With the cold days of winter on the horizon, there’s no better way to celebrate than with the beautiful bounty of seasonal beer selections brewers release this time of year.
A common beer style for the season is winter warmer. Typically robust and loaded with traditional holiday notes of sweet baking spice, dark fruits like figs and plums and an often roasty character reminiscent of warming by the fire, winter warmers are excellent options for a variety of cool-weather gatherings and feasts.
Winter warmers tend to show a malt-driven core, with softer accents of hoppy bitterness, though that will vary depending on the brewer’s style and location. Though the addition of spices are not necessary, and are actually more uncommon with international examples, domestic brewers favor a wassail style—this involves the addition of whole baking spices like cinnamon or nutmeg during the brewing process. Though balanced, they are named for the traditional warming effect achieved during consumption thanks to moderate alcohol content, which, on average, can be anywhere from five- to eight-percent alcohol by volume.
If you’re not too keen on those sweet spice flavors, many breweries produce winter seasonal releases in other styles. As you’ll see below, some options include a hefeweizen, an old ale or even a bock.
But, second to winter warmers, the next most popular selection for a wintertime brew is a full-bodied stout. With bold, robust chocolate and coffee flavors against a rich malty core, the decadence of a stout is hard to refuse, and often goes so well with traditional holiday fare, from ham to roasts and even Santa’s cookies.
So, next time Old Man Winter is nipping at your heels, try warming up with some seasonally appropriate brews. Before you know it spring will be here, and these beers will be gone, so drink up while you can!
Great Lakes Christmas Ale (Winter Warmer; Great Lakes Brewing Co., OH); $12/12 oz 6 pack, 91 points. Thanks to all the forward sweet- and baking-spice characteristics, this is like Christmas in a glass. Attractive notes of cinnamon stick, ginger, nutmeg, brown sugar, caramel and honey abound on the nose and carry through to the medium-weight palate. Toasted caramel malt, pie crust and fruit cake flavors mingle harmoniously with the dominant spice tones, ending dry and spicy, with a pleasant cinnamon-like warmth.
Deschutes Jubelale (Winter Warmer; Deschutes Brewery, OR);$9/12 oz 6 pack, 90 points. There’s a pronounced warm, baking spice profile to this winter warmer, though a pleasant hop kick adds an additional layer of flavor on the palate and through the finish. Dark brown in the glass, the malt core grounds the sweet spice aromas and flavors, lending enticing notes of caramel, brown bread, molasses and dried fruit to the medium-weight mouth. A touch of cocoa flavor unfolds on the spicy finish.
Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (Russian Imperial Stout; Great Divide Brewing Company, CO); $12/22 oz, 95 points. This classic oak-aged stout is always a highly sought-after selection when it’s released each winter, thanks to its decadent roasty character, warming alcohol level and remarkable overall balance. It’s a complex and flavorful brew, with assertive aromas and flavors of roasted malt, cocoa powder, burnt espresso bean, charred oak, dried black cherry, Raisinets, black pepper and vanilla bean. The mouthfeel is full and round, with a resinous hop slick that lingers through the warm close. A perfect cold-weather sipper that can be enjoyed now, or cellared through 2018.
Port Brewing Older Viscosity (American Double/Imperial Stout; Port Brewing, CA); $16/330 ml, 95 points. A black color in the glass, this pours with a thick, almost tar-like viscosity. Melted milk chocolate and Bourbon-infused oak waft from the glass like a torched s’more, with hints of molasses, leather and malted milk following. The mouth is as intense as one would expect, with rich roasted espresso and cocoa flavors. It’s smooth and velvety, and though it’s boozy it’s also well balanced. After the mocha note subsides, vanilla and pepper spice take center stage but then subside to notes of Whoppers, licorice, dried cherries and raisins that linger.
Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout (Milk/Sweet Stout; Tallgrass Brewing Co., KS); $9/16 oz 4 pack, 90 points. This is a creamy, rich and full-bodied selection, with attractive aromas of roasted malt, Whoppers and coffee. The palate offers more of the same, the roasty profile complemented by additional hints of cream and oats. Smooth and robust, it’s remarkably easy to drink, with a lingering finish of chocolate malt flavor.
Other Winter Releases
Samuel Adams Winter Lager (Bock; The Boston Beer Company, MA);$10/12 oz 6 pack, 87 points. A spiced wheat bock that’s brewed with orange peel, ginger and Vietnamese and Indonesian cinnamons, this is a rich and spicy brew that offers pronounced aromas and flavors of caramel malt, baking spice, stone fruit and toffee. It’s medium bodied, with an orange peel and hop bitterness that cuts through the sweet malt core and shows strongest on the finish.
Victory Winter Cheers (Hefeweizen; Victory Brewing Co., PA); $10/12 oz 6 pack, 87 points. A hefeweizen is a somewhat unusual style for a winter seasonal, but it works here, thanks to the beer’s gorgeous, festively golden color and bright, traditional aromas of banana, clove and raw dough, almost like the smell of a kitchen a few minutes after baked goods hit the oven. Medium bodied and well balanced, subtle bready malt and tropical fruit flavors unfold on the palate, with medium carbonation and a full, spicy texture.