Flipping through December food magazines, I’ve noticed a trend: recommendations for really good bottles of wine that cost less than $15. Now, I’m not much of a wine drinker — reds give me a headache — but I do like a good bottle of Belgian beer, or a crisp, hard cider. Which leads me to Cheap Beets Gift Tip#2: for the same price you would pay for a decent bottle of wine, you can get a world-class bottle of beer or cider.
In general, most good bottles of beer — 750ml, or the size of a bottle of wine — are in the $10-20 range; we bought Goudenband — a fantastic sour brown ale from Belgium — for a friend last night. Goudenband is perhaps the best beer of its style, and it only cost us $12.
The list I have assembled here is not all-encompassing but tries to appeal to a broad palate. I love all things sour, including beer, but I know those can be an acquired taste. So I’ve assembled a list of beers that I might not necessarily drool over but are always crowd-pleasers, and can usually be found in your favorite liquor store.
Brewery Ommegang is a wonderful Belgian brewery in Cooperstown, New York, that specializes in Belgian-style ales. A few years back, the brewery was actually bought by a Belgian brewery that makes the classic strong pale ale Duvel. You really can’t go wrong with an Ommegang beer, including the dessert appropriate Three Philosophers, and the food-friendly farmhouse saison Hennepin. Another advantage: because they are made stateside, Ommegang bottles are generally a few dollars cheaper than their imported counterparts.
Of course, there are thousands of actual beers from Belgium that have become pretty easy to get hold of. Some favorites include Chimay, and fruity lambics. While many true beer geeks will turn their nose up at Lindeman’s — too much fruit juice, not enough beer — they always get the best reception from beer novices. And better yet, Trader Joe’s carries them, along with nearly all the other beers I’ve mentioned thus far.
Trader Joe’s also carries the Canadian brand Unibroue. I’ve actually enjoyed everything they make, including the strong dark Maudite, the tripel La Fin Du Monde, and the appley and refreshing Ephemere. And speaking of apples, there are quite a few really delicious ciders that I’ve grown to absolutely adore, including the puckeringly tart Farnum Hill and the more accessible Baldwin.
If you are heading to someone’s house who is a known beer geek, they will be delighted if you bring them anything from Delaware’s Dogfish Head, Garrett Oliver’s Brooklyn Brewery, or Maine’s Allagash. The husband had Brooklyn’s Belgian-style Cuvee Noire at Bukowski’s this week and liked it quite a bit. And Dogfish, known for insanely big, boozy beers, also makes one of my favorites: the sour but moderately alcoholic Festina Peche.
Finally, for the hardcore locavore on your list, there are a few local beers that are really terrific. Pretty Things is a relatively new kid on the block, brewing great beers with gorgeous labels. Nantucket’s Cisco Brewers have been around a bit longer; they collaborated with Ana Sortun of Oleana and Sofra a few years back to brew a beer to pair with her cuisine. And Berkshire Brewing Company represents Western Mass. with the Cabin Fever winter ale, a raspberry barleywine and their annual Holidale.
It might be stating the obvious at this point, but Beeradvocate.com is a great, Boston-based resource, but you’ll need a free login to search their reviews. More and more liquor stores are carrying good beer, but a favorite of ours is Marty’s. In addition to their flagship in Newton, they’ve recently opened Marty’s Big Buys in Allston, which has some exceptional deals. This fall they were selling CASES of Festina Peche for $20; there are now three sitting in our cellar.
So the next time you find yourself in a liquor store on your way to a holiday party, consider heading over to the beer section to bring your host something a little different, delicious — and a tad lighter on your wallet.
Have your own suggestion for a good bottle of beer? I’d love to hear it.