Holiday spirits: from winter ales to New Year’s bubbly, ‘tis the season.
It’s the time of year when holiday merry-makers — and even bakers — make their way to liquor stores for wine, champagne, beer and spirits. Partiers and sugarplums have that in common: they sometimes need a little something extra to make them dance.
The Bridge sent an advance scout to see what people buy as winter holidays approach, but beer distributors had beaten us to it by a month or more. Seasonal beers arrive at stores almost nonstop nowadays, according to Dan, a manager who has seen more than 20 holiday seasons at Skol Liquors, 2500 27th Ave. S. (and didn’t give his last name.)
Even before their namesake month is out, Oktoberfest brews begin to get crowded out by winter beers. “The first ones show up before Halloween,” Dan said. Some winter beers are good, while others’ main purpose, he said, seems to be holding the brewer’s slot in store coolers until bock beers arrive in the spring.
The best winter brew, in his view, is the original: Anchor Steam’s Christmas Beer, which he figures debuted in the 1970s. It’s different each year, he said, often containing a spice like nutmeg. Skol Liquors was expecting Summit Brewing Company’s winter ale to arrive the next day; it’s the Seward neighborhood’s favorite, he said. And Dan was expecting the home bakers and chefs from local restaurants soon as well, stocking up on port, sherry, Marsala wine and almond liqueur for holiday recipes.
A few blocks away at Zipp’s Liquors, 2618 E. Franklin Ave., Liquor Manager Tyler Anderson is showing off bottles of single-barrel Eagle Rare bourbon, displayed atop the very barrel in which the Buffalo Trace Distillery aged it for 10 years.
Single barrels yield distinctive flavors; most bourbons are blends from 50–80 different sources for a consistent taste. Holiday gift-givers seek out special items like single-barrel bourbon or single-malt scotch, and Zipp’s has added scotch and bourbon tastings to the wine samplings that liquor stores more commonly offer.
For parties, liquor shoppers tend toward brandy or clear spirits such as vodka, rum or gin, but Anderson said he has observed in recent years a steady increase in sales of tequila and margarita mix for New Year’s Eve. Whether it’s just a trend or a sign of climate change, he couldn’t say.
A more general trend is “quality over quantity,” Anderson said. Even college student customers — famous for reversing that formula — are becoming more discriminating. Anderson speculated that years of “drink responsibly” may have led people to drink less of higher-priced beverages.
Beer drinkers have broadened their tastes as well. Anderson said he brought beer to Thanksgiving dinner this year: amber ale to accompany an appetizer, Belgian Saison with the turkey, and a fruity Lambic style beer for dessert.
As for the traditional winter drinks — your hot toddies and buttered rums — you don’t see so much of them anymore, said Jim Forsland of Sharrett’s Liquors, 2389 University Ave. W. “In this day and age, if people like their gin and tonics, they’ll drink those,” he said. The exception may be the Tom and Jerry batter, mixed with hot water and rum or brandy — or in Forsland’s case, both, but “you don’t need more than one,” he said of the slow-sipping drink.
“Nothing gets a party going more than when you offer a glass of sparkling wine,” said Terrence French, wine consultant at Surdyk’s Liquor and Cheese Shop, 303 E. Hennepin Ave. New Year’s Eve is the biggest time of the year for champagne and sparkling wines.
French likes to recommend blanc de noirs — a sparkling white wine unusual in that it’s produced using the grapes’ skins, giving it some of the flavor of red wine. It’s especially good with ham and salmon, he said, and also with turkey or goose.
Surdyk’s carries everything from a $2,000, three-liter bottle of Perrier Jouët champagne to Spanish cava wines in the $12–$15 range. In between are some special champagnes from smaller producers — such as Pierre Peters Cuvée Speciale, $63.99 — that offer connoisseurs distinctive flavors different from those in big-name champagnes produced from house blends.
Cavas lack the complexity of champagne, but still can be “tasty and nice,” French said, and they’re produced in the same way as champagne, with a second fermentation that takes place in the bottle.
