Beer

Moo Brew Belgo beer.
Hot stuff … Moo Brew Belgo fills a niche.

It must be the silly season. How else can you explain a beer named Minimum Chips which landed on my doorstep recently? Matilda Bay's new ''hand cut'' golden ale arrives in time to accompany all things summery - sun, surf, sand and fish and chips.

It's a cute idea and while the name is frivolous, the beer has some slightly serious claims for our attention during the holiday period. A whiff of perfumed hop aroma and a pleasant after-bitterness help lift it above the logjam of ho-hum lagers out there on bottle-shop shelves. And you've got to love a beer that aspires only to wash down a couple of dollars' worth of chips at the beach.

Whether Matilda Bay really needs another golden lager in its permanent range is debatable - it already has the malty Big Helga and the well-balanced Bohemian Pilsner. Minimum Chips strikes me as more likely to lure a mainstream beer consumer across the divide, rather than win over a confirmed craft beer drinker.

And therein lies the challenge for those looking for a gap in the beer market. There's no shortage of hopped-up, high-alcohol, one-off craft brews out there, but a well-balanced, flavoursome number that can be enjoyed over a session is every beer marketer's holy grail.

Which is why I'd be happy to find some Moo Brew Belgo under the Christmas tree or in my fridge over summer. With its delicate hop flavour and spicy dryness, Belgo is both approachable for the uninitiated and rewarding for those in the know. While it's inspired by new-world Belgian ales coming out of the US, it has few peers as a beer style in Australia.

Byron Bay outfit Stone & Wood released a pair of new seasonal brews in 2012 - the gentle, red-hued Jasper Ale in midwinter, and Garden Ale, rolled out for summer. The latter has ''session beer'' written all over it, with mid-strength potency (3.8 per cent) and recommended as ''best enjoyed in your favourite beer garden''. The presence of juniper berries is hard to detect but this malty amber ale packs a surprising depth of flavour.

The take-home glass flagon or ''growler'' is now a must-have item for serious craft beer buffs - to be filled at specialist beer outlets such as Warners at the Bay, at Lake Macquarie, or local breweries such as Young Henry's, which fired up in Newtown earlier this year. Just under two litres of craft beer for as little as $15 is great value, and the recyclable container will appeal to closet greenies everywhere. (Note to loved ones: a growler of Young Henry's Real Ale, thanks.)

Of course, we'll need something to chase down the Christmas pud and all the other sweet goodies. Old Hobart Distillery is one of our newest whisky distilleries and its Overeem whisky range won enough awards in 2012 to suggest it's already one of our best. (A bottle of Overeem cask-strength sherry cask, thanks, Santa.)