50 Must Taste Winter Beers for 2011
If you are a craft beer lover and were fortunate enough to be in the best beer city on Earth between November 30 and December 4, 2011, then you more than likely were in attendance for the 16th Annual Holiday Ale Fest. This magical marvel of merriment tented more than 50 of the most palate wowing one-offs and seasons to be found on earth; beers designed with the Beer Advocate and uber geek in mind. Now, in our fair village of viscosity, more satellite celebrations and salutes are scheduled to round out the holiday season such as the forthcoming Amnesia’s Winter Ale Fest (December 10, 2011) and Plew’s Brews’ Winter Beer Fest (December 16-18, 2011). These undertakings are a testament to our never-ending appreciation for perennial prosting that occurs here on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Here at Brewpublic there is nothing we like more than soaking in the colder, darker, and more aqueous days with some of the year’s finest heartier offerings. 2011 is no exception to the breathtaking bounty of beauteous brews making their way to shelves and taps of some of the region’s best establishments. Here’s a look at 50 wintry warmers that you mustn’t forgo:
- Ninkasi Sleigh’r: Described as a Dark Double Alt Ale, this choice seasonal release from Eugene, Oregon’s biggest brewery easily tops the list of brews to reach for during the chillier months. With a dark ruby-brown body and fluffy whitish papery head, Sleigh’r delivers toasty bready flavor with the perfect spicing of piquant hops. Now a perennial staple, this year’s batch is the best rendition yet, providing allure and sessionability in addition to belly-warming appeal. Look for it on draught and in bottles all over the West Coast.
- Avery Old Jubilation: It’s easy to get promiscuous with the tireless variety of fall and winter releases popping up at every turn. Yet, Boulder, Colorado’s Avery Brewing has begotten something unforgettable and worth continually revisiting with this gorgeous strong ale. Notes of hazelnuts, mocha, and toffee come to life in this complex ale. Pair it with your favorite roast or let it shine on its own. Either way, we guarantee you’ll find solace in this well-built top notch brew.
- Great Divide Hibernation: This English-style old ale lets malt play the lead role in a marriage of scrumptious components. Hazy dark copper colored, Hibernation, despite its name, livens the spirit during the drab days of December, bringing a well-deserved floral component to its mealy, chewy underpinning. Find this fortifying tipple in six-packs and on tap wherever worthy craft beer is mongered.
- Dick’s Double Diamond: The late Dick Young was a visionary when it came to craft beer. From his beer oasis in Centralia, Washington, Young revealed his passion for the craft and his appreciation for deep powder. The bottle pictures Young enjoying another of his passions – hitting the slopes. Notes of caramel, spice, and nuts dance on the tongue and develop further upon each sip. Piny citrus hops linger in the background of this 7.5% ABV treat, and beckon return visits to that happy place.
- Deschutes Jubelale: A seasonal staple that marks the entry of this festive season, Deschutes Jubelale returns each year in new handsomely packaged bottles designed by regional artists (this year’s release features collaborative art of Central Oregon artists Cara Thayer and Louie Van Patten on the label). Dark, and malty and with adequate hoppiness to counterbalance, Jubel lays out hints of chicory, earthy, and fruit within a spry amber body, topped with a welcoming off-white top. It isn’t a true Cascadian winter unless you’ve sipped on your fair share of Jubelale.
- Pyramid Snow Cap: Since the early days of Hart Brewing in Kalama, Washington to today’s more nationally known incarnation, Snow Cap has remained a wintertime staple for beer enthusiasts. Brewed in the spirit of England, Snow Cap delivers 2-Row, Caramel, and Chocolate malts juxtaposed with a melding of Northwest and English hop varietals to reveal a highly drinkable and bold balance. Uncap a bottle or seek it out on draught when the opportunity arises, for you will not be disappointed.
- Upright Billy The Mountain: The Zappa and jazz obsessed founder of Portland’s Upright Brewing, Alex Ganum is as much a foodie as he is a beer lover. This is quite evident in this unique soon to be released old ale blend. 2011’s release of Billy is quite different than in years past, bringing malt, oak, and wine complexities to the dinner table. Blending newer and older beers and adding a wild spice of Brettanomyces to the mix, Billy ’11 in its third release, is what Ganum declares as his best yet. Dark, deep, and worth cellaring, this vintage is sure to be sought after trade bait for those in the know.
