Saturday, November 10, 2007

Winter brews

Brewing beer has historically been a specialty of regions where winters are harsh and grains are grown, like Germany and the British Isles. For centuries, brewers have made seasonal beers for winter that are fuller in body and maltier than standard styles. Some are festively spiced, others are simply turbocharged versions of year-round recipes. Malty winter warmers have less water in the mix delivering more nutrition and higher alcohol than summer quenchers. These beers are best served no cooler than 50o, which is ideal for showcasing their flavors. Serving “ice cold” suppresses flavor; a good strategy only if you’re not keen to taste your beer.

Winterbraun, from the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, CA, is a full bodied brown ale with a rich chocolate taste created from roasted chocolate and caramel malts. Czech saaz hops give it a spicy flavor. The beer has a dark mahogany color with tan head and a medium body with sharp, but mild, carbonation. The finish is roughly sweet, with some bitter to balance and a slight hint of coffee. Relatively smooth as brown ales go.

Samuel Adams Winter Lager from The Boston Beer Company is a spiced lager or Weizenbock. Highly carbonated and spiced, this lager triggers cravings for gingerbread and egg nog. Walnut malt flavors with subtle notes of cinnamon and orange peel make this beer fit seamlessly into the beer drinker’s routine.

Another great beer from the Boston Beer Company is Samuel Adams Holiday Porter. A traditional, British style beer that is robust and full bodied. With it’s rich malt complexity it has become a favorite among our winter seasonal brews. In total, five varieties of malted barley are used in the brewing process including a variety of German malt called Carafa.

Thirty-third Annual Christmas Ale, from the Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco who are also the brewers of Anchor Steam Beer. Every year since 1975 the brewers have created a distinctive and unique Christmas Ale, which is available from early November to mid-January. The Ale’s recipe is different every year, as is the tree on the label.

Jubelale, the first beer ever bottled by Deschutes Brewery, is a festive winter ale. Highly anticipated every fall, it’s in a category of its own with a flavor and following that is impossible to match. Dark crystal malt creates a luscious holiday note while the roasty flavor and bountiful hops excite your tastebuds. Jubelale is the perfect holiday beer and only available October through December.

Winterhook, from the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville, WA, has a rich, full body and deep chestnut color which makes it the perfect beer for chilly winter days. The taste is not far from from the aroma, producing a strong pine flavor, with a slight citrus kick. Along with hints of chocolate and caramel, the alcohol is completely concealed and the flavor was inviting and interesting without overpowering.

2° Below Winter Ale from the New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado (who also brew Fat Tire) created this seasonal beer with a bright, warming blast of Sterling and Liberty hops. By pushing this beer into a final, nearly freezing state, its ample structure develops a brilliant clarity. Dry-hopping during fermentation creates a rosy, floral nose with a hint of pepper spice and subtle, estery undertones.

My favorite winter beer (best on tap) is still Snow Cap, from the Pyramid Brewery in Washington. A rich, full-bodied winter warmer crafted in the British tradition of holiday beers. This deep mahogany colored brew balances complex fruit flavors with a refreshingly smooth texture, making it a highly drinkable and desirable cold weather companion. It has a warming 7.0% alcohol by volume. The Malts: 2-Row Barley, Caramel, Chocolate malt. The Hops: Willamette, East Kent Goldings. Availability: Mid October - January.

Funniest Winter Beer Label this year is Ridgeway Brewing’s Warm Welcome from England with a classic Christmas painting of Santa coming down from the chimney while the fire was still ablaze. Besides the government warning on the label, it has some other great literature to read to your holiday guests.

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