A Bounty of Brews For the Winter Season
It’s that time of year again, when families get together and the winter beers make their appearance. From dark and malty beers like Bell’s Expedition Stout to the spiced Christmas and winter beers like Troegs Mad Elf, to fresh, hoppy beers like Stone Enjoy By, there’s a winter beer for everyone.
What better way to celebrate the change in seasons than to take a look at the best beers around for the colder months. Tony from Vecenie’s Distributing rounded up his favorite winter beers as well as a few brand new ones that are just available now. You may not have made a Christmas list since you were young, but this list might make you start back up again, no Hills catalog required.
Starting at the top of our alphabetical list is Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Anderson Valley was founded in 1987 and since then has grown into a varied and resected brewery that produces everything from the tried and true styles to the wild and interesting Highway 128 series. As with every winter season AVBC is once again releasing their Winter Solstice, their take on the classic winter warmer style. At 6.9% ABV, this beer pours a translucent copper with a thick and creamy head. Expect to taste sweet malt and caramel as well as some nutty tastes in the background.
A new release this year, Anderson Valley’s Blood Orange Gose is a unique style that’s perfectly crafted. This beer comes in at 4.2% ABV and is one of the most interesting beers in our list. Gose (pronounced gōz-uh) beers are traditionally salty, slightly sour, and usually have a dry finish. While these are highly sought-after beers for those experienced in weird beers, to make the beer more palatable to a larger audience Anderson Valley added the crisp tang of blood oranges to give this beer a tart taste that pairs perfectly with the slight sourness of the Gose style.
Bell’s Brewery is no stranger to seasonal beers, and their ever-popular Winter White Ale is making a comeback once again this year. An odd entry into our list, this beer is a wheat ale fermented with Belgian yeast to give it subtle banana and clove flavors with absolutely no spices added, and at 5% ABV it’s very easy to drink and very refreshing.
Celebrating the season, Bell’s is once again releasing their Christmas Ale, a 5.5% Scottish ale that only uses specialty barley and a unique blend of hops to give this beer it’s unique taste, no spices added.
Bell’s also releases a team of four stouts in the winter months with the nickname of The Stouts of Winter. These beers run the gamut from creamy and strong, to hints of cherry, to strong and dark. First, there’s the American stouts like Cherry Stout at 7% ABV, their Special Double Cream Stout at 6.1% ABV, Java Stout at 7.5% ABV, and finally Expedition Stout, a Russian Imperial Stout at a warming 10.5% ABV.
Dogfish Head is known for their variety of beers and unique styles, and the winter months are no exception. Returning for a second year is their Piercing Pils, a Czech style pilsner that’s brewed with white pear tea and pear juice. Paired with the spicy Saaz hops, this 6% ABV beer is a unique take on a classic style.
Making its debut this year is a brand new beer from Dogfish Head named BEER Thousand. This imperial lager was made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the classic Guided By Voices album Bee Thousand. Brewed with 10 different grains and 10 varieties of hops at 10% ABV, BEER Thousand is closer to an amped-up barleywine than a lager.
Next on Dogfish Head’s seasonal release calendar is the longtime favorite Olde School. This 15% ABV barleywine is an amazing beer that’s great both fresh as well as aged. This big beer is fermented with figs and dates, and has an wonderfully complex taste and aroma. This only comes around once a year, so pick up a 4-pack to drink now and one to age for a few years, too.
If you look halfway between 60 Minute and 90 Minute you can find a very unique beer in the form of 75 Minute IPA. This 7.5% ABV beer blends two of the most popular beers from Dogfish Head and adds in some maple syrup to naturally carbonate it. Dry-hopped with whole-leaf Cascade hops, 75 Minute is crisp and bitter while hanging on to a soft and velvety mouthfeel.
Making a triumphant comeback this year for the winter season is a beer that’s talked about often and wished for by those in the know. Raison D’Extra is a beefed-up version of their popular Raison D’Etre that needs to be tried to be believed. A Belgian-style brown ale that comes in at a jaw-dropping 18% ABV, Raison D’Extra definitely has something extra, and you need to try it to see for yourself.
East End Brewing
In a bid to clear the snow and warm things up for everyone in Pittsburgh, Scott Smith from East End Brewing makes his Snow Melt Winter Ale each year, and even though this substantial 7% ABV beer helps, the snow still seems to stick. This mahogany red ale has a unique malt character and a bright hop flavor that has hints of pine. This beer will definitely help keep you warm and while we all can’t wait for it to warm up, at least we have this to clear the snow for us.
Most of us usually steer clear of Johnny Law when drinking; Erie Brewing’s Ol’ Red Cease & Desist is an up-front powerful ale that makes its own set of laws about what a winter beer should be. Coming in at 10.1% ABV, this beer has a balanced mix of oak, spices, dark fruits, and even a little caramel. While the alcohol and flavors are up-front about their intentions, this beer finishes smooth and easy to drink.
