Tag Archives: Winter Beer

New Brew Friday

TGIF beer enthusiasts. This morning my usually seasonal hometown was blanketed in lovely new snow so it is only fitting that today’s review is for a big winter beer.

 

Winter Beard

 

Muskoka Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout

Winter Beard pours a deep black brown with just a thin skim of head. At first pour this one is chocolate and cold coffee on the nose but as it warms you get some vanilla sweetness in the mix and less coffeeiness, less harshness really, overall though not a strong nose. Winter Beard is thinner in the mouthfeel, lighter bodied, than your average winter stout, which is good considering it is a large format 750ml bottle. Lots of chocolate flavour as you drink with just a hint of dried fruit and some vanilla character. The finish really carries through with the chocolate so the double chocolate moniker does indeed fit this beer. The cranberry was pretty subtle and to be honest I could not probably not say for certain I knew it was in there without the label.

Overall an easy-drinking sweet stout that is quite accessible. Bonus points for the great beer label!

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New Brew Friday

Ah, winter beer season that most glorious time of the year when the craft beer pours forth dark and heavy, tipsy from time spent in the company of bourbon, and smelling like a bakery on a Saturday morning.

While I am boycotting the majority of holiday ale offerings this year after having (over) indulged when I (over) estimated I could (should) consume twenty- four Christmas themed brews in my de facto advent calendar for last year, luckily, for me, boycott is a fairly loose term. This means I can still cherry pick the odd seasonal for consumption in front of a roaring fire.

Having been pleasantly surprised by Young’s Double Chocolate Stout I felt pretty safe picking up Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Bitter from my local liqour store. The Young Brewery and Wells Brewery merged to become the Wells & Young Brewery in 2006.

Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky toffee pours a deep black brown with lots if airy dark mocha head dying down to a light lacing and skim. Roasty malt and sweet caramel on the nose with some chocolate notes. A light bodied and clean bitter that presents flavours of cold coffee, toffee, powdered chocolate and roasted grains. This beer initially has a dry slightly bittered finish but as you drink more bitterness comes through on the finish.

Overall a nice, non-gimmicky, seasonal beer that hits all the flavours you want in a winter offering.


Under the Dome

HAF13

Last week, unbeknownst to the lay drinker, a weird and scary social experiment was set-up in downtown Portland. For five straight days Pioneer Square courtyard was hermetically sealed under a large plastic dome. Stringent entry and exit protocols were put in place so only a select few were allowed inside. This bio-dome was self-sustaining with all the basic necessities.

The rest of the population was left to observe from the outside bandying about their best guesses as to what lay within. Why, they asked, was this dome erected, who built it, and who or what resides in its’ temperature controlled walls?

As one of the chosen few selected to enter into this artificial world let me reveal what exactly went down under the dome…

HAF Volunteer

It was beer fest silly.

Starting last Wednesday Portland Oregon was once again home to Holiday Ale Festival the annual celebration of the real reason for the season, winter beer. For five ale-filled days and nights you could wander in and out of the beer-o-sphere sampling breweries seasonal offerings, rare casks, vertical tastings (hello six years of The Abyss anyone?) and even live beer blendings.

Beer Coaster in a Tree

Celebrate Beer

The Festival

This is my second year attending Holiday Ale Fest and, like last year, there are many well thought-out parts to this event. In and out privileges, long hours, the festival runs over several days, rotating casks, VIP lines, maps on the taster mugs, a mobile site to guide patrons (unless you are a Canadian with a stupid Canadian cell phone provider), a beer brunch on Sunday, a root beer garden, and, most importantly, lots of interesting winter beers.

Another Volunteer

At the same time there are a few drawbacks to this festival, Friday and Saturday nights get a little hectic, the line-ups and the crowds hanging-out tend to blend together into one big jumble of people, without the mobile site your map tells you very little because you do not know which beers are pouring where and there is only one rinse station in the farthest corner by the exit.

Overall though this festival is well-organized and well-executed.

Taster Mugs

Beer Guide

 

The Beer

With admission you are given ten tokens; the majority of beers are just one token with the rare casks and blendings/tastings being two or more tokens. This means hubby and I started out with a respectable twenty tokens plus two bonus added for purchasing a ticket online (nice touch!).

