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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

WINTER, HOLIDAY, CHRISTMAS, HUNAKKAH WARMERS, ALES AND BREWS (PART 1)
Seasonal beers are interesting animals. What exactly qualifies a beer to be a spring beer, or a summer beer or a fall beer or a winter beer? Painting with broad strokes here, the classic spring beer is a Bock, summer beers are often light and lemony, fall means malty Marzaans. But winter? Beginning around Thanksgiving we start to get various versions of  Holiday Beers, Chistmas Ales, or Winter Warmers with names, evocative of the season, referencing snow, ice, wind, Santa, cold, blizzards, elves etc. I guess the point is: it's cold, damn it, let's have a beer! (Not to be confused with: "It's hot, damn it, let's have a beer!" or "It's a day that ends in 'y,' damn it, let's have a beer!").
So what exactly is a Winter Warmer? Ron's beer store guy thought they were usually anything dark in color. Hmm... A bit vague, perhaps. I would assume anything that "warms" you counts as a winter warmer.
The fun thing about the winter brews is this: all bets are off. Whereas Oktoberfests are all pretty similar, and Summer Ales rarely stray from the light and fruity, Winter (or Holiday, or Christmas) Ales vary from brew to brew. Some are malty, some hoppy, some spicy, some are English, some are Begian, some are ales, some lagers, some are big dessert beers while others are smaller session brews. In late November at the Watkins estate along the banks of the mighty Grindstone Creek (or Crick if you grew up in this part of the country) we began the first of this year's two sojurns into ales brewed for the short, cold days and long, cozy eves ahead. After all, to quote the oft repeated mantra in Game of Thrones: "Winter is coming."
SAMUEL ADAMS WINTER LAGER

THE BEER FACTS: Style: dark wheat bock / ABV: 5.6% / IBUs: 22 / MALTS: Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, Caramel 60, malted wheat, Carafa, Munich 10 / HOPS: Hallertau Mittelfrueh Moble hops / BREWERY: Boston Beer Company, Boston Massechusetts
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Bold, rich with a touch of hoiday spice...rich and full bodied, robust and warming, a wonderful way to enjoy the cold evenings that come with the season."
COLOR: Brown leaning toward red, ruby.
POUR: Decent head, typical of Sam Adams
AROMA: Neutral, slight, like a lager
BODY: Medium
TASTE: Balanced, with notes of nuts and malt.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: I could drink this - Impressive amount of flavor for a lager.
COMMENTS: "I don't taste the spices in it; One of the best wheats I've ever tasted; Not a bad session beer; A good snow-blower beer; gorgeous seasonal color; Maybe a hint of the ginger and cinnamon, but it doesn't overpower, which is a good thing; Sort of stays in the background; I'm surprised that it's a wheat beer."
TRIUMPH BREWING 7 C'S IPA

THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: American IPA / ABV: 6.3%  / BREWERY: Triumph Brewing, Princeton, NJ
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: Triumph Brewing Company is a brewpub with branches in Princeton, NJ, New Hope, PA, and Philadelphia, PA. Since I was in Princeton over Thanksgiving, I thought I'd grab a growler to bring back to the BOTB Guys. Is it strickly speaking a holiday ale? Well, I got it during the Thanksgiving holiday, so we're saying it is!

COLOR: Amber
POUR: Better than decent head, it was beautiful and tight with lingering lingerie lace
AROMA: Hoppy with a nice pine-y nose
BODY: Medium
TASTE: Hoppy bitterness with notes of a little malt, grapefruit, and pine
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!
COMMENTS: "This is nice; A real taste treat; Pleasingly satisfying; A lingering balanced finish; This is what you have when you are opening your Christmas presents...No! This is your Christmas present; A classic IPA, holiday beer or not, it's a good beer; Wish Triumph would open a branch at Destiny, I'd much prefer it to Gordon Biersch!"

SIERRA NEVADA'S NORTHERN HEMISPHERE HARVEST

THE BEER FACTS: Style: Wet-hopped American IPA / ABV: 6.7% / IBUs: 65-70 / YEAST: Ale yeast / MALTS: Two row Pale, Caramel / HOPS: Bittering: Wet Centennial - Finishing: Wet Cascade, Centennial / BREWERY: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, CA
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "The first wet hop Harvest ale. From the fields and into the kettle in less than 24 hours. (this) is the beer that launched the 'wet hop' craze here in America. Brewed with wet hops plucked straight from the fields in Yakima, WA, and into our brew kettles within 24 hours of growin on the vine, Norther Hemisphere does not take shortcuts. Because hops are incredibly perishable, using hops 'wet' or un-dried, preserves all of the precious oils and resins for a unique drinkin experience."
COLOR: Dark, raw honey colored
POUR: Off-white (caramel) foamy head with nice lacing and staying power
AROMA: Toward the hoppy side with grapefruit and a bit of pine
BODY: Full
TASTE: Fairly bitter with notes of bready malt, nuts, grapefruit, and pine
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Absolutely Can't Get Enough!
COMMENTS: "Has a nice nose and beautiful color; Have you ever had a Sierra Nevada that wasn't good?; Complex flavor; Very, very nice; I COULD DRINK THIS!; Outstanding; Nice bitter finish - I enjoyed the bitterness."
SOUTHERN TIER OLD MAN WINTER ALE