For those of us that love their Belgian-style beers, Smuttynose Brewing has their Winter Ale, a 5.8% Belgian Dubbel that’s brewed with a special Trappist ale yeast. This beer features fruity aromas and flavors as well as a soft hop background. Mellow yet surprisingly complex, Smuttynose’s Winter Ale is perfect for the winter months when you’re not looking for a high alcohol kick.
A crowd favorite amongst craft beer fans, Stone Brewing makes a variety of amazing beers year round, but saves a few of them specifically for the winter months. For example, take their Double Bastard and Lucky Basartd ales. These two beers, at 11.2% and 8.5% respectively, fall into the Arrogant Bastard lineup and hold their own against that master of hops. Double Bastard ups the ABV and adds even more bitterness to give you a masterpiece of hop usage and utilization. As for Lucky Basartd (yep, that’s how they spell it) is a slightly different take on Arrogant Bastard that’s a definite must for any hophead, or anyone daring enough to try the bitter beast.
If more balanced IPAs are your thing, then Enjoy By 12-26-14 is the perfect beer for you. The Enjoy By series of beers are meant to be enjoyed as soon as possible and never aged. This 9.4% ABV beer is described by Stone as “devastatingly fresh” as well as floral, citrusy, and amazing. While you won’t melt if you drink this beer past it’s Enjoy By date, Stone feels so strongly that this is the best date for the beer to be drank by, they made it part of the name of the beer.
Part of Stone’s Stochasticity Project, Master of Disguise is an Imperial Golden Stout (yep, you read that right, a golden stout) that comes in at 9.7% ABV. Stone took the spirit of a dark beer and applied it to a golden ale. What you’re left with is a light-colored beer that has cocoa and coffee notes as well as a toasty character that’s so surprising out of a light colored beer that you need to see and taste it to believe it.
Straub Brewery has been in the brewing business since 1872 and today they’re not only producing quality beers that have been around for much of their history, but new and innovative beers as well. Take for example their Legacy Sampler, a mix pack of beers that show the history of Straub Brewery better than any history book ever could. The sampler includes their 1872 Lager, a 5.4% ABV pre-prohibition style lager, longtime favorite Helles Lager, a 5.5% ABV lager, Dopplebock, a 7% ABV Winter Bock, and Their 5.6% ABV IPL, Straub’s take on an India Pale Ale, but in the lager style.
It wouldn’t be a holiday season without the wild and wonderful Mad Elf from Troegs. Coming in at a surprising 11% ABV, Mad Elf uses pilsner, Munich, and chocolate malts paired with spicy Belgian yeast and cherries to make a rich and flavorful beer that might possibly drive you mad, too. Mad Elf is possibly the perfect beer for the holidays.
A new beer for the winter season from Troegs is their Blizzard of Hops winter IPA. This 6.4% ABV beer has notes of pine and citrus in it as well as a solid malt backbone. If you’re tired of spiced and flavored beers this holiday season, Blizzard of Hops is one beer you can’t miss.
Victory Brewing out of Downingtown PA has quite the catalog of beers available throughout the year, but they wait until the winter months to release some of their best beers. First up is Winter Cheers. This 6.7% ABV wheat beer uses Tettnang and Citra hops to make a hoppy wheat beer that’s ready to warm you up and give some winter cheer to spread.
Next comes a hophead’s dream, Hop Ranch IPA is a celebration of the seasonal hop harvest in a bottle. At 9% ABV, Hop Ranch is an imperial India pale ale that uses Mosaic and Azacca hops for a pungent, floral and intense taste and aroma that’s a refreshing change from the typical winter beers.
Barleywines are one of the beers that best describe what we want in a winter beer. Dark, strong, and full of flavor, these beers help keep us warm on cold dark winter nights. Victory’s Old Horizontal is a perfect example of an American Barleywine that is full of malt and hop flavor, and at 11% ABV, it has enough alcohol to keep you warm.
The final brewery in our alphabetical list is the venerable Weyerbacher Brewery from Easton, PA. Weyerbacher brews their Winter Ale to be a malty beer with hints of Sincoe and Fuggle hops that comes in at 5.6% ABV. Winter Ale has a deep roasted taste that is balanced with a dry finish, making it a great cold weather beer.
Tango is a big, bold, Belgian-style dark ale brewed with 1,200 pounds of cherries that is quite the amazing beer. Coming in at 10.6% ABV, Tango is everything we’re looking for in a winter beer. Originally debuted in November of 2011, this big beer continues on this year with as much alcohol and cherries as it did the first time it was brewed
All these beers and more are available now at your local distributor or craft beer bar and are proudly distributed by Vecenie Distributing Co, Pittsburgh, PA.