Bits and Brews 018: Sam Adams Merry Maker & Toe Jam and Earl

Welcome welcome once again to your monthly pairing of craft beer and video games. This month the holiday season is upon us and baby it's cold outside. What better way to ignore those annoying relatives and awkward political discussions with Nana than to curl up by the fire with a glass of gingerbread beer and a couple of funky aliens? Join us as we take a look at Sam Adams Merry Maker and Toejam & Earl.

Sam Adams finds themselves in a unique position in the craft beer world. For many, they are the gateway to a world of better beer through their flagship Sam Adams Lager. Their sampler packs are often times responsible for introducing the newly converted to different styles of beer and they remain a consistent option at most restaurants that serve the standard, macro fare that we all know but don't really love. Rather quickly though the new craft beer consumer leaves old Sam behind in search of newer, trendier, rarer beers. I know I did. And it's a shame really as The Boston Beer company, Sam Adams parent company, puts out some really great beer that goes unnoticed. One such example is their seasonal Merry Maker. Every year as the weather turns colder and the beer turns darker, Sam releases their gingerbread stout into the world. Now, they are certainly not the only gingerbread stout on the market and while others may do barrel-aged versions or bigger versions or more gingerbready versions, Merry Maker hits that exact sweet spot for holiday gatherings and day drinking. The base stout is brewed with your typical hops and malts but it also has an addition of wheat and oats which add to the creamy mouthfeel of the beer. To that base, the brewers add cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and ginger to resemble the flavors of gingerbread. While other gingerbread beers add molasses to their recipes, Merry Maker has none leading it to be a beer more about the spices than the sweetness. To be fair there is an amount of sweetness here, just not as big as some others. The ABV on this one is 9% and it is almost too well hidden. This guy sneaks up on you. The taste and aroma are pure gingerbread and the finish has a bit of bite to it. This beer goes great with holiday deserts especially carrot cake. My only real complaint is that it isn't available in 6-packs. That minor quibble aside, bottles of Merry Maker are about five bucks most places and they are certainly worth the price. I know that the holidays are a time where I like to be indoors, by a fire, perhaps under a blanket, or at the very least in pajamas all day, spending time with family or friends. This beer is not only perfect for doing just that but also reminds me of holidays from my youth. You can't ask for much more than that.

I never owned a Sega Genesis. I owned a Sega Master System (no one else in my neighborhood did so I was super cool), along with an NES and when it came time to upgrade to the 16-bit era, I chose an SNES. And it wasn't because I disliked the Genesis or Sega in general. It was simply because my cousin decided to get a Genesis so we figured if I got a Super Nintendo, then "we" would have both. (ignoring the fact that we lived about forty minutes from each other and were still years away from driving). Video games were a huge part of our connection, still are, and during those glorious holiday breaks from school we would spend hours together at my house on the SNES and his house on the Genesis. One holiday in particular inspired this month's pairing though, and that was the holiday that we decided we would sit down and beat Toe Jam and Earl. For those of you who don't know, Toe Jam & Earl is an adventure game where you, as either Toe Jam or Earl, walk the planet Earth in an attempt to find pieces of your spaceship. The levels are randomly generated as are the locations of the spaceship pieces, presents that help/hurt you in game, and the earthly antagonists which consist of packs of nerds or hamsters with mortars, for example. The game also features two player co-op and an awesome, jazz-funk soundtrack. Two player is the way to go with this game and is the way my cousin and I finally got back to planet Funkotron. There is so much charm in this game. It is a great way to spend time with family or friends and holds up today. I highly recommend picking this up through one of the various virtual console like services and giving it a go.

So why these two together? Well, not to come off too cheesy but, warmth. What may, at one time, have been a quaint idea that somehow gained a cult following grew into a game franchise that sparks nostalgia for times gone by spent on the couch with a friend, trying to get two aliens home. So too with the flavors and smells of the holidays, especially gingerbread. The longing for the simple comforts of home and family/friends is easy to understand and even easier to get to by association. That feeling of warmth, which can be attributed to many things but is most closely tied to love or acceptance, is of great importance to us. it is universal. (see what I did there...? universal... in a game about aliens...?) Cracking a bottle that smells and tastes like the holiday season and playing a game from a winter break long ago sounds like just about the perfect pairing to me. But what do you think? What wintery games exist for you and what would you pair them with? Follow me on twitter or instagram, @geekadedan, and let me know. Thank you for another year of reading and here's to many more. Cheers.