I’m not such a fan of the New Year’s Eve schtick. I’ve watched the ball descend in Times Square and the acorn in Moore Square in Raleigh. I’ve toasted that last tick of the year with various champagnes. All in all I’m not so impressed with the rituals.

As the end of the last day of 2009 approached, I realized I had once again managed to avoid any plans or commitments. I gleefully swung by my local bottle shop and snagged four 22 bombers of things I didn’t remember having tasted which were either into the double digits of alcohol content or dangerously close.

Snug as a bug in my toasty kitchen (hey, we’re in an historic cold snap here in bucolic North Carolina), I began to work my way through my recent acquisitions.

First opened was a 15th Anniversary beer, Auld Asheville Vintage Ale, from Highland Brewery. It poured copper with a brownish hue and smell of caramel and dried fruits. A little on the medium body side, it tasted robust with a slight alcohol burn and a Sterling hop spiciness.

Speaking of 15th anniversaries, next up was Great Divide’s 15th, a wood-aged Double IPA.  The beer showed an orangey, mahogany color and a sweet, boozy nose.  Even before the first sip I was getting the “big” message. Given that it is tagged a double IPA, and comes from one of my favorite hophead breweries, I was a bit taken aback by the restrained use of the hops.  Even though it weighs in at 10%, with such a rich nose, it didn’t have that hot taste and, actually, seemed comfortably restrained and balanced.

Random choice next set up Imperial Porter from Shipyard another favorite brewery from my sort of hometown of Portland, ME. I had conflicting expectations around the notion of imperializing a style best known for deft touch.  The color pushed the notion of porter a bit, more black than brown, more opaque than highlights.  A lot of chocolate in the nose and in the flavor, some coffee and dark fruits in the finish, with really seductive creamy texture.  I think I get the imperial bit — richer, but still in the family.

And finally a second beer from my almost hometown, Allagash Interlude 2008 was a serendipitous finish to this random flight.  While I had inadvertently been stepping up the scope with each beer, I saved the a complete departure for the last.  The Interlude poured bright copper with a fine tight head and a funky, musty nose. The flavor is all about fruit — apples and, maybe, pears — that sidle into something vinous; no doubt from the oak wine barrel aging.

Of course, having climbed this exciting ladder of 15s and Portlands in my kitchen, I thought to see what was up downtown on New Year’s Eve.  And then changed my mind.  Happy New Year, I mean, Beer.