Another kind of sparkling wine, Prosecco from Italy, is fermented in closed tanks, with a result (termed “frizzante”) that French likens to “chardonnay with bubbles.”
Nonalcoholic standbys include sparkling Catawba and apple juice. For wines without bubbles, French recommends German or domestic Riesling or Gewurztraminer that have a sweetness that works well with other traditional turkey dinner’s accompaniments like sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.
When it comes down to it, everybody has their favorite, said Sharretts’ Forsland, extending the idea to dinner wine, as well. While there are common pairings — the above-mentioned whites with turkey, or pinot noir to white zinfandel with ham — it really comes down to individual taste. “It’s what they like,” he said.
Other wine and liquor stores in and around Bridgeland:
The Little Wine Shop
2236 Carter Ave.
(at Como Avenue in St. Paul)
2613 E. Lake St.
East Lake Liquor
3916 E. Lake St.
Dinkytown Wine and Spirits
1412 SE Fifth St.
New wine shop!
Sorella, the wine-shop version of the former Liquor Depot celebrated its grand opening Dec. 13–15 in its Downtown east location, beneath the Bridgewater condominiums at 1010 Washington Ave. S., is open Monday–Saturday, 9 a.m–9 p.m. The store opened at the end of October.
Mmm for the holidays: area grocers offer foodstuffs for the season
Whether it’s the family feast or revelry with friends, food is central to the holiday experience. The Bridge visited area grocers for a sample of what’s at their markets for the season.
Lunds, 25 University Ave. SE, has a range of holiday specialty fare, including a new upscale line of boxed appetizers (think gorgonzola sirloin bacon wraps) to entire chef-designed “heat and serve” holiday dinner packages, such as prime rib and ham. Traditional lamb and king crab are also available, and kosher items are brought in this time of year.
Seward Co-op, 2111 E. Franklin Ave., offers family-farm-raised, free-range meats (and not just during the holidays.) Mix, a publication of the Twin Cities Natural Food Co-ops, is available free at the Seward Co-op and highlights some practical advice for green holiday entertaining.
Cub Foods, 2850 26th Ave. S., offers traditional sweets from a variety of cultures, including Scandanavian julekage and rosettes and feliz navidad cakes in the bakery.
Rainbow Foods, 2919 26th Ave. S. offers 12 types of roasts and seafood imported from various locations around the world. Custom fruit and vegetable platters are also available, as well as mincemeat and sweet potato pies that are offered in the bakery.
For the freshest seafood around, head down the street to Coastal Seafoods, 2330 Minnehaha Ave. S.
With the Hmong New Year just past and the Chinese New Year approaching in February, it’s also a time to visit Asian markets, such as United Noodles, 2015 E. 24th St., the largest Asian grocery in the Midwest; and Keefer Court Bakery, 326 Cedar Ave. S., the only Chinese bakery in the Twin Cities, which serves up elaborate pastries including coconut tarts, egg tarts and butter cream cones; meat buns, and even home-baked, personalized fortune cookies that can double as party favors.
Both homemade and imported varieties of the sweet bread, stollen, are available at Kramarczuk’s Deli, 215 E. Hennepin Ave. Home-smoked hams and sausages are particularly popular at the East European deli during the month of December.
Bridgeland is, of course, rich with East African markets, as well. Muslims traditionally slaughter a sheep, lamb or goat for Eid Al-Adha, the feast that follows the Hajj, falling this year on Dec. 20. While city-dwellers might find this difficult, they can buy frozen halal (similar to Jewish kosher) meats at West Bank Grocery, 417 Cedar Ave. S., or one of the many other East African markets on the West Bank and in Seward.
Abdul Omir of Shabelle Grocery and Meat, 2325 E. Franklin Ave., said holiday feasts, whether Christian or Muslim, feature many of the same year-round foods — goat, lamb, chicken, and especially injera bread or rice — but more of it, in a well-wishing atmosphere.
For those who’d like a little help preparing the holiday feast, Let’s Cook, 330 E. Hennepin Ave., hosts six cooking classes in December — some geared toward holiday cooking — as well as an assortment of tools and utensils that might come in handy when preparing an intricate meal.