15 of the Best Winter Beers
As you may be aware of, the Northwest Brewing News recently released their best of list known as “the Readers Choice Awards.” This list is a partially accurate list of some of the best brewpubs, beer bars, breweries, and beer types. Despite some obvious ballet stuffing, the list outlines a depiction of some of the region’s favorite brew culture. Inspired by the year-end best of lists as well as the amazing lineup of brews featured recently at the Holiday Ale Fest, Brewpublic felt compelled to offer a short list of some of the best seasonally appropriate beers to try. Here’s 15 beers not to miss this winter. Find ’em at your favorite beer stores and pubs around the Northwest.
1. He’Brew Vertical Jewbelation – An amazing specimen, this beer from Shmaltz Brewing Co. is a blend of all seven recipes of Jewbelation aged in Sazerac six-year rye whiskey barrels. This beer is the quintessential ideal of complexity in an American ale. Notes range from sweet vine-ripened grape to prunes and figs. Toasted toffee notes rise from a nice looking gray-tan head that will have you saying “L’Chaim” to extreme Jewish brewing.
2. Nøgne Ø Winter Ale Islay Edition – According to the brewery, only about 60 cases of Nøgne barrel-aged brews found their way to the United States. We found a 500 ml bottle of this rendition of their popular winter ale at Belmont Station and were immediately inundated by a bold “not subtle” whiff of Irish whiskey. Further, the beer drinks seemingly bolder than its 8.5% ABV. The Islay Edition is a true winter warmer with big Chloraseptic-esque medicinal essence. Caveat Emptor.
3. 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.
4. Alaskan Baltic Porter – We grabbed a few 2008 bottles of this perennial gem at The Bier Stein in Eugene and recently cracked another. To our delight, this beer maintained an excellent balance of booze and woodiness along with the substantial amounts of specialty malts, dark cherries and vanilla beans added. Alaskan Baltic Porter is unapologetically deep, dense beer with a variety of aromas and flavors. Perfect for the throes of winter…or any day of the year that beckons badass boldness.
5. Ninkasi Sleigh’r Double Alt – Ninkasi is not afraid to rock your ass with hops in most of their beers. However with this malt-driven winter warmer, an salutatory balance grapefruit hops complemented by excellent malt spine that shines and deserves an ovation. Grainy biscuit, crisp nuttiness, and sweet fruitiness all align to result in one perfect beer.
6. Sierra Nevada Celebration – Is there a better beer than Sierra Nevada Celebration? It’s got it all from floral and bitter hop character, big malt oomph, and a beautiful look and smell. A pale ale on steroids but without failing from unbalancedness, Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale is another brew in their portfolio of American craft brew revolution originals. Somewhere between an assertive IPA, with the grapefruit and pine notes, and a nice amber or winter warmer with fabulous malt gusto, Celebration has some cellarability but we love it fresh on tap best.
7. Oakshire Ill-Tempered Gnome – An English inspired ale with a Northwest attitude, Oakshire’s Gnome has garnered a cult following in the few years since its been produced. Dark ruby brown bodied with beckoning notes of brown sugar, raisins, and toffee makes the Gnome hold all the favorite attributes of a beloved Northwest winter warmer. Hints of black strap molasses and citrus hops showcase brewmaster Matt Van Wyk’s affinity for flavor profiles that excite and challenge the palate.
8. Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza – Jolly Pumpkin brews all have that certain “it” quality about them. Maybe it’s the amalgamation of tart funk and brisk fruity hops. Or, maybe it’s just the vanilla and chocolate notes coupled with a background bourbon bite. Whatever it may be, this dark amber-brown ale provides new innuendos upon each sip. Zesty spice washes into a tannic woodiness. This Belgian Christmas ale from Dexter, Michigan is a surprising 9% ABV that can easily serve as a conversation centerpiece for any beer geek holiday dinner.
9. St. Bernardus Christmas – Undeniably a world class beer, this abby ale is is the youngest descendant in the illustrious family of delicious Abbey Ales by Brewery St. Bernardus. This specialty beer of 10% ABV is characterized by its deep dark color, with a creamy, thick head and a full, almost velvety taste and a fruity nose. It’s a seasonal ale, brewed annually for the holiday season fit for the long winter nights and perfect moments to savor with or without friends and to enjoy its unique, complex taste and after-taste.
10. Alameda Papa Noel’s Olde Ale – A true Portland winter warmer original, Papa 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. Come December 8, the brewpub will release a special Moonlight Reserve edition of the Papa Noel’s featuring additional flavors of oak and bourbon.
11. 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.
12. 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 KillerBeerFest, he debuted his first Belgian-style beer, a “Trappist” version of Sled Wreck. Sharp brown sugar with a bit of high alpha citrusness work together for an intense end result.
13. Block 15 Figgy Pudding -Block 15 is quickly become an Oregon favorite since their inception in 2007. The Figgy Pudding bolsters such praise. The Corvallis brewery’s first official bottle release, Figgy tastes as a perfect dessertif beer. Employing rich English character, the brew offers a bold boozy presence without much sweetness. Founder Nick Arzner says “Inspired by a 16th century English Christmas cake our Figgy Pudding is brewed with English Pale & Specialty malts & molasses and fermented with London ale yeast. After fermentation we matured Figgy Pudding in brandy barrels before conditioning with mission figs, Ceylon cinnamon and nutmeg; our idea of the perfect Holiday ale. At 11% ABV, Figgy Pudding is the perfect beer to age in your cellar and break out for special occasions.” Bring one right here!
14. Amnesia Sleighjerker -Pours a dark brown-black body with little tan-beige head. Nose of sweet malty, chewy grains and gritty loveliness. Sweet raisiny fruits and plummy favorability. This is quickly becoming a Portland winter classic. Our sleigh was fully jerked by this beer available around town on tap. Citric chewy nutty and biting hops in the finish. Very nutty and winterific. Keep this beer in mind if you decide to explore Portland’s beer scene in the winter.
15. Double Mountain Fa La La La La – Fans of the original Full Sail Wreck the Halls or Sierra Nevada Celebration ale will find that it is in fact the season for a big, malty hop bomb like Double Mountain’s Fa La La La La. Co-founder Charlie Devereux says “We load up our holiday brew up with enough Centennials to fill Santa’s toy bag. A big malt bill provides a rich counterpoint to all those hops.” Brewed with organic Pilsner and Munich malt, imported crystal malts, and Centennial hops, this 7.6% ABV, 83 BU is a real sled-full. Draught only, so get it at better beer bars while you can.
These fine brews are just the tip of the iceberg. Find your favorite winter beer and let us know about it!
I’d throw in Hopworks’ Kentucky Christmas–now pouring (but probably only for a little while longer) at the brewery.