Staying Warm Through Winter
Wine Enthusiast's Beer Editor and Assistant Tasting Director Lauren Buzzeo
The beginning of a new year is always a tough time to get through. With the holidays just past and many months ahead, it¹s easy to get bogged down in the shorter, frequently gloomy days of winter. Have no fear, beer enthusiasts, because we have the perfect answer for you. Winter seasonal beers tend to be robust in character, big on flavor and moderate to high in alcohol, making for perfect drinking on those chilly winter days and nights. While these limited releases vary in style, including the brown ale, dubbel, and stout you¹ll find below, one of the more traditional offerings for the season is winter warmer.
Though the style is loosely defined and examples will vary, winter warmers are typically malty sweet, softly hopped and frequently flavored with mixed winter spices, fruits or other additions. They are named for the traditional warming effect achieved during consumption thanks to elevated alcohol content, on average anywhere from five to eight percent abv.
So next time Old Man Winter has got you down, or just plain cold, try warming up with some seasonal brews. Before you know it spring will be here, and these beers will be gone, so drink up while you can!
92 Left Hand Fade to Black Ale Volume 1 (Foreign / Export Stout; Left Hand Brewing Company, CO); 8.5% abv, $10/6 pack. A very intense nose, loaded with roasted espresso beans, dark bittersweet chocolate and vanilla bean. Just as intense in the mouth with strong flavors of licorice, roasted malts and a good amount of hop bitterness. The finish is very long with a nice evolution, moving from astringent hop tannins to charred oak to bittersweet chocolate drizzled with molasses. A good one to share, and certainly only for serious dark stout lovers.
91 Anchor Our Special Ale 2009 (Winter Warmer; Anchor Brewing Company; CA); 5.5% abv, $12/6 pack. A rich, dark molasses color in the glass with a small but persistent head. Strong aromas of hops, raisins, dried dates and a hint of pine resin tell you immediately that this is one complex brew. The mouth is medium weight with loads of dried fruit on the palate: dried cherries, figs and currants all bound together by star anise. The finish is extremely long; this is not a session beer, but a nice afterdinner choice to share with friends and family. Not for everybody, but a great cellar candidate.
91 Full Sail Wassail (Winter Warmer; Full Sail Brewing Company, OR); 7.0% abv, $8/6 pack. Dark copper in color with a solid tan head upon pouring. Gorgeous spice aromas of pine tar, brown sugar, nutmeg, rich malt and soft hops fill the bouquet and follow through to the round, full mouth. The balance is superb, with everything in appropriate balance and playing together nicely. The finish offers a soft cocoa dusting and a slight warming sensation, leaving you perfectly poised for another.
91 Smuttynose Winter Ale (Dubbel; Smuttynose Brewing Co, NH); 4.8% abv, $9/6 pack. Pours a beautiful opaque mahogany color with a decent head that falls really fast. Roasty and caramelized on the nose with toasted malts, peanut skins and a hint of foresty pine and resiny hop oils with a predominantly grapefruit pith essence. Mouth is medium weight and has a really solid, rich malt backbone but is livened up by soft hop citrus. Hints of cedar plank and roasted walnuts unfold on the mediumlength finish. Delish.
90 Otter Creek Special Release Winter Ale Raspberry Brown (American Brown Ale; Otter Creek Brewing Company, VT); 5.8% abv, $9/6 pack. Soft translucent brown in color with a nice tan-colored head. Aromas of roasted cocoa nibs drizzled with raspberry sauce and day-old coffee granules make this an immediately inviting beer. Medium-light in the mouth with more prominent raspberry flavors backed by some toasted malt sweetness and a touch of hop florals. The finish is medium length and very clean; easy to drink.