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istock / ballast point / chloe effron

5 Beers to Try This Winter

istock / ballast point / chloe effron
istock / ballast point / chloe effron

It’s cold outside, so stay inside and warm yourself up with one of these seasonal beers. December means a lot of Christmas brews (gingerbread beer, anyone?) but once you get into the New Year, there are still plenty of new, Santa-free selections to try. 

1. AUN MAS CHILI JESUS // EVIL TWIN 

This spicy stout from Denmark-based brewery Evil Twin is hard to track down, but worth the trouble. The beer—which is brewed in Spain—has a creamy consistency and a taste not unlike dark hot chocolate. The chili peppers cut the fudgy beer nicely and give it a complex flavor. Thanks to an ABV of 12 percent, you’ll be feeling pretty toasty in no time. 

2. MY BLOODY VALENTINE // ALESMITH 

This blood-red amber ale is the perfect beer to share with a special someone (or to cry into alone) on Valentine’s Day. The California brewery’s special holiday beer features floral hops, caramel malts, and just the right amount of sweetness. A relative of Alesmith’s Evil Dead Red, the beer shares a similar color and ABV (6.66 percent). The brewery has been selling bottles of this seasonal ale since 2013—all the better for beer drinkers hoping to enjoy a slightly macabre Valentine’s Day. 

3. PEPPERMINT VICTORY AT SEA // BALLAST POINT 

If you love mint chocolate ice cream, then you'll probably enjoy this beer, a minty spin on Ballast Point’s popular Victory at Sea. While some might be skeptical of a peppermint beer, the San Diego brewery has found a way to utilize the festive flavor. The peppermint pairs nicely with notes of dark chocolate and coffee without overpowering the taste. You might want to share this one with a friend: The heavy imperial stout can be quite filling.

4. NITRO COFFEE STOUT // SAM ADAMS 

Most of us have had a nitro stout in the form of a Guinness. The Irish brewery has long had the nitro beer market cornered, but lately, American breweries—Left Hand Brewing and Oskar Blues—have been muscling their way in. Samuel Adams has also joined in with three new nitrogen-infused selections: coffee stout, white ale, and IPA. While all three silky flavors are enjoyable, the nitro coffee is best enjoyed on a snowy afternoon. The smooth stout tastes a lot like drinking a cold-brewed coffee with very little acidity. The nitrogen lends the beer a unique smoothness that pairs nicely with a warm sweater and crackling fire. 

5. ARCTIC SAISON // GLASSROOTS

Anchorage Brewing and Grassroots Brewing teamed up to bring you this light, wintery saison. The airy beer, which has a refreshing finish, is a welcome departure from the usual stouts and porters enjoyed in the colder months. Thanks to its woody and citrus notes, this pick will make you feel like you’re hanging out in a log cabin in Alaska. 

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Big Questions
Why Do People Drink Mint Juleps at the Kentucky Derby?
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Whether you plan to enjoy the race from Churchill Downs or don an elaborate hat in the comfort of your own home, if you're watching the Kentucky Derby, you may find yourself sipping on a refreshing mint julep this weekend. But, why?

The drink—a cocktail traditionally composed of bourbon, sugar, water, and mint—has been a Kentucky favorite since long before Churchill Downs came into play. In fact, in 1816, silver julep cups were given as prizes at Kentucky county fairs (a change from the stuffed animals they offer today). And before that, a “julep” was considered medicinal, “prescribed” for stomach problems and sore throats.

Though mint juleps have likely been enjoyed at the Kentucky Derby since the beginning—legend has it that founder Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., planted mint for cocktails when he founded the track in 1875—the cocktail wasn’t declared the “official” Derby drink until 1938.

It was just a few years ago that the Derby switched to a more “authentic” version of the mint julep. For almost two decades, the 120,000 mint juleps served at the races were made with Early Times. Based on the aging process, Early Times isn’t considered bourbon (just “Kentucky whisky”) in the U.S. In 2015, they switched to Old Forester, which is also owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation.

Even with the switch to “real” bourbon, what most revelers actually get is the Old Forester Ready-to-Serve Cocktail mix, not a handcrafted mint julep—unless you’re willing to pony up $1000. For the past 13 years, Brown-Forman has served a special version of the drink made with Woodford Reserve small batch bourbon. It’ll set you back a grand, but hey, you get to keep the pewter cup—and proceeds benefit the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund (yes, that Jennifer Lawrence). In 2016, the Oscar-winning actress—and Louisville native—founded the organization "to assist and empower organizations that fulfill children's needs and drives art access to positively impact the lives of young people."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
The Surprising Role Bats Play in Making Your Margarita
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The next time you have a margarita, raise your glass to the humble bat. Long-nosed bats are the main pollinators of agave, the plant used to make both tequila and mezcal. (Tequila is specifically made from blue agave, or Agave tequilana, while mezcal can be made from any species of the plant.) These agave plants open their flowers at night, attracting bats with their sugary nectar, and in turn, the bats help spread their pollen.

One of those bats, the lesser long-nosed bat, just got off the endangered species list in April 2018, as The Washington Post reported. It's the first bat species ever to recover its population enough to be taken off the Endangered Species List. Its revival is due, in part, to tequila producers along the bat's migration route between Mexico and the southwestern U.S. making their growing methods a little more bat-friendly.

While the relationship between bats and agave might be mutualistic, the one between bats and booze isn't necessarily so. Typical agave production for tequila and mezcal involves harvesting the plant right before it reaches sexual maturity—the flowering stage—because that's when its sugar content peaks, and because after the plant flowers, it dies. Instead of letting the plants reproduce naturally through pollination, farmers plant the clones that grow at the agave plant's base, known as hijuelos. That means fields of agave get razed before bats get the chance to feed off those plants. This method is bad for bats, but it's not great for agave, either; over time, it leads to inbred plants that have lower genetic diversity than their cross-pollinated cousins, ones that require more and more pesticides to keep them healthy.

Rodrigo Medellín, an ecologist who has been nicknamed the "Bat Man of Mexico," has been leading the crusade for bat-friendly tequila for decades, trying to convince tequila producers to let some of just 5 percent of their plants flower. The Tequila Interchange Project—a nonprofit organization made up of tequila producers, scientists, and tequila enthusiasts—led to the release of three bat-friendly agave liquors in the U.S. in 2016: two tequilas, Siembra Valles Ancestral and Tequila Ocho, and a mezcal, Don Mateo de la Sierra.

In 2017, when Medellín and his team visited the agave fields of Don Mateo de la Sierra to gather data, they discovered that the project was even more bat-friendly than they thought. The Mexican long-nosed bat, another endangered species, was also taking its meals at the field's flowering plants.

This weekend, raise a glass of tequila to all the bats out there—just make sure it's a bat-friendly brand.

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