As winter settles in, many of us look to heartier foods to keep us warm and satisfied. While filling your plate, consider trying beers to match—darker ales with a richer body and a bit more warmth from a higher alcohol content and accompanying spices. It may be just what you need to get you through a cold winter night.
Many breweries have more robust versions of standard beers that are welcome come winter, and Upland Brewing Company’s Teddy Bear Kisses certainly fits this category. A Russian imperial stout, this beer’s intense bitterness comes from both hops and darkly roasted malts, while chocolate undertones and a malty sweetness provide balance. It also has a significant kick, with an alcohol content of 10 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). This year, Upland brewers are also offering three bourbon barrel-aged versions of this beer, including variations with coffee and coconut additions.
If you are looking for hardy winter beers with a bit less hop intensity, try The Tap’s winter seasonals. Snowdrift is an English strong ale with sweet flavors of caramelized malts and raisins, balanced by a moderate hoppiness. Frostbite is a Belgian dark ale that is a bit deeper in color and body, slightly sweeter, and less bitter, with some hints of fruit and spice from its Belgian yeast. Both beers are pretty potent, at 7.8 percent ABV and 8.4 percent ABV, respectively, so you will notice a slight alcohol bite up front, and warmth as it goes down.
While these ales are good seasonal matches because of their richness and warmth, other beers take the extra step of adding spices many of us associate with the winter holidays—mixtures of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves that are interesting alternatives to the spiciness beer usually gets only from hops.
Locally, both Big Woods Brewing and The Tap offer holiday-focused beers. Big Woods’ Santa Quaff is a hefty 8.7 percent ABV brown ale packed with nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. The fragrance of this beer is delightful, and the combination of spices and alcohol warmth will fight off the worst winter chill. The Tap’s Gingerbeer’d Man is a sweet brown ale that adds cinnamon and a bit of ginger to what a server described as a “Christmas cookie in a glass.” At 6.4 percent ABV, it’s on the lower end of winter seasonals, closer in alcohol content to most IPAs. If you want to try other winter seasonals, your favorite bottle shop can provide a range of holiday-themed beers to explore.
These hefty beers are sippers, which is nice because you can appreciate the complex flavors changing a bit as the brew warms slightly in your glass. If you decide you want to try them out, you might pick up a few bottles or a growler to enjoy on the couch or in front of the fireplace, since these winter ales tend to be higher in alcohol. And if you do engage in a tasting expedition at a local bar, consider turning over the keys to the sleigh up front and calling a cab for the ride home.
Heavy winter beers aren’t for everyone, and some people prefer their cookies on a plate, but for a change of pace, and as a way to stave off the cold and dark of the winter months, it can be fun to explore the range of winter seasonals.
Greg Siering has been homebrewing since 2006 and is a member of the Bloomington Hop Jockeys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.