By: Brian Campbell and Willard Brooks
Winter beer is often mixed up with that of cold weather and Christmas beer. Christmas beers are actually a cocktail of European holiday influences that result in beers with fruit, beers with fruit and spices, fresh hop or malt beers, or winter warmers to address the lower temperatures of the winter months.
The tree is now at the curb; your last bottle of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is empty. The spiced beers and fa la la is now 12 months out into the future. It’s actually winter now in Western New York when you look out the window, with piles of snow on the ground and plenty of lake effect in the air. Aside from many long dark nights between now and spring, impossible New Year’s Resolutions (some of which you’ve probably broken by now) and the threat of the arrival of tax season, what’s a beer drinker supposed to do? Jimmy Griffin suggested that we stay inside, grab a six-pack and watch a good football game.
Well, football aside that is exactly what we recommend. And here are a few choices to wet your whistle and fill your glass as you cozy up under your favorite blanket, in your favorite armchair, in front of a cozy little fire, or, save that, a fireplace video on Youtube or Netflix.
Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout (10.50% ABV): One of the true heavy hitters on this list at nearly 11%, Ten Fidy is viscous, almost chewy, pouring jet black like motor oil with chocolate, caramel and roasted coffee throughout. It’s a sipper to sure, one that gets better with warmth, best paired with a good cigar, recliner and a roaring fire.
Southern Tier Back Burner Imperial Barleywine (10.5% ABV): Last brewed in 2012, Southern Tier’s Back Burner Imperial Barleywine has returned, now in 12oz. bottles in addition to the more traditional 22oz. bombers. Warm caramel, dried fruit, brown sugar and raisins, as well as blackstrap molasses and maple syrup from a farm directly across the road from the brewery, all come to play in this beer, one that needs to be on your radar sooner rather than later.
Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (6% ABV): Brewed in tribute to the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank during a Lake Superior storm in 1975, and its fallen crew of 29, the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is light for its given style at only 6%, though the hallmarks of traditional porters persist – chocolate, coffee, dark fruits and roasty malt. It’s thin but it’s drinkable, and, if you’re the adventurous type, you can pair Edmund Fitz perfectly with oysters.
Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck Kasteel Rouge (8% ABV): Kasteel Rouge is a blend of Kasteel Donker and cherry liquor making for a much softer beer in nature, something akin to melted cherry cordials. It’s boozy with light sour notes, sweet but not cloying, which manages to hide its ABV some. Kasteel Rouge is a perfect candidate for cellaring, though it’s easy to enjoy it just as much under a blanket while watching a movie.
Founders All Day IPA (4.7%): Perhaps a beer has never been more aptly titled because it is easy to literally drink Founders All Day IPA, well, all day long. With a balanced combination of citrus varietals and light floral hops, this is as easy drinking as IPA’s come, a wonderful companion for après-ski thirst quenchers.
Sierra Nevada Otra Vez Gose (4.5%): Though a gose, or gose-style ale, is a better fit for warmed weather, Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez Gose is both refreshing and light, with prickly pear cactus and grapefruit. Coriander and salt follow some subtle tartness as well. This one is worthy of your next session.
Great Divide Hibernation Ale (8.70% ABV): Toasted malts, bread, leather, nuts, pine and dark fruit. Great Divide’s Hibernation, an English-style Old Ale, finishes clean. If you’re the type to enjoy a cold one while shoveling your driveway, Hibernation is a beer that could help warm your bones.
Nogne O Winter Ale (8.5% ABV): This is one of the creamier winter ales around, thanks to an abundance of bittersweet cocoa, roasted coffee beans and milk chocolate. Licorice, coffee and dark chocolate do most of the work taste-wise. O Winter isn’t overtly boozy, though it will warm you up in a pinch.
Jack’s Abby Lashes Lager (6.8% ABV): Lasher Lager is piney and resinous with floral and spice notes. There are big malts and juicy hops and even though it’s a tad complex, Lashes Lager is easy to drink. And if you’re wondering, no, Lashes Lager isn’t a clever name as this beer is actually named after Jack Abby’s head brewer Mike Gleason, aka Lashes. Seek this one out.
Anchor Brewing Winter Wheat (7% ABV): No Anchor’s Winter Wheat isn’t merely a wheat beer; it’s actually a winter warmer brewed with five different varieties of wheat. Toasted malts, figs, raisins, vanilla, brown sugar; Winter Wheat is smooth for 7%, but not boozy. Drink it by the pint.
Purchase these beers and many more at all area Consumers Beverage’s locations (see www.consumersbeverages.com), Premier Gourmet (www.premiergourmet.com) and Aurora Brew Works (www.facebook.com/aurorabrewworks).