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The Winter Beers Cometh

Jolly old St. Nick has the right idea.

Each and every time that I have perused the beer aisle or strolled into a bottle shop over the past few weeks I have noticed more and more winter beers on the shelves. I guess it’s officially that time of the year. The days are getting shorter, the trees are shedding, there is a nip in the air… we will soon be required to warm ourselves with thicker clothing, crackling fires, and most importantly, robust beers.

Yeah it’s true, the pumpkin and fresh hop beers will soon be gone for the year.  As quickly as they come, they go, but let’s relish in it…enough with those hoity-toity additives…lets soak in the  depths of the true beer ingredients, namely, malt, lots and lots of malt.

Winter beers are all about fending off the cold.  It’s like a thick chowder that coats the inside of your belly, warms the innards, adds fat, and preps you for a lengthy hibernation.  The booze levels often push boundaries, the sugar levels pose similar inner quarrels as that far to common holiday season overindulgence on cookies.  It’s hearty through and through.  Santa’s belly, not excluded.

And there exists not that boisterous Ho, Ho and inevitable Ho in the Seattle area without the annual Winter Beer Fest at Hale’s Ales.  This year, the indulgence falls on the weekend of December 10th and 11th.  One can only hope that WA’s finest will be in attendance.  If you, personally, are not amongst the present, it’s quite clear that you care not about sustenance and suspension through the cold months, and you should, sooner than later, except your fate as a fallen entity…one existing only as a human icicle.  Say your good-byes now.

Whether you prep for hibernation or not, attend winter beer fest or not, any beer drinker with pride for the local and the slightest holiday spirit should do their very best to seek out Washington’s finest Winter Beers.

Here is a list of some of the Washington brewed Winter Ales to keep an eye out for (note: all descriptions presented are commercial unless not supplied.  Those not supplied are notated with a “*” and are provided by beerblotter):

Boundary Bay Cabin Fever – A strong ale or “Winter Warmer” with dark red-brown color and a very rich malty flavor. Dry-hopped lightly with Cascades for a pleasant aroma and slightly spicy hop finish. This big beer is deceptively strong, yet tastes very smooth thanks to extra long cold conditioning. Original Gravity: 1.072.

Fremont Abominable Winter Ale – tasty winter ale, limited release. Dark, roasty, chocolaty, malt flavors balanced by Noble hop aroma and subtle hoppy spice. Warm up to it. Don’t be Scared to be Abominable.

Lazy Boy Mistletoe Bliss – A new brown ale on steroids! Stock up now to warm those cold winter nights. ABV 7.5%, Grains: Pale, crystal, Munich, brown, Vienna, chocolate.  Hops: Ahtanum.

Maritime Pacific Jolly Roger Christmas Ale – * This rich malt bomb has a dark red hue and flavors of dried fruits.

Diamond Knot Ho! Ho! Winter Ale – A robust, ‘Winter Warmer’ ale, ruby brown in color with a slightly sweet, fruity nose. Very hoppy, yet balanced with a residual sweetness.

Elysian Bifrost – Style: Winter ale, Body: Medium to Sturdy, TASTING NOTES: Pours golden with orange highlights. Smells alluringly sweet like caramel apples with a little spice and orange zest. Taste is bold and balanced with a good amount of citrus and earthy hop bitters to offset the bready, sweet malt character. Finishes dry with a bit of fruit. MALTS: Pale with small amounts of Munich and Crystal, HOPS: Bittered with Centennial, finished with Amarillo and Styrian Golding, ABV: 7.5%, IBU: 55.

Pike Auld Acquaintance Hoppy Holiday Ale – A winter treat (Wassail) dating from pre-Christian times. Celebrates the winter solstice. Festive and flavorful with delicious hints of orange peel, coriander, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Pyramid Snow Cap – Deep mahogany in color, our full-bodied winter warmer is brewed in the spirit of British winter ales. Crafted with a flurry of roasted chocolate and caramel malts, and generously hopped, it delivers a smooth finish that makes this beer the perfect cold weather companion. Original Gravity: 17.3, Alcohol by Volume: 7.0, IBU: 47, Malts: 2-Row Barley, Caramel 80L, Chocolate Malt, Hops: Nugget, Willamette, East Kent Goldings.

