Winter Warmers!

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What marketing genius came up with the term “Winter Warmer?” Regardless, it’s considered a style of beer now, even though it’s hard to pin down exactly what it means. There are any number of beers which fall under the category, and I suppose the majority of those beers usually share most of the following flavors: caramel sweet, roasted, and boozy and maybe some chocolate or spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. For the most part, though, a winter warmer is somewhere on the taste scale between an amber and a strong ale (which is already a pretty vague style).

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, we’ve tapped several winter warmers for you folks looking to get out of the rain and wind and settle down with a beer that’s got a little heat to it. Here are three of those beers for your consideration:

Alameda Papa Noel— Technically, this beer is an “old ale,” but with the holiday name and the already pretty loose defining parameters of a “winter warmer,” I think you could call it either. An “old ale” was traditionally an English beer that had been kept (or aged) for a year, but nowadays, it pretty much constitues anything that’s a little stronger than your typical ale and usually darker in color. The Papa is surprisingly sweet at the beginning with what tasted like a little banana flavor (though that could have been residual from the Doppelweizen I had before it), a very prominent roasted character, and a fairly dry finish. It clocks in at 7.2% ABV, but the only hint of alcohol comes from the sweet begining; this struck me as a pretty sessionable beer, despite the higher-than-normal ABV.

Ninkasi Sleigher— So, this one’s been called a “Dark Strong Alt,” but again, it’s clearly in winter warmer territory. An Alt is a beer with an ale yeast that can take colder temperatures, so that after fermentation, the beer can be lagered (refrigerated) for a while. This results in a cleaner flavor that still retains some of the fruitiness and spiciness of an ale; think of it as an ale-lager hybrid. A Dark Strong Alt is essentially a higher alcohol version where some roasted malts have been thrown in. The result is pretty interesting, at least in this beer. The Sleigher has a ton of caramel and roast, and depending on the sip you take, it seems like one flavor becomes more prominent on the taste buds than the other; take another sip, and the opposite one shows up more. Strange! Anyway, you pick up a little of the booze in the caramel sweetness, but it’s restrained, and the finish is just a little sour. Pretty freaking delicious, but be careful; this one is 8% ABV.

Anchor Christmas— Ah, the traditional holiday winter warmer! This year’s variation cuts back on the caramel and the roast and delivers the nuttiness. If you’ve been looking for a really good brown ale, I’d recommend this as a pretty close substitute. It’s the driest of the bunch we’re discussing today and the lowest alcohol as well at just 5.5% ABV, resulting in a very light finish with just a tinge of sourness. Great for knocking back, although admittedly not as “warming” as the other choices.

I hope this gives you a sense for your winter choices on tap right now and a good preview of the style moving forward. Best to understand what you’re in for, because there will be plenty more of it in the coming months.

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