure apple and malt combo.”
So Barraud said he wanted to create a beer that favored more holiday flavors than typical autumnal spices, settling on an apple flavor that reminded him of apple turnovers his grandmother would make.
“She didn’t bake much, but when she made fresh apple turnovers it was the highlight of what came out of her kitchen,” he said. “Light and flakey with cinnamon and crisp apples just baked enough to melt in your mouth. Taking those three ingredients (apples, dough and cinnamon) and adding caramel, we wanted to create a graf that replicated that very first bite of her apple turnover.”
Traditionally a graf is a collaboration between a cidery and a brewery.
Last year, North Fork Brewing Co. made it on a whim, unsure of how it would be received in the tasting room. This year’s batch features local cider from Breeze Hill Farm in Peconic (located right next to the brewery’s own hop farm).
“Their cider press is state-of-the-art and this year we increased the ratio of fresh cider to wort (the sugary liquid of unfermented beer) so Breeze Hill’s product really shines through,” Barraud said. “This year’s cider should favor more of a dry sweetness which [will] pair so well with the full-bodiedness of the golden ale base [as well as] the cinnamon and caramel.”
Other local beers to try this Christmas season
Moustache Brewing Company, Riverhead
Winter Coat Winter Warmer, 6.8% ABV, Winter Warmer
Matt Spitz uses a careful blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove and clementine peels to create a flavor profile reminiscent of old timey pomander balls.
Currently available at local distributors.
I Never Asked To Be Here, 7% ABV, Winter Warmer
Released November 14th, this ale features sour orange zest and holiday spices that give the beer new dimension and brightness, says head brewer Rob Raffa.
A buck from each pint goes to NY Marine Rescue center. It is, after all, the season for giving.
Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, Peconic and Greenport
Gingerbread Cookie Pie, 8.5% ABV, Winter Warmer
Released November 24, this one is sure to please the palate.
Exotic vanilla beans blended with Vietnamese cinnamon, ginger and both light and dark sugars create a decadent brew with notes of toffee, gingerbread and holiday spices. Lower carbonation affects the mouthfeel creating a decadent sipping experience.
Long Ireland Beer Company, Riverhead
An East End craft beer mainstay, Long Ireland offers three, holiday-worthy brews.
Jelly Ring Chocolate Raspberry Porter, 5.25% ABV, Porter
Originally a “cocktail” created by tasting room regulars, this beer is a blend of Long Ireland’s Raspberry Wheat and Chocolate Porter perfectly marrying punchy, sweet tartness to the dusty, darker chocolatey notes of the porter.
Doc Friday, Extraordinary Imperial Stout
At 10.1% ABV, this “fine elixir” is sure to cure what “ales” you. Heavy, rich with black coffee and chocolate notes, it’s a perfect fireside beer or something to sip while decorating the tree.
Winter Ale, a Winter Ale
Coppery pour with subtle holiday spices it’s great for après-ski, post snowball fight or while shovelling. And at 7.2% you can crush back a few in order to stay hydrated during your winter time activities.
Honorable Off-The-Fork Mention:
Destination Unknown Beer Company, Bay Shore
John Hands, Rainbow Cookie Imperial Stout
The brainchild of head brewer John Fraioli, this seasonal favorite blends all the goodness of rainbow cookies with the roasty, chocolatey smoothness of an imperial stout.A terrific dessert beer. At 11% be careful you don’t have too many and go drunk caroling.