- Sierra Nevada Celebration: Perhaps the best example of how to combine deep malts and floral hops into a winter ale, this year’s Celebration is arguably the best version yet. This dry-hopped festive brew is amber bodied with a lasting whitish head and a highly luring nose to quell your humbuggery. With an approachable 6.8% ABV and unapologetic 65 bittering units, the spine of Two-Row and Caramel malts allow Cascade and Centennial hops to linger on the tongue, resulting in one hell of a refreshing beer that would likely suit any season.
- Oakshire Ill-Tempered Gnome: When Oakshire founder Jeff Althouse brought brewmaster Matt Van Wyk on his team a few years back, this proved to be one of the greatest move the Eugene, Oregon brewery could have made. The Gnome is a shining example of Van Wyk’s brewing prowess, instituting flavors of bread, nuts, coffee, and dark fruit in this hoppy brown ale. Making use of liberal additions of four hop varieties, the Gnome lays the foundation with six different malts that leave us demanding more and more.
- Lompoc C-son’s Greetings: Here’s one for the hop heads. A vamped up model of Lompoc’s beloved C-Note Imperial Pale, C-son’s, a bold 8% ABV IIPA hosts seven dry hop varieties (Crystal, Cluster, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus and Challenger) to lay out a load of lupulinous love for the heads. A rich caramel body carries out the deed and serves to warm the cockles of our demanding livers. Find it in 22-ounce bottles and on tap around the area.
- Alaskan Smoked Porter: For the 23rd time, Alaskan Brewing returns this smoked wonder that has taken Great American Beer Fest gold a whopping 20 times. Likened to a campfire, this alderwood smoked gem. It’s signature dark, robust body and unmistakable smoky flavor each vintage unforgettable. One of the most remarkable beers to cellar, you can lay a bomber down for up to a decade and return to it feeling satisfied. The 2011 is out now, so what are you waiting for?
- Hopworks Abominable: Another stellar organic release from the purveyors of hoppy joy is this year’s Abominable. Made with high alpha hops and a malty girth to back it, “A-bomb” is not your typical spiced winter release. In fact, no spices other than lush hops are utilized in this behemoth. At 7.3% ABV and 70 IBU, this mystical creature is prepared to both shock and delight your senses. Look for it throughout the end of the year in 22-ounce bottles and on draught at select locations.
- Lagunitas Sucks: Lagunita’s anything but sucks, and this one-off seasonal is living proof. Due to a mishap with some brewing tanks that got caught up in a Caribbean hurricane while being delivered, the Petaluma, California brewery’s Brown Shugga’ did not come to be. Instead, we are consoled with this substitute beer described as “a ‘Cereal Medley’ of Barley, Rye, Wheat, and Oats…. Full of complexishness from the 4 grains, and weighing in at 7.6% ABV, Then joyously dry-hopped for that big aroma and resinous hop flavor.” If you are a fan of Lagunita’s sappy house hop twang, than you’ll be right at home with this beer. Suck one down!
- Walking Man High Road: The first release of this big malty scotch ale appeared last month at Walking Man’s 11th Anniversary event in Stevenson, Washington. Brewer Dan Munch revived the brew, a 10% ABV tyrant with a leggy chestnut-brown body and soft pillowy off-white head. Notes of raisins and molasses allude to a faint hint of peatiness. Sticky and worth giving time to evolve with warmth, it is in your best interest to take the High Road and approach with caution. RIYL: fireside sitting with a favorite cigar.
- Widmer Brrr: An easy candidate for our favorite beer of 2011, Widmer’s Brrr is a tactfully executed wonder of modern brewing. Like many others listed here, Brrr is both big on malts and hops, but strikes an unforgettable balance between the two paradigms (7.2% ABV, 50 IBU). Pale, Caramel, Carapils, and Dark Chocolate malts combine to result in an unmistakable shade of amber that glistens beneath its cozy beige head. If you are so fortunate, you should try a bourbon barrel-aged styling of this beaut known as Brrrbon, from Widmer’s Alchemy Series.
- Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws: When brewmaster Alan Sprints nails this beer, her really nails it. A deep copper color and an intense hop character are telltale signs of the Doggie. Says Sprints “I use Simcoe and Amarillo hops along with Organic Pilsner malt, British crystal and dark wild flower honey collected on Mt. Hood. The beer is ready to drink now but will improve with age.” Dig out your favorite vintage and share it with your beer geek buddies. The 2011 vintage is particular savory, and it would certainly be in your best interest to experience it again.
- Pike Auld Acquaintance: Somewhere between a spicy Christmas cookie and a sessionable hoppy pale ale lies one of Seattle’s finest winter brews. Auld Acquaintance has become a friend to our sensory with the charm of orange, nutmeg, and cinnamon and a glamorous array of Northwest hops. Scared off by beers with spices in them? Withhold your judgment until you give this one a chance – 5% ABV sessionability that is rare in a winter ale, PAA might have you caught with your hand in the cookie jar, so to speak…
- Rogue Yellow Snow: Don’t let the name turn you away. This beer is far from fizzy yellow piss. Discerningly floral pale ale around 7% ABV, Yellow snow’s captivating olfactory appeal is worked out through the interplay of Amarillo hops and complementary Pacman house yeast. Hop heads, this is a winter brew for you!
- Heater Allen Sandy Paws: When it comes to lager brews in Oregon, none do it as prolifically well as McMinnville’s Heater Allen Brewing. Sandy Paws is a choice Baltic Porter with a blackish amber body and a khaki head. Lots of toffee, caramelized sugar, and mild roast with a milky rounded mouthfeel are the signature characteristics of this doggie. Fans of grainy, cereal killers should find a home in this winner.
- Laurelwood Vinter Varmer: If you squirreled this beer away, now may be a good time to break it out. Possessing a malty backbone with a hoppy bite drinking this beer in front of the fire will make you think winter is back in full effect. The brewery puts it best when they say “A blend of six malts and four hops creates an ale with deep caramel character, spicy hop flavor and a dry roasty finish. It’s spelled differently because it’s Vonderful.” For a winter brew, the Varmer is very approachable 6.4% ABV with loads of pleasant nutty roastiness. A special firkin of VV with candied nuts was poured at our KillerBeerFest at Bailey’s Taproom this year, and remains one of our favorites to date.
- BridgePort Ebenezer: Fitting into the realm of beers like Deschtues Jubelale, Pyramid Snowcap, and Great Divide Hibernation, Ebenezer has a distinct English influence imposed. The crisp nuttiness bequeathed from the Whitbread yeast feasts upon four different roasted malts and gives it a not too assertive impression. Mahogany hued, great with food, and ready to be subdued, dude.
- Alameda Papa Noel’s: A true Portland winter warmer original, this old ale is a dark mahogany hued favorite of ours. Boatloads of dark dry fruits and creamy grassy hints team up to deliver a liquid interpretation of Oregon winter. The big frothy beige head holds a handsome bouquet of assertive chewy waves of flavor. Dip into the Alameda Brewhouse now to get your taste. The brewpub will also release a special Moonlight Reserve edition of the Papa Noel’s featuring additional flavors of oak and bourbon that has been aging for a year.
- New Belgium 2 Below: Much like their Fat Tire Amber Ale, 2 Below from New Belgium is a very polarizing beer. Love it or hate it, there is that distinct biscuitiness that come with the employment of Victory malt. Pale, Munich, Caramel, and C-80 round it out before a dose of European dry-hops – Target, Sterling, Liberty. The outcome is a spicy, bready, nutty amalgam that has New Belgium’s signature all over it.
- He’Brew Jewbelation 15:15: Holy Shmaltz! Now in its 15th year, He’Brew’s Jewbelation cranks it up to 15% ABV with this monstrously mammoth brew featuring 15 hops and 15 malts. Is this a shtick to pair with founder Jeremy Cowan’s clever numerology? Maybe, but one this is certain, this beer is one to not mess with. The question here is: How many more years can He’Brew grow this beer? Will they turn to ice distillation or barrel aging to achieve beers approaching 20% ABV? We’re not certain. But we will find out. For now, enjoy this kick in the pants. L’Chaim!
