Courtesy of Sierra Nevada
Few issues in the world are truly black-and-white. Cats, for instance. Some people think they’re nice pets; some people think they’re furry little narcissists who’d happily dine on your face if there were ever a complete collapse of civilization due to a nuclear apocalypse. Ditto Elvis (meaning some people love his music, some think it’s awful, not that he’d dine on your face, etc. Though, honestly, if it were a zombie-based apocalypse, I suppose he might.) But one thing that can be divided into simple, black-and-white categories is winter beers. Basically, there are the ones that taste like something your grandmother would bake, and the ones that don’t.
Not that I’m trying to tick off the grandmothers of the world. I don’t want a legion of rolling-pin wielding grannies chasing me down Fifth Avenue, bent on my demise. But I do think that a beer should at least in some way taste like a beer, rather than, say, a fruitcake.
Other people may not be as riled up by this topic as me. I accept that. But there's plenty of winter left to go, which means plenty of time to buy yourself a case of tasty winter ale. That said, I don’t want the beer-drinkers of the world to come back home with something that tastes like a fermented brown sugar-cinnamon Pop-Tart. So here are five that are actually very good:
The folks at Deschutes have been brewing their Jubelale for 25 years now. The 2012 release (still available) is a chicory-inflected, English-style strong ale, chestnut-colored, malty and spicy with a low-key hop note. It’s a terrific example of a winter warmer ale, perfectly balanced and alarmingly easy to drink.
Innis & Gunn Winter Treacle Porter
This Scottish upstart (founded in 2003) makes a range of interesting oak-aged beers. Their winter offering is a porter, though a very light, ruddy-hued one, with a distinct toffee-malt character and hints of vanilla from the barrel-aging.
Smuttynose Winter Ale
Trappist ale yeasts give this seasonal beer from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a luscious, full-bodied, caramel-fruity character; there are no particular spice notes here, so it’s really more a traditional Belgian dubbel rather than a specific winter brew. But it’s darn good, and in the end isn’t that what matters?
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
One of the most widely distributed and popular winter-season ales, this American IPA isn’t spiced with anything at all. It is, though, emphatically, powerfully grapefruit/piney, thanks to the fresh (just-harvested) hops used in the brewing. It’s a wake-you-up style of beer, i.e., just the ticket if you’re still in a state of post-holiday exhaustion.
Italian brewer Teo Musso is at the forefront of that country’s quickly growing craft beer scene, making a range of terrific Belgian-style beers from his home base in Piozzo. Christmas may be over, but this brew is still available and akin to a Belgian strong, dark ale, checking in at 9 percent alcohol (though you wouldn’t guess it), with light notes of toffee, espresso and cherries.
Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale
San Francisco-based Anchor Brewing’s been making its Christmas Ale since 1975, changing the secret recipe for it with each new release. There are definite spice notes in this dark-brown ale, for me coming off in the clove/juniper realm, but they’re subtle rather than overbearing, and the main impression is appealing, toasty malt.