A Beer, not sure which one

Turning to our trusty beer guide we set out to take-on the rare beers first in case they sold-out and then to work our way through anything that peaked our interest (this can be dangerous strategy when almost all the winter beers sound wondrous on paper).

The flip side of this equation is that too many winter beers can be a bad thing. Generally, winter beers are heavy, dark, rich and strong so a few can go a long way. Some of the beers I really enjoyed tended to be those that bucked the traditional winter style and brought something a little lighter to the table.

Me like Beer

Some of our favourites this year included in no particular order:

Cascade Brewing Creamsicle, a Belgian meets blonde meets barrel aging with vanilla, orange and spices. This one was offered on its’ own or as a 6 token blend with the Crooked Stave Cranberry Saison.

2 Towns Ciderhouse Bourbon Barrel Nice & Naughty Barrel Aged spiced cider. A crisp and tart alternative to the onslaught of the winter beers at the festival but at the same time a strong warming drink.

Stone Brewing Co. Spiced Unicorn Milk Chai Milk Stout a smooth and sweet stout that has a nice complement of Indian spices.

New Belgium Brewing Co. Paradebloem Another lighter (in colour and body) beer that brings some tartness to the table making it stand out from the rest of the festival line-up.

Deschutes Brewery Virgin Sacrifice Imperial Stout with Cherries. We all know Deschutes knows how to do imperial stout so this one was a kind of a gimme. Nonetheless cherries add a nice touch of tart/sweet to a full bodied coffee and roasted grain forward stout.

 

Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for another great holiday ale festival and see you again next year!

The Aftermath


Through the Beer we all will be together

Christmas Eve is finally here and we get to open the final door to our Christmas Beer Advent Calendar…

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear but Howe Sound Brewing‘s Father John’s Christmas Beer (Winter Ale actually but Christmas beer fit the poem better).

 

What do snowmen eat for breakfast? 
Snowflakes.

Howe Sound Father John's Winter Ale

 

 

Father John’s Winter Ale pours a clear reddish chestnut clour with lots of cream coloured head on the initial pour; head eases off to a light ring around the glass and a skim across the top. There is a big nutmeg and ginger nose, which is sweet, hot and spicy at the same time. First sip is pretty complex; honeyed sweetness, rich caramel malts, Christmas spices, vanilla and a touch of hop all going on at the same time. As you drink this one feels medium bodied, a touch syrupy and there is a winter warmer quality. Not a lot on the finish to this one. Overall this one really makes me think Christmas, the combination of spices, malt forward flavour, touch of alcohol-ness, with nice graphics on the label and a bottle made for sharing.

 

As such I am giving Father John’s Winter Ale seven candy canes.

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The Bottles are Flowing…

It’s December 23th so lets open our second to last door…

It’s Abominable Winter Ale an organic offering from Hopworks Brewery.

Hopworks Abominable Winter Ale

Abominable Winter Ale is housed in an amazing yeti adorned bottle; perhaps my favourite artwork of the season. Abominable pours a very clear amber orange with just a little white head and some lacing. Lots of citrus hops on the nose and a bit of malt. First sip is a mix of hops, spicy and citrus, at the front of the palate then the caramel malt flavour comes through at the finish. As you drink the bitterness becomes more prominent making this one pretty typical for a Northwest Coast ale. Mouthfeel is clean, medium bodied and there is some strength to this ale giving it a bit of a warmer quality; however, setting aside the winter-eque bottle nothing else really seems that Christmas like to me it just seems like a good Hopworks ale.

 

I am giving Abominable seven candy canes (six for the beer and one for the bottle) out of the possible ten.

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Fast away the Old Beer Glasses

Calvin and Hobbes Snowmen 4

 

Welcome to the last (possibly frenetic) weekend before Christmas so let us take a look behind door number twenty-two to see what libation will ease us into the final stretch…

It’s Auld Nick from R&B Brewing, “a strong dark ale brewed with specialty malted grains and the traditional hops of Kent, England”.

R&B Auld Nick

Auld Nick pours a very dark reddish brown with good clarity and just a little cream coloured head that quickly forms a light skin on top of the beer. Lots of roasted maltiness on the nose with a little bit of a herbal aroma. A big smooth mouthfeel with lots of body and that oh so essential winter warmer quality. Still get an herbal element as I drink but I can’t quite place what it is. Up front you get  rich sweet malt while the finish introduces burnt and bitter to the palate. Overall a great example of a dark ale that tastes like a Christmas beer to me; a good balance of rich roasted malt, bittered finish and enough strength to warm you up on a cold evening.