Redhook Winterhook Winter Ale – The 2010/2011 Winterhook Winter Ale is a rich, full-bodied beer with a red chestnut color. It combines imported and local Caramel, Vienna, Pils, Chocolate and NW 2-Row Malts for a complex profile balanced by four hop varieties added in the brewing to emphasize the end hop character (flavor and aroma).  Beautifully balanced, the flavors meld to create an overall complex profile with no single ingredient out of harmony. ABV: 6%, Malts: Caramel, Pils, Chocolate, Vienna and NW 2-Row, Hops: Cascade, Willamette, Northern Brewer and Centennial, Bitterness Units: 42 IBU, Original Gravity: 15 degrees plato.

Schooner Exact Hoppy the Woodsman – Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Ale. Need you say more? A big brother to Hoppy Holidays, this winter ale has gained a level of complexity and intrigue during those months luxuriating in its bourbon barrel haven. Chocolate malt and a healthy dose of hops help maintain balance.

Scuttlebutt 10 Below – Style: imperial dunkelweiss, Aroma: crisp citrus, Taste: medium body with a rich chocolate finish, Hops: mt. hood & american saaz, 22 ibu’s, 7.4% alcohol by volume.

Silver City Old Scrooge – If Old Scrooge can’t get you in the Holiday spirit nothing can. A rich amber ale, ripe with fruit and spice, Old Scrooge’s character will fully develop as it warms. Intriguing notes of apple, cherry and apricot occur naturally as a result of its unique fermentation and extended aging – 9% ABV.

Hale’s Ales Wee Heavy – * This style is Scottish and piles on thick like a marching calvary of bagpipers. There’s malty ales of the old world, and then there’s wee heavys.

Port Townsend Winter Ale – Our winter ale is made from a blend of pale and crystal malts, roasted barley and Belgian aromatic malts. Cooler fermentation and a longer aging time adds further complexity to this Old Ale style. Original Gravity:1.072 Alcohol by Volume: 7.4%.

Two Beers Winter Hop – Winter Hop – The sun doesn’t shine much in winter around here. It’s darker, more subdued and subtle. If you enjoy this about winter, then there is a pretty good chance Winter Hop will find comfort with you. It’s darker, its slightly chocolate-y and dry-hopped with Amarillos. Cheers! IBU’s: 67, OG: 1.068, Hops Used: Amarillo, Galena, Magnum.

Ram Sleigher – * Brew pub chain…don’t make exciting beers…?  You’re wrong folks, this is one of the best winter beers I have ever had.

Dick’s Double Diamond Winter Ale – Northwest style seasonal with massive amount of grain and several healthy additions of hops.

Fish Tale Winter Fish – Here is the full-bodied seasonal ale that brings meaning to “Winter Warmer”. With a snappy hop character, this isn’t just another brown beer masquerading as a seasonal. This is hearty fare brewed for the season of celebrations. Enjoyed at ease with friends and food, Winterfish will put a glow in the cheeks and warmth in the veins. Pale and honey malts provide an abundantly deep foundation. Then, for bittering, flavor, and aroma, we use 100% Yakima Chinook hops in the kettle. For additional flavor and aroma, it’s more Yakima Chinooks in the hop-back. Perfect for festive feast, this is the hoppiest winter ale we know of! Savor a pint and you’ll know why Northwesterners agree: An ice-cold Winter never sounded better! 7.5% alc/vol 1.071 O.G. 70 IBUs.

The Brewers: Schools Out, Beers In for Schooner Exact

They've come a long way since Activ Space - Schooner Exact Brewing

***Today’s post comes to us from our good friend Mark Leavens, former brewer from the Gilligans Brewing outfit. Though Gilligans has shut down, Mark still home brews on a large scale and is planning some big things for the future. Mark has been invited to share beer stories on occasion at BeerBlotter.com.***


If you were listening closely enough on June 17th you would have heard Alice Cooper’s voice wailing, ‘Schoooooollls out for EVER’ at Schooner Exact Brewing Company.  Minus black eye liner, fake blood, and necks being constricted by boas, this marked the day Schooner Exact owners Heather and Matt McClung officially ended their teaching careers to focus solely on brewing beer to share with us thirsty folk.  But just because they are through with teaching, don’t expect Schooner Exact to stop schooling us with their beer!

