I like to tell my out-of-town friends that here in North Florida, we have two seasons summer and two weeks of winter. Most people laugh and think I am kidding when I say that, they truly do not believe we have anything resembling cold weather. But, because we do have winter weather, we can have a legitimate discussion of Winter Warmer beers.
The history of Winter Warmers leads us to two older brews; Wassail and Strong English Ales. While Wassail is slanted more towards holiday imbibing with its aromatic spices, Winter Warmers are geared to warm drinkers from the inside out by pushing the alcohol content to between 5.5 percent and eight percent. Today, it is common for brewers to apply the name Winter Warmer to any dark, malt forward strong brew that may or may not contain spices or flavorings.
Something to keep in mind when drinking this style of beer is that colder is definitely not better. While this adage is true with many styles of beers, Winter Warmers tend to release their fullest flavors as they warm. The ideal serving temperature for these hearty brews is 45 degrees to 55 degrees.
Since we are coming to the end of the Winter Warmer season, if you want to try some of these luscious ales, you should brave the cold weather and seek them out now. Some to look for include:
North Peak Brewing Company – Blitzen Festivus Ale
This beer pours a deep red color and produces an active and healthy head. It smells of dark fruits like cherries, raisins and plums. The first sip reveals a hoppy bitterness and perhaps a touch of spiciness lent to the brew by the addition of rye in the mash.
SweetWater Brewing Company – Festive Ale
SweetWater has been producing this winter favorite for several years now. As a matter of course, I usually purchase several 22-ounce bombers every year and cellar them to savor beside the next year’s iteration. Over time, this brew smooths out and becomes pure, silky decadence. It pours a dark chestnut brown with a light brown, frothy head. The aroma is heavy with spices like cinnamon and mace and the flavor is malty with plenty of cinnamon that reminds one of a cinnamon roll.
Highland Brewing Company – Cold Mountain Winter Ale
One of the oldest Winter Ales on our list, Highland has been brewing this beer for 19 years. Each year they make subtle changes to the brew making it a favorite for cellaring. After pouring into a glass, the aroma hints at hazelnuts, vanilla, cinnamon and piney hops. Upon tasting, flavors of toffee, vanilla, dark fruits and spices are revealed.