Beer is one of the few alcoholic beverages that is truly seasonal. In the summer months, local breweries serve up crisp lagers that take the edge off muggy July afternoons. However, beer aficionados know that winter ales are often some of a brewery’s most inspired offerings.
Holiday ales should be an integral part of any winter gathering with your friends and family. These ales, also called winter warmers, are typically dark, malty and filled with holiday spices and a high alcohol percentage. Many have traces of nutmeg and some even have hints of pine. The Vanguard sampled seven winter warmers from Northwest breweries and rated them on a one-to-five scale.
Snow Plow is a milk stout, which means that it actually has milk in it, giving Widmer’s seasonal offering a creamy texture. It isn’t as dark or heavy as expected, which may be an advantage because many seasonal beers suffer from being too thick. Definitely a dessert beer, Snow Plow would go quite well with chocolate or another rich after-dinner treat.
The Ebenezer has a fruitier complexion than the other winter warmers and is also quite a bit bubblier. It’s pretty malty and has a nice tangy bite but is in no way bitter. This beer should go quite nicely with traditional holiday fare, cutting through heavy gravy and gamey dark meat from your Christmas goose.
While Jubelale certainly smells nice, it lacks a specific taste. This doesn’t mean that it’s bad. For the most part, Jubelale is a nice, hoppy dark beer that benefits from cheerful, festive packaging and a satisfying, smooth finish. With a 6.7 percent alcohol content, this ale will light a fire in your belly and surely live up to its billing as a winter warmer.
Big Sky Brewing Co.
Powder Hound is Big Sky’s winter offering, and it is pretty gross. It is easily the most bitter of the beers we’ve tasted, and it has a dissatisfying finish where the bitterness is most noticeable. For those looking to get sloshed, beware: Powder Hound’s alcohol content is only 6.2 percent and it’s as expensive as every other microbrew on the market. Better than Pabst, but not much. And it’s twice the cost.
Wassail is easily the thickest beer we’ve sampled, and that is not necessarily a good thing. It’s hard to get through more than a single beer, even though the flavor is laced with holiday spices and tastes just fine. However, the consistency of this malt-heavy beer is sludgy, which is never a good thing. Wassail would go well with dessert, when one drink will probably be all you need to send you off to a long nap.
In the same vein as the Ebenezer, Celebration Ale is relatively light and refreshing. Brewed by Sierra Nevada, this year’s batch of Celebration Ale might not be as good as previous incarnations, but it still stands up well against the competition. Drink this beer with your holiday meal and if you like lighter winter warmers, consider making this your go-to ale for the winter season.
Kris Kringle is a great winter warmer and is of the same high quality as McMenamins’ regular offerings. A little darker than the popular Hammerhead, the Kringle features cinnamon and ginger as its main flavors. Along with the Ebenezer, the Kringle is the best of the bunch this year. The only disadvantage? Kris Kringle isn’t sold in stores, so you have to go to a McMenamins to get one.