After three and a half years of bouncing from an ActivSpace (f@#! them, see history of Gilligan’s Brew Co. and Two Beers Brew Co.) garage, to a shared warehouse space with Trade Route Brewing Co. in South Park, Schooner Exact has finally landed their own space in the SODO district of Seattle and upgraded to a 15 barrel brewing system!

A couple of friends and I had the opportunity to stop by their tap house/brewery the other day to congratulate Heather and Matt for quitting their day jobs.  I assure you though, the kids will be fine.  I’m a substitute teacher.

Located just south of the West Seattle Bridge/Spokane St. on 1st Ave. S., and just north of the bridge over the train tracks, Schooner Exact is admittedly not an easy place to reach for those of us living north of downtown.  However, with sandwich boards labeled ‘BEER!’ set up out front, we knew exactly where to steer our bikes.

A huge loading dock covered with picnic tables provided ample outdoor seating and an appropriate entryway to beer school.  With the 12’ tall loading door open, the brand new taproom seemed massive and yet very welcoming, especially with Heather at the helm behind the bar.

The tap list consisted of the Schooner Exact classics 3-Grid IPA, Regrade Pale Ale and Gallant Maiden Hefeweizen, which were accompanied by their Gateway Golden, King St. Brown, Seamstress Union Raspberry Wheat, and the infamous and award-winning Hoppy the Woodsman rounding out the lot.  Teacher approved, these tap handles formed a superb single file line down the hallway of awesomeness.

Not wanting to jump right into the 9.6% ABV bourbon barrel aged Woodsman, I decided to start light and crisp with the easy drinking Golden Ale.  If proposed with the proposition, I would have gladly consumed this pint of gold heaven all night long while partying at the moon tower, but there were more options to douse my taste buds that day, so it was time to move on to the malty rich Brown.  Comprised of a blend of chocolate and special Belgian malts, this silky smooth ale slithered down the pipe while leaving a satisfyingly sweet finish with the palate.

Speaking of pipes, apparently if one is adventurous enough or at least willing to try something once, Heather and Matt will gladly serve up the ‘Shocker.’  This concoction is two parts pink (Raspberry Wheat), one part Brown and will leave you all tingly inside.

I didn’t get shocked or do any shocking this particular day, but I probably wouldn’t tell you that much about my personal life anyhow, so I’m just going to change the subject and let you decide whether or not to pull out, or should I say, put in the ‘shocker.’  By the way, the raspberry wheat was as thick and delicious as a wheat beer should be and had a strong fruity aroma.

So anyway, to contrast the sweetness it was time to part the cheeks, er, I mean open the mouth and hop away.  3-Grid IPA.  Exceptional!  This well-balanced brew is one of my favorite IPA’s being brewed in Seattle right now.  It’s a must try for someone who prefers an IPA where the bitterness doesn’t destroy your sense of what anything else tastes like.

But for those hop heads out there, let it be known that Matt and his new brewing partner Dave ‘Hutch’inson (formerly of the Rogue Issaquah brewery and Georgetown Brewing) are putting out a series of experimental Imperial IPA’s, with the most recent one being called the ‘Virgil Gamachinator.’ Brewed with a ton of citrusy Amarillo hops, this behemoth rounds out at 87 IBU’s and 9% ABV!  Find it and drink it.

To remind us again that beer school was still in session, Matt brought out the bourbon barrel aged Hoppy the Woodsman.  Enter ‘giddy like a little school girl’ line.  First introduced to me at the 2008 Winter Beer Fest, this brew has won 1st and 3rd place in back-to-back years of pouring at Hale’s.  It has officially put the former high school chemistry teacher and Schooner Exact on the brewing podium while putting their beer on tap all over Seattle.

Go see and taste for yourself.  You WILL be schooled!

Tasting Rooms Abound! Places to Grab Nanobrews in Seattle

November 25, 2009 2 comments

Gilligans Brewing rests in peace.........but not forever!

Nanobrew? What the hell is that? Well I am using it. I like the term and I think it applies to several of Seattle’s once-garaged-up breweries.

