ummm.

Oh, the trials of employment.

I’ve previously referenced the current favoritest thing about my job: the monthly beer column. As part of my, ahem, work, I have to actually taste the beers I’ve reviewing in a given month. Yeah, I know … it’s pretty tough.

The February column? It’s the darkest, coldest part of winter, when breweries typically release their biggest, heartiest brews. So I’m reviewing those — specifically imperial stouts and barleywines. A bunch of them. All tonight.

Yikes. I’m being bad. On a school night.

The stouts all clock in at around 7 to 8 percent alcohol by volume. The barleywines are all in the 11-percent range.

Whew. It’s a good thing I’m not working until tomorrow afternoon.

They’re all good, but there are a couple you should look for, keeping in mind that neither style is for the faint of heart. The stouts are among the darkest, oiliest beers you’ll ever taste; the barleywines are slightly sweet, malty and, as you might imagine, rich with an alcohol afterburn.

Imperial stouts: Victory’s Storm King — the direct cause of a couple of other drunken Uncle Crappy postings in the past — and Bell’s Expedition Stout — which is way better than any Michigan beer should be allowed. And although it wasn’t involved in this month’s tasting — because the 2007 version isn’t released yet — I can’t help but recommend Great Lakes’ Blackout Stout — it’s one of the best-ever versions of this style.

Barleywines: Victory’s (again) Old Horizontal — perhaps the best-named beer of all time — and Brooklyn’s Monster Ale — which is slightly more mellow, because the brewery is trying to stick a little more faithfully to the original English ideal.

If you try these, do yourself, and the beer, a favor: pour them in a snifter or even a wine glass. You’ll get a good whiff of what these beers are about, and that will improve your experience. Trust me on this.

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leave santa a beer.

A request from the sister of Uncle Crappy, who wanted to know about Christmas beer. This adapted version of my December column should fit the bill pretty nicely.

I think Andy Williams was talking about Christmas in general when he sang “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But he could have been talking about the annual introduction of Christmas and winter beers that have been hitting the shelves for the past few weeks. There’s no single style to look for this time of year, but there are a couple of fairly common characteristics: Spices, fruits … and a little extra alcohol. Hey, you gotta stay warm somehow.

I got my hands on samples of eight seasonal brews and, ahem, suffered through a tasting session to help you put together your holiday beer shopping list. In order of preference:

Troeg’s Mad Elf. The label says Harrisburg, but the beer says Belgium. This bright red ale thrusts the distinctive Belgian yeast to the front, but that’s followed by fruit, specifically cherries, and honey. It’s sweet without being cloying, and finishes with perfect balance. We’re lucky to live in an area that gets Troeg’s products, but Mad Elf doesn’t stay on the shelves long — if you want some, go get it now.

Great Lakes Christmas Ale. Our friends in Cleveland perfected this one years ago, and it’s consistently among the best seasonals out there. You get a mouthful with one sip — hops, nutmeg, apricots with a slightly dry finish.

Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve Ale. Holy crap — Santa has excellent taste. The aroma of spicy sweetness is evident when you pour this Oregon native in a glass, but the taste, at first, is almost all hops. There’s malt, there’s spice, and yeah, there’s an alcohol tinge at the end.

Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale. Another great wintertime choice for hopheads. The Old Man, brewed in western New York, is a rich copper color, and tastes malty at first. The pronounced hops kick in after that, leaving a very nice balance and robust flavor.

Clipper City Heavy Seas Winter Storm Ale. This Maryland beer is big and hoppy, with a slightly sweet finish that balances with a noticeably warming alcohol flavor. Bringing up the malt would make this even better.

Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale. From California, this pours deep amber, almost red, and a whiff reveals spice, vanilla and maybe even raisins.

Weyerbacher Winter Ale. This Easton, Pa., brewery is famous for huge beers, and I guess that’s why I wanted a little more from their holiday offering. The roasted malt flavors hit you first, followed by very mild spice.

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale. The lone import on my list tastes very British: it starts a little bitter — think Bass Ale — but finishes with some of the spice that’s the hallmark of the season.

Those are the ones I found in November, when I was collecting stuff for the column. There are other staples that weren’t out at that point, but are worth hunting down. Look for Penn Brewery’s St. Nicholas Bock — it’s rich, creamy and well-balanced without being gutbomb heavy. Sam Adams Winter Lager is also a nicely balanced beer, with more spice than many of the others in my list. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is all hops and spice, and it’s as good as usual.

