The Winter Solstice is approaching fast. It’s not quite Winter yet in the great Northwest, but that Winter chill is in the air and the skiers are already enjoying the slopes up in the Cascades. For craft beer enthusiasts, this is the time of year our thoughts turn to some of our favorite winter-time beers. Hoppy, woody, Holiday-spiced or even just Holiday/Winter-themed, Winter Warmers (mostly Ales) come in many varieties from all across the U.S. Today, however, I’ll be focusing on a few selections from the Pacific Northwest.
Also, just a few reminders. The 2012 Winter Beer Fest is coming up this Friday, December 7th and 8th at Hale’s Palladium on Leary Way. You can get tickets from Brown Paper Tickets for $25 or $30 at the door. Also, the 6th Annual Big Wood Fest kicks off this Thursday, December 6th at Brouwer’s Cafe.
These 5 Northwest Winter Warmers let local craft beer drinkers know that the holiday craft beer season is upon us:
Jolly Roger (Maritime Pacific Brewing):
This is a popular annual release around Seattle. It’s a deep amber color and has flavors of dark fruits like dates and raisins along with a very malty character and notes of caramel, oak and subtle spices with a bit of hops. This year’s Jolly Roger was released on Wednesday, November 14th, during a release event that included 5 different versions. I sampled a taster tray that included:
- 2010 Jolly Roger (My favorite of the tray.)
- 2012 Jolly Roger
- 2012 Cask Jolly Roger (Slightly warmer & less carbonated, letting more of the flavors come through.)
- 2012 Rum Aged Jolly (Yo ho ho! The rum flavor was just right and not overpowering.)
- 2012 Aged Jolly on Cherries & Brandy (A bit more subtle than the rum aged version – the cherries were a nice addition.)
You can find Jolly Roger on tap and in bottles at Maritime Pacific’s Jolly Roger Taproom or at other taprooms and bottle shops around the Sound.
Hoppy The Woodsman (Schooner Exact Brewing):
Schooner Exact brewing has been around since 2007 and has been producing some great beers out of their brewery and newly expanded taproom and restaurant in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. Currently, Schooner Exact produces two different winter beers. The first is Hoppy Holidays, which is a dark and mildly hoppy winter ale with notes of roasted barley, caramel and complex dark fruits.
The other is Hoppy The Woodsman, which is created by aging Hoppy Holidays in Oak Bourbon barrels, imparting wonderfully deep and complex oak and bourbon flavors and aromas with notes of vanilla. Hoppy The Woodsman is definitely one of my favorite local Winter warmers. But then I’ve always been a sucker for dark and delicious oak bourbon-aged beers. A bit more on the ‘boozy’ side than some other bourbon-aged beers I’ve tried, it’s almost like bourbon and a beer back in the same glass – which I found quite pleasing. You can find Hoppy The Woodsman on tap at Schooner Exact or at select craft beer bars around Puget Sound (not bottled).
Bifrost (Elysian Brewing):
One of the hoppier selections on this list, Bifrost is a hoppy Winter Pale Ale from Elysian Brewing. For a hophead like me looking for hoppy beers even in the dead of Winter, Bifrost delivers with a citrusy hop bite and enough hop bitterness to compliment the caramel malt backbone. I look forward to its return each year, as Elysian only releases Bifrost in the Fall/Winter.
You can find Bifrost on tap and in bottles at Elysian Brewing locations and other craft beer bars and bottle shops around the Seattle area – and now across the country. Since expanding into their new production brewing facility in Seattle’ Georgetown neighborhood, Elysian now bottles Bifrost in 6 Packs and is expanding distribution.
Auld Acquaintance(Pike Brewing):
More like what you might expect a holiday ale to taste like, Auld Acquaintance from Pike Brewing has holiday spice notes like star anise, coriander, nutmeg, orange peel and cinnamon. Want to get into the Christmas Spririt? Auld Acquaintance would be a great choice. You can find Ault Acquaintance on tap at Pike Brewing and in bottles at Pike and local area bottle shops.
The Hearth (Two Beers Brewing):
After recently celebrating their 5 year anniversary, Two Beers Brewing is preparing to release a new Winter Warmer, dubbed The Hearth, which will also kick off their new Seasonal Series, which “will allow us to offer our fans and craft beer lovers something new and unique every season,” said Joel VandenBrink, Two Beers Brewing founder and head brewer.
I haven’t had the opportunity to try The Hearth yet but, according to Two Beers Brewing Company, it is “a delicious mahogany-colored winter warmer spiced with cloves, allspice, cinnamon and orange peel, offering a 7.2 percent ABV and 32 IBUs. This delicious beer has also been aged on wine-soaked toasted oak chips – a first for the brewery – giving it a smooth, distinctive finish. Available in 22-ounce bottles at retailers throughout the Pacific Northwest beginning November 29, The Hearth will be available through January 2013.”
The beers I’ve highlighted here are just a handful of the veritable plethora of Holiday Beers/Winter Warmers out there to try. Get down to your local craft beer bar and/or bottle shop and start exploring. You’re sure to find a few selections that will make your 2012 holiday season more pleasant.
Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.