Cold fermented beers and lagers finish clean and light and make a nice complement to the warmer months. But winter is a whole different ball game. Downright depressing at times, you’ll need a warm companion and a solid pick-me-up to not only chase away the blues, but also to reassure, inspire and shore up your resolve. That’s all before you start counting down the days till daylight savings time.
Winter driving, tire chains and sitting up late to see if school will be cancelled are no time for citrus. A little melodrama goes a long way and winter ales should literally sweep in, take control like a solid housekeeper and set your affairs in order. Some comfort is due whether you’re fireside or watching the snow fall outside your window – or watching it all on the TV from Scottsdale, Arizona.
While winter ales are especially prominent in USA, Belgium and the United Kingdom, just about any ale, even the palest, are going to be a little warmer, and can be served a little warmer than their warm weather cousins.
Warm Fermented Means Warmer Drinking, Too
As mentioned above, lagers and beers are fermented a lot colder and slower so they get a cleaner finish and a less contemplative character. Winter times, just about any ale will give you a lot more robust palette in part because they’re fermented a lot warmer – somewhere between 60° and 75° Fahrenheit. That means, nearly always, a more full-bodied mouthful. And after the spicier holiday brews are back off the shelves, it can also mean you get to choose from heartier, heavier and more filling beers to help you contemplate.
Most Americans can’t find Belgium on a map or say the name of Dogfish Head brewery’s “Raison D’Etre” for that matter. Deep mahogany in color, one of these will make your evening, if not your whole week, and it goes with just about any kind of beef. This one’s got some fruit too. But not that fakey, perfumey spice fruit from before the holidays. The Dogfish will give you more a sense of wine and raisins. Think aged older fruits rather than the brighter flavors of harvest and autumn.
A Victory for Complexity
Then there’s Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Winter here has lasted since about 1950, and the Victory Brewing Co. since about 1996. At that, the Golden Monkey Ale is available, in limited quantities, in about 36 states in the USA and a few locations around the world. Again, it’s a Belgian style tripel, with an ABV of about 9.5%. One of them should set you up for the night. Most of the ingredients are imported, but don’t let that throw you. Victory is as American as, well, Belgian French Fries?
Pour this one cold at 45° and let it warm up in the glass a little. It’s actually a little lighter looking than what you might expect in a winter ale, but it’s got character. It is spicy. But don’t think cinnamon and all-spice and Holly Hobby beer. All that Tripel yeast gives it a bread-like, heady character that make it perfect for winter. Sweet and gingery, there’s some honey too. It’s complicated, and like we said above, a little bit of melodrama is not going to kill you.
Between France and Germany
Ok. We can’t just come out and say “it’s a French Ale,” so let’s say it’s the Germanest Ale from Germanest part of France. Brasserie Fischer d’Alsace is even owned, now, after nearly two centuries as a French company, by Dutch mega-brewer Heineken. And it’s brewed in Schiltigheim, the French suburb of German Strasbourg. So after all that, it’s still a French ale! Confused? Don’t be. Drinking a Fischer Amber Ale should be like popping good Champagne. Accompanying hearty winter eats is possibly better with this perhaps the most Lager-y of ales, too. Not terribly heavy, it’ll be cleaner going down and easier to pair up with all kinds of your winter favorites.
Stout and Famous, Too
On the other extreme, if you’re settling in for a blizzard and determined to drink multiples, let’s talk about stout. You really can achieve among the most pleasant of winter memories in a couple of Murphy’s Irish Stouts and still get up to face the day. A good dry stout should hit you with a strong bitter note and dry palate. That’s in addition to a general sense of calm and well-being that helps even if you’re arguing over cable TV.
As this is after all, a solid ale that you can, and arguably should, serve at just under room temperature, it’s a warm complement to an afternoon or an evening indoors. A brisk walk outside immediately after can be particularly gratifying too. Of course, corned beef and cabbage are an excellent pairing choice if you’re counting down to Saint Patrick’s day.
In any case, winter is something to celebrate. A comforting winter ale ought to be a highlight to all your munchies, or the dinner of the century, and it can be. Choose carefully, enjoy with moderation, and let us know your own perfect winter ale in the comments below.
This article was written by james t. James is a freelance writer enjoying the sunny, warm weather of Mexico City and drinking deliciously ice cold Mexican beer while you freeze your behind off. He is a craft beer connoisseur and contributes to several beer and wine publications.