Style: Winter Warmer
Brief history: The history of Winter Warmers cannot be pinned down to one singular drink, as the tradition of drinking higher alcohol drinks in the winter dates back thousands of years. Winter Warmers tend to fall into two different categories: one that uses spices and one that does not. The spiced versions tend to be American or Belgian, and the English and German brewers do not traditionally use spices in their beer. The basic idea behind the style is a maltier and higher ABV drink to warm up on cold evenings. The overall impression should be a stronger, darker, spiced beer that often has a rich body and warming finish that is perfect for the cold winter season.
Standard characteristics: The style is focused on balance between all the flavors and should not be overly spicy or overly malty. However, the beers are typically more malt-forward and are a bit heavier than many traditional beers. The spices should be background notes that add a layer of complexity. The ABV range for Winter Warmers is very wide and typically higher than most styles, usually starting at six percent ABV on the low end and up to 12 percent on the high end.
Nose: There is a wide variety of aromas in this style of beer, and you may find notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, molasses, maple syrup, plums, raisins, pine, gingerbread, or chocolate, as well as a host of others. The overall aroma should be very well-balanced and inviting while also maintaining a level of complexity.
Body: Although a wide range can occur within the style, the body is typically medium-to-full and possesses a certain amount of malty “chewiness.” The carbonation tends to be lower, which gives way to a smooth, easy-drinking characteristic, although some variations have a higher carbonation level.
Taste: Spices are typically present in the taste (same as those listed in nose), with more notes of dried fruit as well as other fermentables (honey, brown sugar, etc.). Some variations have more hop presence, which provides a stronger bitterness but is still restrained. Balance is vital within this beer, and the special ingredients should complement the base beer and not overwhelm it.
Food pairing: Winter Warmers are a great pairing with rich holiday foods. Whether its pork, duck, turkey, goose, or rabbit, the beer’s strong malt-forward presence makes the perfect accompaniment. Warmers are also great with rich holiday desserts, ranging from cookies to Christmas cakes to more complex, creamy dishes. Winter Warmers have enough heft and complexity to hold their own against the richest of dishes.
Recommendations: The Winter Warmer style is very approachable, but with some having a stronger malt characteristic than others, it can be off-putting for those who are used to hop-forward beers. This is a fantastic style that is perfect for the winter season. Some of the best winter warmers to try are:
• Great Lakes - Christmas Ale
• Anderson Valley - Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale
• Thirsty Dog - 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale
• Boulevard Brewing - Nutcracker Ale
• Samuel Smith - Winter Welcome Ale
• Elysian - Bifrost
• Odell - Isolation Ale
• Harpoon - Winter Warmer