The Holiday/Winter beer investigations continue. I am going to have to do some travel to expand the portfolio of bottled offerings. Like all true lovers of this ancient beverage, we know, WE JUST SIMPLY KNOW, that there is no such thing as too much beer!
Now some misunderstood souls will see this as an endorsement for drinking excess, Not so! There are beers (Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout for example) so rich and full that one is certainly enough. No, what I mean is, in the long scheme of things, like a beer blogger in Alaska once noted, you can be stocked full with all kinds of beer, but there will always be something you would like to have on hand, to make an occasion or holiday complete. It is the seeking where a lot of the love comes in.
Recently I went to beeradvocate.com to read what others thought of this year’s “Our Special Ale” from the Anchor Brewing Company. It was there I noticed that under category, it was listed as “winter warmer”. Winter Warmer? When did that become a recipe definition?
Mind you, I am old school. I was once at a trade show talking to sales reps from the Boston Beer Company, who happily discovered I knew more about the history of Samuel Adams Winter Lager than they did, simply because I was drinking it before they were legally old enough to imbibe. But the winter warmer definition is disturbing to me, because Winter/Holiday beers have always been my favorite subject. Winter warmer is a vague definition, like the equally stupid “session beer” which can best be described as: Well I see you guys are going to pound a few.
Winter/Holiday beers have many descriptions. Wassail for example, is ale with spices, Anchor’s 34th edition is a prime example. Winter Ale or Old English Ale, is a non-spiced ale that puts great emphasis on malts, and the interplay between malts and hops, that change definition somewhat, through the passage of time, when hops, which were once in the foreground, fade into the malty background. A once prime example of this was King & Barnes in England. Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome is another. In the United States, Goose Island, Avery, Great Divide, all pay tribute to this, with big malty productions.
A more recent, but much beloved development is the West Coast idea of making India Pale Ale as a holiday offering. The most famous example of this is Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. Mendocino Brewing does this also. So does Rogue Brewing, with their Santa’s Private Reserve Ale.
Another hoppy take is Holiday Amber, where hops are combined with a more malty approach, Magic Hat’s Roxy Rolles, is a fine example.
Bottom fermented beers, or what is known in the U.S. as lager, have their own storied history in the making of holiday beer. Christmas Bock, a tradition that dates back to at least 1543, with the world famous Wurzburger Holiday Bier. Penn Brewing continues this tradition with their St. Nikolaus Bock, along with other brewpubs and homebrewers. I have often been asked, is Sam Adams Winter Lager a wassail? Not exactly. It is a spiced, dunkelweizen bock. Old Fezziwig Ale is Samuel Adams wassail.
The term Festive Ale, is sometimes used, which often refers to strong barleywine style ales. In the United States, Stone Brewing’s Double Bastard Ale, is a prime example.
The Belgians have their own unique contribution to the holiday portfolio. Affligem’s Noel, Scaldis Noel, Stille Nocht, Delerium Noel are some examples. These are ales that sometimes use fruit, spices and honey. All are flavor rich and strong.
Add to all of this, ales that are aged in oak, and it becomes quite obvious that theĀ  term “winter warmer”, simply will not do, when describing the holiday beer universe.
As always, thank you.