Winter beer for winter time

Samuel Adams Winter Lager. (Supplied)

Samuel Adams Winter Lager. (Supplied)

Jordan St. John, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:40 PM ET

It’s always important to have the right beer for the right occasion. Since it’s now officially Winter, you may have noticed Winter beers popping up on shelves at your local beer store.

Winter beers can be something of a hodge podge of ingredients and influences, since the perception of the season is one of the factors that define the style. Depending on the heritage of a brewery and the brewer’s whims, different selections of spices might be included. It wouldn’t be farfetched to discover that you’re drinking something that resembles gingerbread or mulled cider. In some cases, especially in breweries following English traditions, it’s just an excuse to brew a slightly stronger, darker ale that typically falls under the catchall term “Winter Warmer.”

For the spiced variations, it would be easy to think of them as fruitcake in a bottle. This is not necessarily a welcome comparison, given that the variety of fruit you might find in a fruitcake is generally wider than you would find in Winter beer. Also, there are many people who are fruitcake averse as a result of their Great Aunt’s version of it.

A better comparison might be the pomander, a traditional fragrant ball that was popular in Europe for hundreds of years. While it originally might have consisted of any pleasing pungent aroma, the version that has continued to the present day is an orange stuck with cloves, which has been rolled in Cinnamon, Allspice and Nutmeg to cure it. While they’ve long been a staple Christmas ornament, people in Victorian times hung them in their closets to freshen them up and keep moths at bay. This was before dryer sheets.

The aromas of citrus and spice are present in a few classic examples. If you prefer your spicing subtle, then you will likely want to go with Samuel Adams Winter Lager. At 5.5% alcohol, it’s a malt forward dark wheat bock with a fairly pronounced sweetness throughout the body. The blend of spices here is cinnamon, ginger and orange peel, although you may pick out other spices as they combine to become more than the sum of their parts.

By way of comparison, you might try Great Lakes’ Winter Ale, which features an almost identical mixture of spices with the addition of honey. At 6.2%, it can stand up to slightly more assertive hop and spice character. In this year’s edition the Ginger and Cinnamon are at the forefront, and it is, aromatically speaking, something of a brawler. It’s a 750ml bottle and therefore ideal for sharing.

An example of a version that pushes the envelope for the style is Nogne’s Underlig Jul, a 6.5% version of the Winter beer that includes more spice complexity, adding cloves, coriander and cardamom to the mix. The end result is pleasant, but ultimately mildly confusing as each individual element slips furtively past identification as you enjoy the beer. It’s lovely stuff, if a touch busy.

For an example of the English Winter Warmer without spices added, it’s worth trying out Innis & Gunn’s Winter Treacle Porter. At 7.4%, some of its strength is derived from molasses, which also helps give it its reddish brown colour and a full body. In addition to that, the barrel aging that it goes through imparts a small amount of vanilla character that helps to balance the sweetness. It is the most balanced offering I can remember from Innis & Gunn, and a good opportunity to give them another shot if you’ve found their other offerings too sweet. Depending on your location, it is available as either a single bottle (Western Canada) or in a gift pack (Ontario).

Jordan St.John writes about beer at Saintjohnswort.ca. He still carries the trauma of Great Aunt Edna’s baking.


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