Perhaps my favorite this year has been Boulder Beer’s Never Summer Ale. It’s strong and hoppy, but the hops don’t completely mask a tinge of caramel malt, spice and a little alcohol. Yum.

The only caveat to the Never Summer pick? We have a bottle of Delirium Noel waiting to be opened on Christmas Eve. It’s Belgian, and last year’s version was so good it was kind of silly. It’s pretty strong, too, at about 10 percent alcohol. Be sure to share.

That’s the list: nothing truly naughty, mostly very, very nice. When you’re doing your holiday shopping — and I know some of you still are — don’t forget to pick up something nice for yourself. And for Uncle Crappy.

UPDATE, Aug. 26, 2007: For some reason, this post has become the overwhelming favorite of those who want to tell Uncle Crappy’s readers about used car dealerships, cheap Viagra and skeezy porn sites. Guys? if you have a comment about the beer, I’ll let it stay.

countdown.

Sorry. I’ve been working, shopping, eating, mailing, drinking, driving, mailing, drinking, baking (yes…), watching, decorating, shopping, drinking, working, eating, wrapping and shopping.

Whew. I need a beer.

ass, kicked.

Oh, we did well this weekend. Ethel, who was expecting a quiet birthday dinner with Fred, Uncle Crappy and The Wife, was very surprised and quite pleased when she came around the corner and saw 15 friends waiting at the table in the Arena District Buca. She was even more pleased when she found that everyone had followed up on Fred’s advice to bring a bottle of wine as a gift. If you’re still trying to come up with a gift idea, I’d suggest a wine rack.

We also heard some nice stories about Ethel from everyone who showed up. Father of Uncle Crappy, who hasn’t known Ethel long enough to have a personal tale, instead gave her a bit of advice, in the form of his recipe for his Manhattans. Here: Six ounces of bourbon, preferably Maker’s Mark. Three ounces of sweet vermouth, preferably Martini and Rossi. A couple shakes from a bottle of bitters. An hour in the freezer (although if you don’t have an hour, a couple minutes in a shaker will do the trick). Serve with a maraschino cherry. Sit back and watch your problems slowly dissolve. Repeat.

We then returned to the folks’ house, where HP and DD, who drove down from Cleveland for the Coochie Doctor’s wedding, were well into the stash of beer they brought along. The Wife and I did our best to dent the stock as well, and we ended up staying up far too late and giggling way too much.

After a mellow Saturday afternoon, we loaded up in the new ride and headed to the wedding. The service was really nice, especially because of the pastor at First Country Club, who said some really cool things about love and marriage while largely keeping Jesus at arm’s length. At the start of the reception, we heard some wonderful things about our friend — wonderful enough that we were wondering if this was actually the same person we grew up with. And when the beaming bride walked up to our table, and Juan and I suggested that we get a turn with the microphone, the saintly Coochie Doctor grinned and said:

“There’s no fucking way that’s happening.”

She always was smarter than the rest of us.

thoughts.

@ When a group of citizens gets together because they’re concerned about something, how come they can’t ever come up with a better name than “Concerned Citizens of (Insert town name here)?”

@ Punkin Ale from Dogfish Head is the best pumpkin beer I’ve ever had.

@ And I intend on having several more.

@ Tonight.

@ I love October baseball. Even if it’s still September (but is starting to feel like October…).

@ My birthday is in 15 days. 39. Holy crap.

@ I’m hoping I’ll finally get an iPod. That would help.

@ It’s trash night, and The Wife just asked if I’d mind taking care of the trash. I said, “Are you sure that’s the question you want to ask?”

@ It wasn’t.

@ If you’ve done something bad and you don’t want to see it in the local newspaper, probably the last thing you should do is call a reporter and tell him about it.

@ It’s even worse if you tell the reporter he’d ruin your life if he writes something. And then you proceed to threaten the reporter. “Yeah, it’ll be in as soon as possible, fuckwad, because I’m not the idiot who got drunk and tried to buy a blowjob.”

@ Nugs.net is the coolest web site ever, perhaps behind only the internet archive. I mean, check this shit out…

@ This is a good weekend to have no meaningful football. I can think about something else for a change.

@ Like, say, baseball.

@ Or the fabulous anniversary dinner I’m going to make for The Wife on Friday.

@ Time to go — I promised The Wife I’d take the trash out before I went to bed.

@ I just didn’t promise I’d be happy about it.