Winter Warmer: Winter Beers For Cold Snowy Nights
A winter warmer is traditionally a malty sweet beer that’s big in both flavor and body. These winter beers can have spices, or they can rely on the basic beer ingredients of malt, hops, yeast, and water to give them their unique tastes.
Winter beers that use spices follow an age-old tradition of wassail, which was a hot mulled cider that was traditionally enjoyed as an integral part of wassailing, which was the act of going from door to door singing Christmas carols. The tradition of drinking spiced beverages during the winter months goes back to medieval times and was the equivalent of today’s spiced holiday beers.
There are definitely non-spiced and non traditionally flavored beers meant for the winter months too, and these, paired with their spiced brethren help to give all of us a variety of beers to enjoy during these cold winter months.
Winter Beers to Try
21st Amendment Fireside Chat – Fireside Chat from 21st Amendment Brewing out of Lakewood, New York is a great example of a spiced winter beer. They start this beer off as an English-style dark ale and as 21st Amendment puts it, “improvise with a variety of spices” to create a uniquely spiced winter ale. This spiced beer comes in at 7.9% ABV, making it a uniquely strong spiced beer perfect for chilly weather and just like FDR’s Depression-era radio shows, it’s a real kick in the butt, in a very good way.
Brooklyn Winter Ale – Hailing from the Empire State, Brooklyn Brewery makes their Winter Ale in the Scottish ale style using a variety of malt including Scottish Maris Otter, English Crystal, and American oat. Hopped with only Willamette and coming in at 6.1% ABV, this non-spiced beer is surprisingly toasty and malty while staying fairly balanced.
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout – Most people will agree that a good winter beer is dark and strong, with subtle undertones of toasty character and alcohol hotness. Black Chocolate Stout is a Russian Imperial Stout that comes in at 10% ABV. Sweet chocolate pairs perfectly with hints of hop bitterness and toasty malt character.
Black Chocolate Stout is a beer that is great fresh as well as aged, which means you should pick up a six-pack to drink now, and another to age for a few years. Properly kept in a dark, dry, cool place in your basement this beer will mellow and blend the already expertly melded flavors for years to come. This beer pairs perfectly with desserts like cheesecake, ice cream, fine cheeses, and as Brooklyn’s wensite says, “roaring fireplaces,” too.
Boulder Slope Style Ale – If there’s anyone that knows what beer is best for the cold winter months it should be a brewery located in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder Brewery brews their Slope Style Winter IPA to give us a hoppy, bitter beer for the winter months. For those of us that aren’t into the spiced beers and dark stouts, Slope Style gives us a hoppy beer that features a big piney hop beer that’s red in color and brewed with five different malts and a healthy dose of Horizon hops.
Slope Style Winter IPA comes in at a respectable 6.4% ABV and gives a full body that’s welcome with such a hoppy beer. If you’re looking for a great IPA this winter, check out Slope Style.
Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser – Known for beers that are in your face and amazing, Flying Dog’s K-9 Winter Ale is a winter warmer at its finest. This 7.4% ABV beer features a deep ruby color with a light khaki head. K-9 has aromas of bread, plums, toasted malt, toffee, and slight earthiness that give way to a taste of toasty toffee, caramel, and a slight toffee brown sugar finish.
Overall, this beer has lots going on and is great if you’re looking for the true spicy winter warmer style. Great for enjoying next to a fire or just with your feet up in your house, Flying Dog did a great job on their version of a winter warmer.
Deschutes Jubelale – This marks the first year Deschutes’ winter seasonal offering is available to the Pittsburgh area, and we’re definitely lucky that it is. Called a Strong Ale, Jubelale comes in at 6.7% ABV and 60 IBUs, meaning this isn’t your average winter warmer.
Spiciness pairs well with the higher bitterness and features intriguing, layered flavors of dried fruits, toffee, and chicory to round out an amazing beer. Each year the label of Jubelale is different while the beer stays the same, so make sure to save a bottle for your collection each year. Originally brewed in 1988, Jubelale has a much longer history than most of the beers in this category and definitely in this list.
Long Trail Sick Day IPA – Long Trail gives us another great entry in the winter IPA category with their Sick Day IPA. While many of us have to use real sick days in the winter months to help fend off illness, this beer will make you want to call in a sick day just so you can sit back and enjoy a few.
Sick Day IPA is an unfiltered IPA at 6.8% ABV that features piney, spicy hop flavors and aromas that are balanced nicely with toasty malts. While you may not think an IPA is a great beer for the winter, this one may very well change your mind.
Southern Tier Old Man Winter – There are winter warmers, then there’s Old Man Winter from Southern Tier, out of Lakewood New York. Southern Tier starts with a traditional winter ale and ups the ante with a solid hop presence and a hearty malt backbone. While this is an un-spiced beer, Old Man Winter has tastes of bittersweet cocoa, nutty, sweet malts and earthy hops.
A medium bodied beer, 7% ABV Old Man Winter pairs well with rich cheeses, winter squash, hearty stews, and roasted meats. The three varieties of hops and two different malts used in this beer give it a depth of taste and aroma that’s hard to beat and could easily be used as the standard for winter ales.
Samuel Smith Winter Welcome – The only British entry in this list is also one of the best winter ales available today. Samuel Smith Brewing, which is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year brews their Winter Welcome each year to welcome the coming colder months. This UK beer comes in at 6% ABV and features one of the most true-to-style winter warmers available.
Brewed in the British style, Winter Welcome has a more malty sweet taste than its American counterparts, which is a pleasant change from the more hop-heavy varieties available today. Winter Welcome features a sweet caramel malty taste with a slight spice presence. The beer itself is lighter bodied than most US versions, but this makes the beer more drinkable and gives it an overall great feeling.