There is no denying that beer is the beverage of choice of many, but you may view it as a typical warm-weather drink. However, winter beers turn that notion on its head, offering a brew that matches the different flavor requirements of the season.
Winter beers can be a hobby that you brew up using your own beer-making skills, but they are also a staple of many of the best and most beloved breweries. You can find micro winter brews and winter beers from a few popular commercial breweries, starting right around October.
What is a winter beer?
Winter beers compare to summer beers in many of the same ways that winter foods compare to summer foods. Summer foods are generally lighter in taste and calories, utilizing lean meats and vegetables and fruits galore. On the other hand, winter foods are just the opposite; they use red meats and savory ingredients like cheese and bacon.
Firstly, where summer beers are light in color and flavor, winter beers are usually darker in color and heavier and thicker—they can range in color from a brownish red to a near black, according to BeerAdvocate.com. Winter beers are also higher in alcohol content then their summer equivalents, according to a piece in Men’s Health Magazine. They have a stouter flavor, thanks to a higher level of malt or even hops.
Winter beers also may contain many of those spices that accompany winter recipes, such as cinnamon, allspice, spruce, gingerbread, and even smoke, according to CraftBeer.com, the website of the Brewer’s Association. The addition of spices is in the wassail tradition, which basically means a mulled cider spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice that people drank during a ritual meant to inspire a healthy apple harvest.
Offering specialty beers in the colder months is a worldwide tradition. According to an overview on BrewYourOwn.com, beers from the U.K. are generally referred to as ‘winter warmers,’ and they generally don’t have additional spices. Sweet and malty, English winter brews do have special notes of dried fruits like raisins and figs, molasses, and sweets like toffee and caramel.
American winter beers are referred to as seasonal, holiday, or Christmas brews. They are traditionally spiced, and ingredients range from cinnamon, clove, and allspice to orange peel, honey, and gingerbread spices. Winter beers are also popular in Belgium and beyond.
What widespread commercial varieties are available?
Samuel Adams is a widespread commercial brewer whose label is available pretty much nationwide. The American-based brewery is adept at creating custom brews, and they offer a few winter beers. One smooth example is their Winter Lager Seasonal Brew. A dark wheat bock, the brew has notes of cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel for a festive taste. Samuel Adams also offers Old Fezziwig—celebrating the eccentric boss of Ebenezer Scrooge’s earlier days—a sweet ale with cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel.
Blue Moon Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado is another brewery that offers a wide selection of winter beers. Starting out as a small brewery in the mid-1990s, Blue Moon’s Belgium wheat ale is widely distributed today. They offer a lot of specialty beers, with some geared especially towards the current season. For winter, Blue Moon offers the limited release Gingerbread Spiced Ale and the toffee and caramel flavors of Mountain Abbey Ale.
Another winter beer offered nationwide comes from the San Francisco-based Anchor Brewing Company. They have been creating a unique Christmas Ale each year. Each year’s special winter beer is available in a six-pack or in a wine bottle-sized magnum bottle. Additionally, Rogue Ales’ Yellow Snow: India Pale Ale, a hoppy, golden ale with fruity notes, is brewed in Newport, Oregon and is also available nationwide.
What are some winter craft beers that are available?
The list of small craft breweries that put out a winter beer is extensive. Most are regional, and these specialty brews are a chance for the breweries to show off their chops. These winter beers are available only in a particular state or county, such as Swamp Head Brewery’s Hoe Hoe Hoe, which is available only in Gainesville, Florida, or Triple C Brewing’s Up All Night Breakfast Porter, which is available solely in Charlotte, North Carolina. Others offer greater distribution among regions or states with greater populations.
Breckenridge Brewery, a Colorado brewery, offers a winter ale that is available in 29 states. Their Christmas Ale boasts hints of chocolate and caramel and is 7% alcohol by volume. Full Sail Brewing Company out of Hood River, Oregon also has their Full Sail Wassail, which is available nearly nationwide. Their hop-happy beer offers dark chocolate and caramel malts for a dark and full-bodied brew.
Other widely distributed winter beers include New York City-based Shmaltz Brewing Company’s Jewbelation Sweet Sixteen—made from 16 hops and 16 malts and boasting 16% alcohol by volume; Moylan Brewery and Restaurant’s White Christmas Spiced Lager with a plethora of holiday spices; and Left Hand Brewing Company’s Fade to Black Volume 4. Look to your local craft brewers for a special winter beer this season.