There are several breweries in the Seattle area that produce beer on a very small scale. These breweries typically serve beer at tasting rooms in the area and rely upon retail sales at their tasting rooms, as much as they rely upon their limited keg sales to local bars.

Its tough to be small and make it, so these breweries are the hardest working out there. They distribute directly – on their own; they sell growlers to make sure their beer gets taken home; they print swag to make sure their name is on the breast of the public.

Visiting a Nanobrewery is one of our favorite things to do. You really get face time with the brewers (who are often the only employees) and the aura of brewing (as you are typically corralled amongst the brewing equipment).

Here are some favorites in the area, who have tasting rooms that you need to visit:

Big Al Brewing

Big Al is located down in South Park and they are generally known for their Irish Red, Smoked Porter and interesting seasonals (check out Brown Brother’s Scotch Ale)

These guys have a beer garden of sorts that is great in summer. But you can visit them year round:

big al brewing, inc.

Address – 9832 14th ave sw, seattle, wa 98106 – map

Phone – (206) 453-4487

Their tasting room is open 3:00-9:00 PM Monday through Thursday,
3:00-10:00 PM Friday, 1:00-10:00 PM Saturday, and 2:00-7:00 PM Sundays.

Two Beers

Since we work down in SODO – we like their location. They are on the cusp of SODO and Georgetown and have a tasting room that is open two days a week. Stop in for beer and pretzels to fill you growlers.

Address – 4700 Ohio Avenue South Unit A, Seattle WA 98134.

Phone – (206) 491-1439

The Tasting Room is open 3:00-7:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

From the site:

Come down for peanuts, pretzels, $3 pints, and HD TV on our 46′ LCD TV. Interested in renting the tasting room for a private party email us for rates and availability.

Schooner Exact

Where are these guys!? Luckily we just asked the same question. Hopefully we will get a response soon, but for now a little back story. Schooner Exact makes some damn tasty IPAs. Their use of the Randall (a fresh hop infuser) over the past year has made them one of my personal favorites.

They used to be located over in West Seattle, but have recently released information about their move to……..you guessed it – SODO! The only information that we have seen is that they will be located on 1st Avenue S, close to the West Seattle bridge (so are we – YES!).

So for now, we will stay tuned……

Baron Brewing

Aw schucks! They closed down their South Park commercial garage a few months back. But this was good news, as they have now moved into their new spot in Greenwood, Pillagers Pub. Though this place no longer has the tasting room feel – you can still get plenty of great beer. TRY THE RAUCHBIER!

Address – 8551 Greenwood Ave N Ste 5, Seattle, WA 98103

Phone – (206) 706-2779

The Pub is open from 3:00pm – 12:00am Monday – Thursday and 12:00pm – 1:00am Friday – Sunday.

Fremont Brewing

These guys really stepped it up quickly! Former attorney Matt Lincecum turned an old warehouse in Fremont into a beer mecca. He has hired Matt Lincoln, formerly of Goose Island Belgians fame, as head brewer, and Aaron Golston, from Thirsty Bear in San Fran (we’ve been there!), as an assistant.

Because of the wealth of brewing experience between these three (Matt is also an avid home brewer) they have been able to turn out a plethora of beers in just a short time. Though only Universale Pale and a few versions of their IPA have made the taps, they have a wealth of small production beers you can get at the tasting room or for instance at Brouwers’ Big Wood Festival and their previous Hopfest (their IPA was in my top 15 for its unique quality).

Plans are underway to open a second floor beer garden, but this place is very cool as it stands right now. Take an afternoon and check it out:

Address – 3409 Woodland Park Avenue North, Seattle, 98103

Phone – (206) 420-2407

The tasting room is open Thursday, Friday & Saturday from 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Gilligan’s Brewing

This was a major part of our life. We have some great connections with Gilligans and the people who work there. But, due to changes in ActivSpace policies, they were forced to move out of their amazing place on the Burke-Gilman Trail in Fremont. But, do not fret, we spoke with owner Seth Gilligan over the weekend and plans are underway for the re-emergence of GBC in early 2010.

GBC will be using a brewpub format and serving up delicious food and grog. Stay tuned for more details….

Again – we aint geniuses and we are certainly missing some true tasting rooms. If you know of some – please continue the dialogue below with some comments!

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