Winter Warmer… A Brew for the Season

“Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today.” – Edgar Allan Poe

A new year has come and it is time to take down the tree, which sparkles with tinsel and lights while wrapped in garland aplenty. She is pretty but, like college football, her season has come to an end. So to move on without melancholy I decide to grab a couple of winter warmers, wonderful beers which will help me get through the cold nights of the coming months.

Winter warmer is a beer style with almost no rules regarding color, taste, yeasts or additional ingredients. However, they do have some recognizable features with color ranging from reddish-brown to black as a miser’s heart (thank you Charles Dickens). The mouth-feel ranges from medium to heavy and sweet. Flavors…well, the flavors can be almost anything a creative brewer wants them to be, as long as there is warmth from spices, booziness, or both.  Since a winter warmer is often the culmination of a brewer’s art, he plans and experiments all year just for this one beer.

As I glance at my tree again, I start with the reddish-brown brew from the Wassail family. Wassail is an old ale and apple drink served at midwinter, and brewers have co-opted it to mean a spiced beer (generally an ale). Tinsel is the name of this one, and she greets me with a cinnamon aroma on the pour with a rusty-brown body filtering just enough light to portend some coffee or chocolate flavors. The first sip brings a light pop of spice and hints of coffee with a fine dry finish.

A few sips in, I pull my next brew from the fridge to warm a bit. This one is a hearty stout with cherries, so it will be best served a bit warmer for the rich, complex flavors to develop. Suitably fortified, I begin my task of boxing ornaments and removing lights until my beer glass is empty. With my task still not done, it’s time for that Cherry Stout which has been waiting and warming. This fine brew is the opposite of the Tinsel in most every way possible. It is black, has no spices, and is quite malty-sweet. The first sip is rich in sweet chocolate with strong flavors of tart cherries. It brings me back to grandma giving me the box of chocolate-covered cherries she received each year. For the record, grandma liked them a lot less than she enjoyed watching me devour them.

With the flavors of chocolate and cherries and a bit of boozy warmth, I am fortified yet again to complete my task. With the last of the ornaments boxed and strings of lights coiled and bound, I think about the gift of happiness I will unwrap once again in one year’s time. I look forward to my next beer adventure (likely exploring the beers of Spring) but for now I thoroughly enjoy my little bit of winter warmth.

By: Tony Beebe