The Gift of Beer

Friday, December 21, 2007

Besides for today, where 40 degrees is unseasonably warm, it's usually already well below freezing here in Michigan. Our hardy ancestors, in the days before central heating and houses built to keep your ideal temperature in rather than letting the outdoors in, needed additional ways to stay warm that didn't involve setting fire to Christmas decorations. One of those ways is the Winter Warmer.

Sure it's beer, so sure you serve it cold, but the malty sweetness, heavier body and alcohol presence all lend this type of beer to give you a warm sensation and take the bite off of a cold winter day here in the frozen North.

Of course, this is most likely because the beers taste so good that you have a load of them and don't care as much about the cold any more.

This is not an "official" style of beer according to the guidelines; it is accepted usually as an Old Ale or as a Christmas/Specialty Spiced Beer. But as a mindset, if you will, the winter warmer suits its purpoise as the type of beer you drink by a fire in your fireplace.

Instead of a normal review today, I'd like to offer-up a list of winter warmers I've had and/or can find easily from a local Beer Mecca. It's up to you to try them, comment on them or give your impressions if it's something you've had.

Sam Smith's Winter Welcome Ale
Bright amber color, massive two-finger pure-white head; creamy with incredible lacing. Toasty malts, herbal hops, touch of caramel. Spicy hops compliment the malt with a citrus bite. Great all-around old ale; not too hoppy, tons of sweetness. Sam Smiths finally started putting this in brown bottles instead of clear ones, so it gets less light-struck in a cooler.

Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig
Towering, rocky tan head with glowing reddish brown color like a fire in a fireplace. All of the spices Sam Adams brewery uses in this beer are present right up front: cinnamon, ginger and orange peel with a nice, mild chocolate malt tone in the end. Smooth and creamy with a slick full body. Malt sweetness coats the palate and the spices jump right back in. The spicing is not overdone and the big maltiness holds the beer together.

Harpoon Winter Warmer
Amber, fading to orange. Big burst of cinnamon and nutmeg hits right away, fading to a sharp, spicy aroma. Think gingerbread cookie in a bottle. I couldn't do this one all night, but 1 or 2 at a time it's a really nice beer.

Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Red-tan color, tan head, great lacing down the glass. Lots of clove, ginger, cinnamon, big toasty malts, some nicely floral hops and even a hint of...wood. tongue gets the ginger & clove flavors right away, leading to that toasty/woody malt that accentuates the cinnamon. It finishes just a bit hoppy. Nicely carbonated, not too much, with a great oily/resiny feel on the tongue. Good Christmas beer.

So there you have it. Christmas in a bottle, a wintery beer to enjoy by a fire. With or without chestnuts.

To our Christian friends, Merry Christmas! To our Jewish friends, I hope Hannukka found you and your family healthy and happy.

5 comments:

Sopor 1:29 PM  

Well what in Sweet Sammy Hell was I doing this Wednesday? Actually I was taking my g/f's mother out for her Birthday Dinner. The only decent beer at Cheddar's besides Samuel Adams, is Beck's Dark. I actually rather like Beck's, Heineken, and St. Pauli's Dark beers. They're all pretty decent easy drinkers.

So anyway, I may have to repent with some extra reviews this weekend!

Y'know... I've never been too much of a fan of the winter warmers. The only one on that list that I have a 'formal' review of is Great Lakes Christmas Ale, and here's what I had to say about the 2005 batch:

"Deep coppery brew with just a little of rising bubbles helping to keep the offwhite head sticking around. Cinnamon rolls and butter and honey and some other spices I can't quite make out make a potent smell. Delicate malts under lots of cinnamon and spice and everythng nice. Butter and sweet crytsal/candy-like malt. A bit too sweet for me. Not likely to grab this again, but if offered on Christmas, I'd definitely have another."

Bob "Chief Beer Advocate" 3:39 PM  

As usual, I will take the Friday review with me down to Beer Mecca and pick up Smitty's most recent recommendation.

This time, I will need to take a list! Since I am off all next week, I guess I will stock up with enough holiday cheer in a bottle for the vacation.

George 7:23 PM  

I will be tasting at Green Flash tomorrow, folks, and no doubt be at Stone some time over the next few days. I'll hoist a glass towards Michigan in all your honor.

Happy Holidays!

Smitty 11:52 PM  

Mmmmmmm....Stone....

the infamous roger 1:38 PM  

Sopor, I'm not much of a winter warmer fan, either. THe only spiced beer I've ever liked is an Imperial Porter with a bit of vanilla and a lot of bourbon (homebrewed). I prefer dopplebocks, big porters, imperial stouts, and barleywines. I picked up a couple of bottles of Avery's Hog Heaven Barleywine (mmmmmm.... Columbus....) and will also be trying their Czar Russian Imperial Stout.

George, Green Flash is a favorite recent find. I picked up a couple bottles of their Imperial IPA and Barleywine. I love that Summit blast from the IIPA. Don't forget Pizza Port and Lost Abbey while you are in SD!

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