Baby, it’s cold outside
By Kerry Cyganiewicz
When it gets to be winter, all sorts of seasonal beers show up, promising to warm you up. Winter Warmer beers are formulated to raise your temperature through spices or higher alcohol content. Below are some winter favorites that I have tried recently and wholeheartedly recommend. These are all readily available at any reputable craft beer outlet. No need to camp out the night before or be put on a waiting list. Cheers!
Lagunitas Brown Shugga, Lagunitas Brewing Company (9.84% ABV)
This beer has a story to it, as all great beers should. Lagunitas was brewing its Gnarlywine Barleywine and added brown sugar to it. It was a mistake that the yeast ate up so much of the brown sugar (that’s what yeast does; it eats sugar), but left a recognizable hop presence and a malty, sugary, festive sweetness. This beer is ridiculously drinkable. It has a subdued warm booziness that creeps up on you quickly, too quickly. Lagunitas created a whole new beer style that it likes to call “irresponsible.” You have been warned.
Holidale, Berkshire Brewing Company (9.5% ABV)
This is brewed right here in Massachusetts. This limited edition, once-a-year barleywine recipe changes from year to year, and I am always excited to see the slight changes. For one, I can remember this beer having a reddish tone, but now it has darkened to a luscious deep brown. I picked up no hops whatsoever in aroma or taste. The mouthfeel is full and coated my entire mouth. It smells and tastes of chocolate, sweet fig and a trace of cinnamon. It has the warmth of both alcohol and spice. Save this one for dessert and share it around the fireplace with close friends. I have one bottle left, and that’s when I plan on opening mine.
21st Amendment Fireside Chat, 21st Amendment Brewing (7.9% ABV)
First off, this is the only beer in this article offered in a can. This pours a dark red with a tan head. It is lighter in color and mouthfeel than the two previously mentioned beers. The flavor here is a muted chocolate and spice, with more of a focus on the malt. There is minimal hop aroma or flavor. If you like your winter beer to be a beer first, with less of a priority on the adjunct flavors, this one would be a good choice for you.
Troegs Mad Elf, Troegs Brewing Company, (11.0% ABV)
Cherries and honey. It says on the label that this is a beer brewed with cherries and honey. It should be listed the other way around. This is a perfect beer to share with someone that does not like beer but likes cherries and honey. It pours a ruby red with a fluffy white head that drops to a small lingering ring. It smells of ~ you guessed it ~ cherries and honey, but it does not stop there. I picked up some aromas from the Belgian yeast, cloves, banana and pitted fruit. It tastes as it smells and warms you like no other on this list. As it warms, this brew becomes more complex. Rose, bubblegum, citrus and sweet cherry all show themselves at some point, or maybe that’s just the 11% ABV talking. Regardless, I enjoyed it and bought a few more to age. This is available in 12-ounce bottles or a 22-ounce bomber with a tulip glass.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (6.9% ABV)
There was a theme going here of winter beers without hops. Here is an option if you like hops, dislike spices or just happen to want to have something a little lighter. This is the lightest beer on this list by far, but this is far from being the lightest in flavor. This beer was first brewed in 1981 using fresh, just-harvested and dried hops from the western United States. The company’s thought is that hops, like spices, degrade in flavor and aroma the longer they sit. This beer pours a deep ruby red with a two-finger foam. The aromas of the hops include pine and citrus, which fill the air as soon as the bottle is opened. There is no chocolate, cinnamon, fruits or exotic yeast esters. This is just a really good example of an American IPA, a balance between glorious hop flavor and aroma, with just enough of a malt backbone to remind you that you are drinking a 6.9% ABV beer.