- Barley Brown’s Sled Wreck: Barley Brown’s brewmeister Shawn Kelso has an affinity for big boisterous beers. Sled Wreck is no exception. A tug-o-war of sweet and bitter flavors that finish in a headspinning whirl of intensity. However, older vintages have mellowed nicely and Kelso’s added a few twists to his brew. At our 3rd Annual KillerBeerFest, Kelso graced us with the first tastes of this year’s batch, and like in years past, we were very pleased . Sharp brown sugar with a bit of high alpha citrusness work together for an intense end result.
- Burnside Permafrost: Welcome in Burnside Brewing’s first winter seasonal. Brewed by former Roots Organic brewmaster Jason McAdam, Permafrost is a big, biting, bitter beast (8.3% ABV, 77 IBU) brewed with seven different malts and copious amounts of Columbia and Amarillo hops. It’s a chewy, juicy jamboree of flavors that can easily cut through the harshest chill that the season can throw at us. Stop by the brewery and get yourself a taste today!
- Amnesia Frosty’s Revenge: The number to keep in mind is 8. Not only is it symbolic of this 8% ABV winter ale returning for the eighty year, but it is also a number that is shaped like a snowman. Frosty’s is one of a handful of winter seasonals that will be featured at Amnesia’s Winter Ale Fest this weekend, and will likely win your heart like the Humphrey Bogart character skipping around town with his corncob pipe and button nose. From the North Pole to North Portland, Frosty’s is a winter winner worthy of return tastes.
- Coalition Lost Glove: This American Strong Ale from Portland’s Coalition Brewing debuted this year at Holiday Ale Fest and is currently available at the SE Ankeny brewpub while supplies last. At 8% ABV, this orange-brown bodied beer is a sweet bready ale with a wallop of hops. Dry bitterness and a creamy mouthfeel are notable components of this choice winter warmer that you will want to adhere to.
- Full Sail Wreck the Halls: When it comes to holiday ales that pair well with pizza, there is none better than Full Sail’s Wreck. As part of the brewery’s Brewer’s Reserve Series, this hoppy delight is a “sublime hybrid of an American IPA and winter warmer.” Centennial hops linger on the palate from this 6.5% ABV, 68 IBU titan. Pick one up today in a 22-ounce bottle or get it fresh on draught at Full Sails brewpubs.
- Bison Brewing Gingerbread Ale: This holiday porter from Berkeley, California’s Bison Brewing lives up to the gingerbread name with prominent ginger and nutmeg flavors. There is also a dash of cinnamon to work with the chewy malts. Dauntingly robust from the use of 2-Row, Caramel, Chocolate, Roast barley, and Black malts, this ale can liven up a squash soup, or stand out on its own as a remarkable holiday sipper.
- Vertigo Left Nut Brown: Released this year at the 16th Annual Holiday Ale Festival, this brew from Hillsboro, Oregon’s Vertigo Brewing features Golden Promise malt base to give it the distinct nutty character of its name sake. Six pounds of honey in the batch adds dryness and sweetness betwixt a healthy dosing of Northern Brewer and Mt Hood hops. Clean, crisp, and very malt-forward, Left Nut can found on tap at a handful of craft accounts around the Portland metro area.
- Anchor Our Special Ale: Better known as Anchor Christmas Ale, this ever changing specimen with ever changing label has been released each year since 1975. Anchor is a true pioneer in craft brewing and though they recently sold the company, the tradition continues. Different flavors emerge in each bottle and with each year. The brewery will not disclose the recipe of their beloved seasonal, so you will have to get in there and figure it out for yourself. One thing is for certain, the beer tastes like Christmas in a bottle.
- Southern Oregon Brewing Old Humbug : Here is a traditional winter warmer ale from one of Oregon’s finest brewery. In this beer you will find a hint of molasses flavors from a rich malt bill that includes Rahr 2-Row, Briess Carapils, Castle Special B, Castle Aromatic, Weyermann Carafa II, and Weyermann Dark Wheat.The 8.2% ABV brew is generously hopped (77 IBU) with Nuggets, Cascades, and Warriors.Find it on tap and in 22’s at SOB’s tasting room in Medford and at select taprooms around Portland.
