Monday, November 28, 2011

Beer style of the week; Winter Warmers

Week 41

We’re not quite ready for the roaring fireplace and flannel Long Johns, but there is a nip in the air. Jack Frost visits most mornings and sleety rain nibbles at the extremities. Time for the Winter Warmers!

The Brits have relied upon sweet, malty brews to sooth the chill for centuries. Full-bodied and generally with subdued, yet balanced hops, the Winter Warmers are easy drinkers. No need for the heavy winter parka when your favorite sweater will do.

An odd reality about the style is that it’s not actually a “style” per say, but a kind of beer. Winter Warmers can come in the form of an Ale or a Lager. As mentioned earlier they are malty brews, with just enough hops to keep the sweetness in check. Good Warmers should range in ABV from around 5.2% - 7.7%. The color should be a deep, rich amber to a dark mahogany. Some brewers may add a little seasonal spices, but the spiciness should be subdued and never over-the-top.

So what’s the difference between a Winter Warmer and a Christmas Ale? I’d say without firm conviction, yet from vigilant observation, that the difference lies in the hoppiness and/or spiciness. Christmas Ales tend to lean towards the style range of full-bodied strong Pale Ales with some spruce-like and/or piney hop characteristics. Think Christmas Trees. There are also Biere Noel (Belgian Christmas Ales) to consider. These two styles will be profiled separately in weeks 44 and 45 respectively.

Land of Origin

Young’s Winter Warmer – Wells Young LTD – Bedford, England – 5% ABV

This tan/oxblood Winter brew is topped by a fast fading beige head with sliding lace. The aroma is of caramel malt, fresh hops and pears. Sweet barley malt is almost oily slick. Full bitter tea-like and lightly citrus hops and berries. So creamy smooth rich and molasses-like sweet. Complex and pleasing from beginning to end. This is a low ABV Winter Warmer and barely fits the style, but it IS very tasty!

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale – Tadcaster, England – 6% ABV

Winter Welcome is one of England's best representations of the winter brew styles. Full bodied (almost syrupy). This ale is so velvetty smooth and well rounded, it’s difficult not to guzzle it down. Good thing for the large bottles! The tea-like hops with a hint of citrus bitterness are noticeable early in the glass, but sort of fades under the rich malt, but that's cool, this is a quality malt, cherry sweet, roasted especially for the holidays.

New England

Smuttynose Winter Ale – Smuttynose Brewing – Portsmouth, NH – 5.1% ABV

12 oz. brown bottle. Freshness date stamped and etched.
Served in a standard pint glass.
This brew is listed as a Dubbel, but I think it fits very nicely in the Winter Warmer family.
It pours an orange-hued amber color with a medium-sized off-white head and loads of sticking lace.
The immediate smell that comes to mind is fruit cake. A whiff of malted milk balls follows, then a little citrusy and mixed fruit after that.
A tastes are in line with the aromas if you allow for a fairly strong taste of buttery caramel.
Speaking of buttery, the mouthfeel is slick and velvety.
You can really down these beat feet fast!

I would welcome a semi-Imperial version of this brew. Maybe something in the 6-6.5% range. Just a thought...

Geary’s Winter Ale – DL Geary’s Brewing – Portland, Maine – 6% ABV

No freshness date. It pours a nice clear amber with a fast fading soft white head and minimal lacing. The aroma is an even mix of doughy malt and floral hops.

Sweet caramel and fresh bread comes through in the malt. A good herbal quality lasts throughout.

There are grapefruity, light tea-like and some lemony sour bitterness, tempered by a bit of sweetness.

A faint taste of tart green apples is noticed.

I think Geary's may want to rename a few of their styles. This should be a mild Winter IPA and Geary's Hampshire Special (though now a year-round brew) should be their Winter style...IMHO.

Must try

Jubilale – Deschutes Brewery – Bend, Oregon – 6.7% ABV

Full Sail Wassail – Full Sail Brewing - Hood River, Oregon – 7% ABV

Bring on the cold weather! And Cheers!

Quote: “He that drinketh strong beer and goes to bed right mellow, lives as he ought to live and dies a hearty fellow” - Anonymous

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