The return of winter beer season is perhaps the only part of the over-marketing of the holidays that doesn't make me cringe. When six-packs of winter beers appear at the supermarket - topped with Santa hats or festooned in red and green bows - I rejoice instead of recoil. Crank up the Christmas music bitches! It's winter beer season.
Booze, much like produce, isn't quite right outside it's normal "season." Eating strawberries in November or pumpkins in June, just feels - and usually tastes - wrong. It's the same with booze. No one drinks egg nog in May. And Gin and tonics just don't taste as good on a snowy evening as they do on a hot summer night. I attribute this to SAD, seasonally affected drinking. When done right, seasonally affected drinking works great. In wintertime, that means heading into the ski lodge for a cold, nutty, full-bodied winter ale. Or perhaps building a fire, turning on a basketball game and twisting the cap off a high-octane, hoppy beer.
Note: Most beers, unless otherwise noted, are available in the chill-chest of your local supermarket.
Here are the Top 5 Winter Beers brewed in the Pacific Northwest
Back before there were hundreds of microbreweries in Washington and Oregon, there was Pyramid Brewery. And since 1997, there's been Snow Cap. This winter ale has a chewy malt flavor punctuated with a burnt hoppiness. It almost has an herbal quality to it, like Jaegerrmeister or other herbal liquors. Tasters commented that after awhile though, it tastes like you're drinking liquor. The flavors work, but can be too much.
4) Jolly Roger Christmas Ale (Maritime Pacific Brewing Company, Seattle, 8% ABV)
Much like the smell of gingerbread signals the holiday season is in full swing, so does the intoxicating aroma of Jolly Roger Christmas Ale. This is the quintessential Northwest winter ale. A rich, malty aroma combines with a caramelly sweetness, hint of citrus and a slightly oaky hop flavor. This is definitely a crowd pleasing winter beer, but the earthiness and low head fell flat for me.
3) Jubelale (Deschutes Brewery, Bend OR, 6.7% ABV)
This winter beer has a thick maltiness reminiscent of dark bread, a deep amber color and a caramel-colored head. What's not to love? The sweetness tilts towards raisins and burnt sugar, and the hoppiness leaves a lingering bitter taste on the tongue. Some beer drinkers love this taste, but compared with the #2 and #1 picks, it fell further down the rankings.
2) Sleigh'r Double Dark Alt (Nikasi Brewing Company, Eugene, OR, 7.2% ABV)
The name and logo of this double dark alt-style beer are an obvious nod to speed metal legends Slayer. And since it's inception in 2009, this winter beer has been slaying the competition. The toasty malt flavor and smooth hoppiness lend to its creamy mouthfeel. It's mellow yet pungent, pours a large head and leaves nice foam lacing on the glass. The hoppiness fizzled for me, but it is very drinkable and just missed the 1st place spot by a hopleaf.
(Available in 22-ounce bottles ant most high-end supermarkets or specialty beer shops.)
1) Ho! Ho! Winter Ale (Diamond Knot Brewing Compnay, Mukilteo, 8.5% ABV)
Pour yourself a glass of this winter ale and admire it's clear, chestnut color and thick, tan head. Inhale deeply and enjoy the sweet, fruity nose. Take a sip and savor this lusty winter ale. The tangy hops add a bright, spiciness to this brew, while a toasted, chocolate maltiness balances out the flavor, resulting in a well-balanced winter ale worth seeking out.
(Sold at the Diamond Knot Brewery next to the Mukilteo ferry terminal; or in 22-ounce bottles at most high-end supermarkets or specialty beer shops)