- Alesmith Yulesmith: Though winters in San Diego, California are nowhere near as cold as here in Cascadia, this winter rendition of Alesmith’s twice a year release is completely fitting for our frostier conditions. The red and green labeled release is an imperial red ale that is a bit maltier than the blue and red labeled summer release. And though quite malty and alcoholic (9.5% ABV), the winter Yule is quite a hoppy specimen. Approach with caution and optimism.
- Block 15 Figgy Pudding: Like the song says, we all love a Figgy Pudding. Inspired by the English fruit cake, Corvallis, Oregon’s Block 15 flexes this late fall release,an 11% ABV champion that comes in affable 750 ml bottles, caged and corked. The brew is aged in brandy barrels before conditioning with mission figs, Ceylon cinnamon and nutmeg. Supplies are quite limited, so get after one while you still can…
- Natian Old Grogham: This winter IPA from Northeast Portland’s darling nanobrewers is served in a glass, though it might as well come with a fork and knife as well. Sweet, creamy, and unforgettable, Old Grogham is blasted out with fragrant and bittering Northwest hops. You may have had it at Holiday Ale Fest this year and remember it being one of the hoppiest winter releases on hand. Kudos to brewer Ian McGuinness for hitting a homerun with this deliciously decadent beer!
- Elysian Bi-Frost: Hopheads will take pleasure in this winter warmer from Seattle’s finest brewery. A golden-orange bodied winter warmer with a thick rocky white head. 7.5% ABV, 58 IBU – Bi-Frost is all about the choice Munich and Crystal hops livened up by healthy additions of Amarillo and Sterling Gold finishing hops. If you are so lucky, get your mitts on the doubled up version of this one known as Bye Bye, a top pick of ours at this year’s Holiday Ale Fest.
- Cascade Lakes Slippery Slope: Slippery Slope is described by the Redmond, Oregon brewery as “one smooth, wintery ride.” And they ain’t lyin’. This full-bodied ale uses crystal malt and generous amounts of Cascade hops to produce a tempered seasonal ale. Fans of the English-inspired Northwest winter warmers will likely find joy in this favorably sweet, creamy, and hoppilicious brew.
- Fort George North V: Each year Fort George of Astoria, Oregon changes up the recipe for their winter North series. Last year the brew was likened to a Christmas tree by utilizing spruce tips. This year the growing brewery has concocted a fruit cake in a bottle/glass. Multiple malt varieties in this strong ale carry a fruit concoction including pineapple, cherry, and lemon before closing the book with boldly bitter Saaz and Cascade hops.
- Cascade Drie Zwarte Pieten Sang Noir: Here is a classic example of a style defined by itself, though likened to the red ales of Belgium’s Flanders region. A distinctly tart wild ale fermented with Lactobacillus, Sang Noir (meaning “black blood”) is a 9.5% ABV double red aged over a year in Pinot and whiskey barrels before being blended with a barrel of bing cherries. The result is a deep, dark, and complex sour ale. Warning: this beer is not for everyone, but we absolutely love it.
- The Bruery 4 Calling Birds: The fourth release in this Orange County, California’s 12 days/years of Christmas Series (hence the name) is an 11% ABV spiced strong dark ale. With Belgian yeast typical of the brewery, gingerbread spices are used to offer a myriad of nuances to this robust dark ale. From the brewery: “Notes of licorice & banana bread mingle with dark fruit, molasses and bitter chocolate for a perfect cold weather sipper.” You know it’s true love if she/he brings you one of these!
- Pelican Bad Santa: Not likely to be found in the hand of a potty-mouthed drunken mall Santa despite the name, Pelican of Pacific City, Oregon offers this Cascadian Dark Ale with a twist. Brewed with dehusked black malt as well as a variety of other barleys, Bad Santa is a moderately roasty 6.7% 70 IBU ale featuring English Fuggles hops as well as high-alpha Magnums. Don’t expect to find it around Portland. You might have to make the pilgrimage out to the Oregon Coast if you desire a quaff.
- Caldera Old Growth: This Imperial Stout hailing from Ashland, Oregon is one of the best beers we have enjoyed this year. A viscous 8.8% ABV body composed of Premium Two Row, Munich, Crystal, Brown Pale Chocolate, and Chocolate malts and spiced with Galena and Willamette hops, Old Growth also accentuates the roasty, chewy, chocolaty notes with a bit of black licorice. A seasonal offering released as part of the Kettle Series, look to pair a bottle of this exotic beer with your favorite dark holiday chocolate.
