Once again, I invited my friend Josh Christie, of the Brews and Books blog to write a Guest Post on Part Time Vagabond. Josh is a bookseller and beer afficionado, and blogs about two things he loves; you guessed it: brews and books. This week, Josh talks about his favorite Winter Beers.
It should come as no surprise that I am a winter person. I ski an ungodly number of days each year, I work for a snow sports industry nonprofit, and I initially went to college to study in a ski industry program. Hell, I’m probably one of the only people that gets seasonal affective disorder in the summer. My allegiance to the coldest part of the year is certainly not hindered by the phenomenal beer that’s only available when the weather goes cold and gray.
Winter beers are the dark, complex mirror image of summer brews. During the summer, most breweries put out beers that are easy to drink in hot weather – Kölsches, hefeweizens and smooth pale ales. During the winter months, brewers tend to let their dark sides run wild. Alcohol is usually dialed up to warm drinkers in the cold weather, and this is reflected in a heavy malt bill for most winter beers. Some breweries celebrate the winter by throwing in fruits, spices and other bizarre adjuncts.
Following Chris’ great introduction to the world of beer, I wanted to outline some of my favorite winter beers. Some truly capture the spirit of wintertime for me, while some are simply beers that are only available in the early part of the year. Whatever the reason is for these brews coming out during this part of the year, they are all definitely worth tracking down and trying.
Starting off with something local, Shipyard Brewing’s Prelude is a full-bodied English-style ale. Prelude has a full, nutty and slightly sweet flavor, and is just hoppy enough to have some balancing bitterness. The buttery Ringwood yeast flavor is a perfect complement to the beer.
Alaskan Brewing Company uses an ingredient in their winter brew that I’d like to see more breweries try – spruce! What better way to make a drinker think of the holidays than make the beer taste like a Christmas tree, right? The addition of Sitka spruce tips to Alaskan Winter Ale elevates an already tasty English Olde Ale to something truly special.
Not lots to say other than this is one of the best beers I’ve ever tried, regardless of the time of year. The imperial stout, a mix of crystal, chocolate, black and roasted barley malts, is aged for weeks on chunks of cocoa before being bottled and kegged. The end result is a complex beer, with dark fruit, coffee and molasses flavors on top of a solid chocolate backbone.
And now for something completely different! While Prelude, Sexual Chocolate and Alaskan Winter are fairly traditional styles for winter beers, Tröegs bucks c0nvention with a big, juicy Imperial Amber. One of my favorite beers for years, Nugget Nectar is incredibly hoppy, incredibly malty and 100% balanced. The beer is satisfing to all the senses, with a deep amber pour, an intoxicating citrus and pine hop nose, and an unbeatable taste.
Since I’m writing this post for Part Time Vagabond, it is only fitting to include an easily portable, environmentally friendly canned beer. Ten Fidy is not your father’s beer from a can. A dark, oily, viscous, mean little beer, Ten Fidy packs lots of alcohol and a serious bitter bite into a 12 oz can. This imperial stout has won more than a few awards from beer lovers around the world, and one sip will show you why.
Since I started drinking beer, Schneider Aventinus has been a staple in my fridge. Ramstein Winter Wheat from High Point Brewing is an American beer brewed in the same style, and a great brew in it’s own right. The recipe gives the beer a totally different flavor than any others on this list, with black current, clove, and apple coming to the fore. The alcohol is hidden really well, so I’d definitely recommend slowly sipping this 9.5% ABV beast on a cold winter night.
If you want strange ingredients, Dogfish Head is never a brewery to disappoint. In the Chicory Stout, you’ve got chicory, organic Mexican coffee, St. John’s Wort, and licorice root on top of more traditional hops and malts. The end result is an awesome and unique beer, an obsidian stout that pours with a bone white head, a creamy start and a dry finish.
So, these are just a few (believe me, I could go on and on) of my favorite winter beers, a smattering of styles and flavors from around the country. What are yours?