For over a decade The Southampton Publick House has made Christmas ale, Southampton Biere de Garde, in honor of the holiday season. During that time, as craft and microbrew beer has found a cult like following among beer aficionados and hops hounds, Publick House owner Donald Sullivan has had to warn a lot less people that his Christmas ale is not the average Budweiser, packing flavor and a punch to match.
The Publick House has made Southampton Biere de Garde since 1998, always in a small batch, said Sullivan, due to the short length of the holiday season.
“The stronger beers, at first, took time to find an audience,” said Sullivan of his company’s heavier ales. “This one is a farmhouse ale, with origins in Norman France and Belgium. It has an aromatic flavoring, like brandy or cognac.”
Sullivan said the beer is best suited paired with a holiday meal like roast or the French peasant dinner, now considered gourmet by many American standards, of Cassoulet, traditionally a slow-cooked bean, pork, duck and goose stew.
“You are not going to have a couple pints of this while watching a football game,” he joked. “This is a great beer to have with a hearty winter dish as well as one to be savored and enjoyed like a bottle of cognac.”
The Biere de Garde, brewed and packaged at The Publick House, is an ale typical of the Pas-De-Calais region in northern France, and as with the The Publick House is traditionally produced in small batches. According to the Publick House website, the beer is a complex spicy malt flavor accented by imported French Strisslespalt hops, which offer a mild herbal character to the brew. It’s high alcohol content, 7.2 percent, leaves a warming sensation in the throat, not unlike a nice cognac or Scotch.
“Historically, it is served over the holidays,” said Sullivan. “We have served it on our tap at Christmas and it has really taken off, but it is an event beer, a dinner beer and should not be taken lightly.”
The rigorous brewing and in-house bottling of the ale makes it “a labor of love,” said Sullivan.
“It is something you will not find too often,” he said. “It is a style of beer that has found a home in the growing craft beer market.”
Sullivan noted it is that growing market that The Publick House caters too, outside its loyal, year round customers. In The Publick House’s life, a fascination and obsession with craft beer is obvious in the growing shelf space reserved for beers like the Publick House’s Secret Ale – a local and nationwide favorite.
“You can walk into any good supermarket or beverage store and there is an explosion of the variety of styles and brands of beers – seasonal or larger bottle packaging,” said Sullivan. “It is ten times what it was a decade ago.”
The Publick House’s brews can be found at both Peconic Beverage Distributers, in Southampton and East Hampton towns, as well as at Montauk Beverage, Bridgehampton’s King Kullen and Sag Harbor Beverage.
For now, the Publick House is focused on the holiday season, starting with their annual Customer Appreciation Night on Thursday, December 17 from 6 to 9 p.m. featuring $3 drafts, drink specials, DJ Dory and, of course, their Christmas Ale.
The Public House will be open for dinner on Christmas Eve, closed on Christmas Day, and has special plans for the New Year with Chef Carl Holfelder serving a three-course prix fixe for $40 per person from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. with champagne toasts and music to follow at their midnight party.
“Ultimately, we are a neighborhood place, a place for the community,” said Sullivan. “That is what our mission is and we try and serve and produce the best beer we can.”