If you think you missed the window for seasonal, craft beers, it's not too late to stock up on a variety of quality brews for the new year.
What to buy? For starters, in the red-hot world of craft beers, the style that is hotter than all the rest is India pale ale. Known for its strong hop character, it's the fastest-growing and best-selling style of craft beer these days.
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Some of my regional favorites include GoodLife Brewing Descender IPA, Rogue XS Imperial India Pale Ale, Hopworks Centennial Hopworks IPA, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA, Deschutes Inversion IPA and Lagunitas IPA.
The second most popular style is a medium-bodied ale that typically offers a light, malty sweetness balanced by a rich, hoppy bitterness. It complements a wide array of foods, from chips and dip to rich and hearty stews. The brewery that started the whole pale-ale revolution was Sierra Nevada. But there are plenty of others to consider, including Mirror Pond, by Deschutes Brewery, GoodLife Mountain Rescue dry-hopped pale ale and Ninkasi Quantum.
For a richer drinking experience, some consider stout the perfect winter beer because of its rich, dark, full-bodied character and complex flavor profile with burnt malt and hints of molasses in the finish. There are plenty to choose, of course, but three classics are Deschutes Obsidian Stout, Caldera Oatmeal Stout and Ninkasi Oatis oatmeal stout.
Also strong, robust and intense, the lesser-known American barleywine is ideal in winter. There are folks who like to say this beer is "too big" for food. Or at the very least, it's too overwhelming to embrace a wide culinary range. But I strongly disagree.
Sure, the flavor profile is extreme, thanks to its high malt content, which has typically been boiled and reduced to a rich essence of caramelized, burnt-sugar flavors prior to the brewing process. But there's also an extreme level of hops, which tempers the sweetness about midway through the tasting experience. So on my palate, everything comes out nicely balanced.
Some regional barleywines are Hopworks Boomstick, Bridgeport Old Knucklehead, Rogue XS Old Crustacean, Sierra Nevada Big Foot, Lagunitas Olde GnarlyWine and (if you can find it) Ninkasi Critical Hit.
Barleywines actually can be quite food-friendly. You just have to know which food! For example, the most classic pairing with barleywine is Stilton cheese. It's a lovely match: two extreme flavors joining forces.
Another absolutely winning combination that I discovered by accident last summer is American barleywine and freshly cooked artichokes. It can be a real challenge to find an inspired beverage pairing for those big thistles. But the malty sweetness in the beer latches onto the inherent sweetness in this wonderful orb to produce an amazing caramel sensation.
American barleywines also go well with a number of sweet offerings, including creme brulee.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.