- Terminal Gravity Festivale: Brewed in the style of the English old ale, this seasonal release from TG of the far northeast corner of Oregon in Enterprise brings huge hop and malt flavors to light. With a boozy 8.3% ABV alco-finish, this deep ruby brown bodied ale with cascading cream head is now on shelves in 12-ounce bottles and on tap where choice beer is served.
- Fish Tale Winter Fish: From Olympia, Washington comes this snappily hopped winter warmer. Claiming to not be just another “hoppy brown beer masquerading as a season”, Winterfish uses Pale and Honey malts beneath a fat helping of Yakima Chinook hops and more Yak-Chins in the hop-back. At 7.5% ABV, you can enjoy this beer through March, as a true winter beer should be enjoyed.
- Big Sky Powder Hound: Available through January, this winter release from Missoula, Montana’s Big Sky Brewing is another shining example of what fortuitous malts and brightly floral hops can achieve. With a clear copper-amber body to the tune of 7.2% ABV, the key element to this beer’s success is the generous helping of hops that round it out. Hallertau, Pallisade, and the always venerable Amarillo hops make for one kickass snowday delight.
- Rock Bottom Blitzen: This beer is soon to be history as the pub is down to their last few kegs. According to brewer Bolt Minister, Blitzen 2011 is a “dubbel and a half”, meaning that it falls somewhere between a Belgian dubbel and trippel. The 6.6% ABV brew was fermented with Ardennes yeast for a unique peppery quality. Still on at Rock Bottom is their Old Fozziwig Barleywine, a strong ale/barleywine that was brewed as a pale ale in a 12-hour boil. Brewmaster Charlie Hutchins says the beer aged two months on oak giving it more astringency than oak flavor. Rock Bottom is a top choice for hand crafted seasons, so check ‘em out!
- Port Santa’s Little Helper: Here’s one big ass Russian Imperial Stout from Port Brewing of San Marcos, California. Originally brewed in 1997 at Pizza Port in Solana Beach, Santa’s is produced with copious amounts of Roasted and Black Barleys. The mouthfeel is silky and the flavors point to coffee, chocolate and a hint of ash. At 10.5% ABV, this gigantor is not to be taken lightly. Look for bottles in Washington and California. Sorry, Oregon.
- Maritime Pacific Jolly Roger: A bold winter warmer ale (8% ABV), Jolly Roger warns you: “prepare to be boarded!” It’s a dark copper colored beer with a deceptively smooth flavor. Lots of leafy hops sparkle atop the base. Notes of biscuit, caramel, and honey with a breadth of complexity tucked within, sipping this brew as it warms is a real treat. Look for barrel-aged renditions of the beer tapped at their Seattle taproom.
- Lazy Boy Mistletoe Bliss: Everett, Washington’s Lazy Boy brewing describes this winter seasonal as “a brown ale on steroids.” This 7.5% ABV beer is made with Pale, Crystal, Munich, Brown, Vienna, and Chocolate malts and spiced with Ahtanum hops. On rare occasion, brewer Shawn Loring has been known to throw some holiday spices into the mix to liven it up. Seek it out in 22-ounce bottles or on tap around the Pacific Northwest.
Well, there you have it, 50 must taste winter beers to liven up your season. Do you have any favorites we might have missed? If so, leave a comment and let us know what you’ve been enjoying. Cheers!
Ok, now I have a goal to try every one before Christmas. Tried 36 so far.
I brought back a bottle of Port’s Santa’s Little Helper from California a couple of weeks ago. Saving for Christmas Eve probably (when Santa needs a little helper!).
Probably your longest post. Nice job Angelo!
is that pretty much ever single winter seasonal?
Only available draft in Washington State – the classic winter and year-round favorite from Foggy Noggin Brewing – Christmas Duck (Porter) needs to be added to this list.
My company’s blog, Eco 18, has a relevant article to yours posted. I think you and your readers would enjoy it.
Great, massive list Angelo! If I were going to try these all in one night, do you have a suggested order?