 

Auld Nick is saddled with seven candy canes out of a possible ten.

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O Little Brown of Bethlehem

Welcome to the 21st of December aka the much anticipated end of the world so let’s throw open the door to our twenty-first (and potentially last) beer…

 

We have Maple Stout from Cannery Brewing, which is described as “stout, dark and handsome” …sounds a bit like an online dating profile.

Cannery Maple Stout

 

Maple Stout, as its very plain spoken name suggests, is a deep black brown beer with mocha coloured head and a very syrupy sweet nose. First sip, is cold coffee meets, well, maple syrup. Medium bodied but definitely on the lighter side of the stout family with lots of roasted malt and chocolate flavours and a subtly bittered finish. The cloying maple syrup eases off as you drink this one. If you like your stouts a little more sweet and a little less bitter this is the beer for you. Overall a very nice and accessible seasonal though I have to say maple syrup makes me think early spring and not Christmas but what the heck.

 

I am giving this one seven candy canes out of the possible ten.

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Hark! The Barreled Angels Sing

It is December 20th and therefore 5 days until Christmas! Did you ever notice that when you are little there seems to be twelve months between December 1st and 20th and when you are old there seems to be 12 hours between December 1st and 20th? But I digress so let’s open door twenty and find our daily beer…

Hark! It’s Winter Welcome from Samuel Smith’s Brewery.

 

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome

 

Winter Welcome pours a very clear amber gold colour with tons of cream coloured head on the initial pour; the head dies off to some lacing a little head. It is yeasty and a bit malty on the nose. First couple of sips are light bodied, malty and a bit funky from the yeast taste. As you drink the hops come into play making this a nicely balanced ale. Very clean tasting with not much happening on the finish perhaps a slight bitter taste. The character of this beer changes as it warms at times letting different flavours (malt or hops)come to to the forefront. At 6% Winter Welcome is a nice counter point to some of the bigger holiday brews out there but for me this one was a little to thin for a Christmas offering.

 

I am giving Winter Welcome sis candy canes.

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Next beer I could be oh so good…

Snowman The Triumph of Perseverance

 

Welcome to day 19 and let’s take a look at our beery treat for today…

It’s Brown Shugga’ from Lagunitas Brewing Company, a sweet release at 9.9%.

 

Lagunitas Brown Shugga'

Brown Shugga’ pours a very clear amber copper colour with tons of airy cream coloured head. This ale has a citrus hoppy nose and first sip is pretty assertive hops followed by some big sweet malt flavour. As it warms up a bit the sugary-ness really comes to the front of the palate and hops settle down. Medium bodied this is a real winter warmer with a slightly cloying mouthfeel. The finish leaves a sweet taste in the back of the throat coupled with a dry bitterness. Brown Shugga’ is one of those beers that grows on you the more you sip (or it could be the high ABV messing with my perceptions) but I quite like the in-your-face flavours happening in the this beer. Overall a sweet Christmas treat.

 

Lagunintas Brown Shugga’ is awarded eight candy canes.

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Steep in Heavenly Yeast

It is just one week until Christmas and we open door eighteen to find…

Krampus Imperial Helles Lager from Southern Tier Brewing a behemoth 9% blend of hops, dark malts and lager yeast.

 

How many deer would a reindeer reign if a reindeer could reign deer?

Southern Tier Krampus

Okay first things first, brilliant beer name. The bottle depicts Krampus the Christmas Devil who, according to European tradition, beats the naughty children with chains and sticks – I am guessing there are fewer naughty European children since Krampus seems far far worse than the threat of coal!

Krampus pours a clear deep gold with bright white head that reduces to some lacing and a light skim. Big hop nose and first sip is floral and resiny hops at the front of the palate, then dark caramel malts at the back of the throat followed by a deep warming quality. Medium bodied and somewhat viscous this lager sure packs a wallop. The finish is surprisingly not that bitter but instead a little on the sweet side. Krampus is a sipping lager though lager may be a bit of a misnomer for this beer. Overall it is like a Christmas gift to hop heads everywhere; IPA meets Lager meets Winter Warmer, devilish indeed.

 

Krampus is getting eight candy canes out of a possible ten …I hope this does not make him angry.

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