Winter Beer Showdown

Seasonal beers are filling the shelves right about now, and go well beyond any single type. The basic style is the classic Winter Warmer. This is not usually spiced but brewed to a slightly stronger alcohol volume (6% – 7% is typical for this warming malty style). Specialty Christmas beers take their cues from the old Wassail Ales – spiced, sometimes fortified, mulled beer given to carol singers in Medieval England. Although no longer fortified or served warm, it is usually strong and spiced, rich and filling. There are other winter seasonal ales brewed in the Belgium style.  They tend to be strong and dark with a super-rich malt profile.

Lagers get a make over too with the German, and now Canadian specialty, Ice-Bock, giving fans of strong and malty dark amber lagers something to enjoy. Of course breweries the world over make all sorts of beers for the festive season and often they don’t fit easily into any specific style, but that’s what makes it fun – beer can be full of surprises!

.

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

The Beer Wrangler was joined by the Wranglerette on this session with five beers served up to keep Jack Frost well and truly at bay. First up was Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome. This is a 6% traditional Winter Warmer from the renowned historic English brewery which has been crafting beer since 1758. Every year they brew up a limited batch of their Winter Welcome ale which is deep amber in colour. It is a smooth, rich, malty flavour  with notes of caramel, dried fruit and orange peel (have you ever had Soreen malt raisin loaf? It’s kind of  like that in a beer!) Despite it’s strength, it’s a very easy drinking ale, but still feels perfect for a cold winter’s night!

.

.

.

.

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Next up was Pyramid Brewing’s Snow Cap.

This is another Winter Warmer ale, but it’s a bit more alcoholic than the Samuel Smith’s. It pours a dark red amber in colour and is slightly hoppier than most. I found that the hops gave it a lighter taste which complimented the flavours of brown sugar and caramel.  Although this was an enjoyable beer, it wasn’t quite as quaffable as the Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome. It should be noted that this was the 2009 version, so it had time for the flavours to integrate, and I definitely preferred it a year on from last Christmas.

.

.

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Dead Frog Brewery’s Christmas specialty is not a winter warmer, but a spiced Christmas ale. This is the first time this small brewery have bottled a limited, 650ml beer and hopefully more seasonal specials will follow. Christmas Beeracle wins the prize for best name in my book and it’s to be expected from a brewery with the sense of humour of Dead Frog. This is a 5% amber ale with hints of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and it’s a lot lighter than the two winter warmers (above) we tasted, but this makes it a better session beer. The ginger notes are most obvious on the finish and definitely leave you with a nice warm feeling.  This beer tastes drier than most spiced ales as it has less sweet malt on the palate which makes it easier drinking than many others.

.

.

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Next on the list was Tree Brewing’s Spiced Reserve Ale, a very full bodied, sweet and rich offering from this popular brewery. Weighing in at 7.5% it tastes more like a spiced barley wine. It works well as a winter sipper and is better suited as a digestif, or a replacement for dessert after a warming meal. There are wine like notes, that layer well with a balanced spice fruit cake note. This is definitely delicious, but a shared bottle will be enough, as it is a very rich and maybe more than many can manage!

.

.

.

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

The last on this wintry, boozy list was Howe Sound Brewing’s Father John’s Winter Ale. This is a strong 7% ale and is spiced with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Molasses and yellow sugar are also added into the brew which extend a richness and depth to the sweet malt. Although this is a weighty beer the flavours integrated well and even with all that flavour it remained drinkable to the end of the oversized 1 litre bottle, the hallmark of Howe Sound Brewing.

.

.

All in all the final beer was my favourite, but the standard was enjoyably high throughout the Winter beer showdown. The Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome would be my choice for a pint in a pub, sat next to a real log fire, but Howe Sound’s Father John’s Winter Ale really tastes of Christmas, and that’s something The Beer Wrangler and Wranglerette raise a glass to!

3 comments to Winter Beer Showdown

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>