THE BEER FACTS: Style: Old Ale / ABV: 7.0%  / Fermentation: Ale yeast, three varieties of hops and two types of malt / BREWERY: Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood, NY
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Our winter offering is here to quell your shivers and get you through the coldest of nights. A rich marriage of hops and barley to cast light upon the evening and melt your mind out of the snowdrifts...A deceptively strong brew, it's best to sit and ponder with this man, sip by sip."
COLOR: Light brown with slight ruby cast
POUR: Medium head which doesn't stick around too long
AROMA: Malty, bready
BODY: Fairly full
TASTE: A little sweet up front, but fair amount of bitterness toward the end, making it a balanced brew overall. There are notes of malt, nuts, and dark chocolate
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Midway between "I could drink this" and "Can't get enough."
COMMENTS: "Spice front and hop back; A real tasty beer; I'd buy this again; Nice and malty with a bit of hops to offset it; A good post snow-blower beer; I could drink this; Balanced - a little bigger than it tastes; Smells hoppier than it tastes."
WIDMER BROTHERS BREWERY
BRRR SEASONAL ALE



THEBEER FACTS: Style: Red Ale / ABV: 7.2% / IBUs: 50 / MALTS: Pale, Caramel, Darapils, Dark Chocolate / HOPS: Alchemy, Simcoe, Cascade / Widmer Brothers Brewery, Portland, Oregon.
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Warm up with a cold one, or two. Our winter red ale is the perfect treat, naughty or nice. The deep red body fills your glass and a citrusy hop aroma fills your nose. Then caramel and chocolate malts reward you with a perfectly balanced malty sweet flavor and velvety finish"
COLOR: Russet
POUR: Decent head, fairly quickly dissipates, nice lacing
AROMA: A little citrus from the cascade hops
BODY: Between medium and full
TASTE: Some bitternessup front with notes of malt, bread, grapefruit, and pine
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!
COMMENTS: "This is good beer; More hops than any other winter beer we've had so far; The bottle says 'a hop start and a malt finish' - we're usually saying just the opposite. I wonder what they do that makes that happen."

MIDDLE AGES BREWERY - DRAGONSLAYER



THE BEER FACTS: Style: Imperial Stout / ABV: 9.5% / Middle Ages Brewery, Syracuse, NY
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Brewed in the style of a Russian Imperial Stout. Strong, chocolaty and aggressively hopped with finest English hops."
COLOR: Pitch black
POUR: Better than decent, with a caramel colored lace
AROMA: Sweet malty yeast with a ripe banana scent, maybe banana bread
BODY: Full/thick
TASTE: A little sweet, but not super sweet like you think it would be. There are notes of malt, coffee, nuts, and a little chocolate
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!
COMMENTS: "Not bitter like some porters; Really pleasant after-taste; Burnt-roasty; Complex taste - it has a lot going on; This tastes like another; A great winter beer; This is for anyone who likes big beers; A great dessert beer."

OTTER CREEK BLACK IPA


 THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Black IPA / ABV: 6.0% / IBUs: 60 / MALTS: 2-Row, Caramel 60L, Carafa III / HOPS: Apollo, Centennial, Citra / Otter Creek Brewing, Middlebury, Vermont
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Dark in color and character, this unfiltered Black IPA exudes caramel and roasted notes while highlighting
COLOR: Black and unfiltered
POUR: A decent head
AROMA: Between balanced and hoppy; a little more malty - some piney/grapefruit, maybe spicy
BODY: Very full bodied
TASTE: Pretty balanced. Notes of malt, coffee, chocolate, and caramel
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!
COMMENTS: "A little sweeter than I thought it would be; Roasted, malty end; Not as clean a finish as Dragonslayer; Maybe a different yeast than any we've had so far; Fresh and clean taste; Not enough of a big hop kick for and IPA; A little more malty; Easy to drink; A good beer; Just enough of the hops presence to make it interesting."
MAYFLOWER BREWING THANKSGIVING ALE

THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: American Strong Ale - English Old Ale hybrid / ABV: 8.0% / Mayflower Brewing Company, Plymouth, Massachusetts.
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "The first and only perennial offering in our Cooper's Series of limited batch beers. Mayflower Thanksgiving Ale is an inspired blend of two brewing styles: American Strong Ale and English Old Ale. Aged on American white oak, this full-bodied brew warms the soul with hints of caramel, vanilla and spicy nuts. The perfect beverage fou our favorite holiday."
COLOR: Amber
POUR: Decent head with good lacing
AROMA: Toward the malty end with the familiar banana scent of English yeast
BODY: Between medium and full
TASTE: Fairly sweet with notes of bready malt, nuts, toffee and banana.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: I Could Drink This
COMMENTS: "British banana smelling yeasts; Clean/crisp taste; Complex taste, complex beer - nice; Crisp carbonated hit in the mouth; I wouldn't seek it out, but if it was served I wouldn't turn it down."


Next: Part two of WINTER, HOLIDAY, CHRISTMAS, HANUKKAH WARMERS, ALES AND BREWS