Winter Brews Make Your Holiday Hoppy

December 25, 2009

snowbrewSilly puns aside, winter brews offer a great way to stay warm in the cold — certainly more fun than an electric blanket. But beer drinkers should be careful to choose a good pint. Depending on which recipe you choose, you may find sweet flavors of chocolate, maple or cinnamon but some may find these ingredients a bit too sweet.

But I’m pretty taken with this year’s selection of winter brew, which includes mostly ales but you’ll find some lagers and stouts as well.

My first this season was the Magic Hat Black as Night Winter Lager which immediately hooked me with it’s rich caramel aroma and the lightly hopped flavor. The dark beer lead me to give this winter brew season a bit more exploration and so I did.

I followed up the Magic Hat with a tasty Weyerbacher Winter Ale, a malty contender which poured a dark brown. It’s certainly a more chocolatey brew with hints of citrus but not quite as sweet as one might expect. I was a little more impressed by the flavor of Magic Hat but this was definitely a solid alternative.

Next, I was told to find Anchor Steam’s Christmas Ale. This entry appeared to gain the most fans. Each year, the recipe for Anchor Steam’s seasonal changes just a bit. The brewers keep their ingredients a guarded secret but anyone who takes a sip of this dark ale (with a tint of red) can detect the cinnamon and mild (very mild) licorice flavors. As someone not terribly fond of licorice in general, I was surprised to find this particular flavor combo pretty complimentary.  I tried this both from the bottle and on tap and enjoyed the draught option a touch more. But it is a heavy brew and probably not something meant to be consumed all night long.

After Anchor Steam, I thought I’d take a break from winter ales but a good friend bought me a six pack of Harpoon Winter Warmer as a thank-you for helping her move a few days after Thanksgiving. A copper ale, a pint of this is a fantastic sip for any holiday but especially for cold, winter holidays. Lightly hopped, the flavors of cinnamon and other spices steer this wintery contender. It’s definitely a bit more sweet than the other brews I’d tried but not the sweet doesn’t overpower. If you’re not a sweet fan, than opt for another beer. Otherwise, give this one a try.

I couldn’t resist picking up a six pack of Smuttynose Winter Ale featuring a rosy-cheeked chick who could be your sister on the label. This amber ale boasts a fruitier undertone than others but it’s well-balanced with malts and spices.  It doesn’t specifically stand out as a winter ale — it could easily be enjoyed any day of the year but why not open one on Christmas day as well?

A few days before Christmas, I tried Troegs Mad Elf, a very sweet, chocolatey-cherry tasting beer, on tap in an eight-ounce glass. I later sipped St. Feuillen Noel from Belgium. Both were incredibly tasty brews but not beers that I could drink all night — they were a bit heavy and filling.

No matter what you choose to drink this holiday — even if it’s not beer — enjoy the time with family and friends. And stay warm in the cold!

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