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.
***Notes of a Beer Nerd is a column written by resident cellar dwelling mammal, Timperial Stout. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, concerns or comments***
Enjoyed on 9/19/2010
Brewery: Nøgne Ø
Location: Grimstad, Norway
Beer: Peculiar Yule
Presentation: 16.9 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped
Style: Winter Ale
Hops: Chinook, Cascade
Malt: Maris Otter, Munich, crystal, and chocolate malt
Recommended Serving Temp: 55 degrees
Notes From the Bottle:
This holiday ale draws its inspiration from Glogg, a Norwegian spiced beverage enjoyed hot in the winter. Like Glogg, it goes well with nuts, dried fruits or cookies, but we recommend serving Peculiar Yule at proper cellar temperature of 55F.
The name Nøgne Ø means “naked island”, a poetic term used by Henrik Ibsen to describe any of the countless stark, barren outcroppings that are visible in the rough sea off Norway’s southern coast, where the brewery sits. The founders gave Nøgne Ø a subtitle – “The Uncompromising Brewery” – a plain statement of their mission: to make ales of personality and individuality. Brewing in traditional styles but thoroughly inspired by the boldness of American brewing, these Norwegian brewers fearlessly chart their own course.
Food Pairings: Chili, smoked meats, roasted turkey, nuts, dried fruits, cookies, raisins, gingerbread
Cheese Pairings: Monterey, Pepper Jack
Beer Advocate: A- (4.02)
Rate Beer: 91 (3.45)
One great advantage of cellaring beer is that, if you are in the mood to drink a winter beer in the dead of summer, you can. I have the itch and I’m able to scratch it – lucky me.
I might be alone on this one, but even in the heat of August, the idea of cuddling up by a fire and drinking a rich beer sounds pretty amazing. Now, if that fire was in a cozy cabin in the icy Scandinavian Tundra, well, now I’m really getting excited. With beer, we are able to close our eyes, sip, and let our imaginations expand. In this case, enjoying this Norwegian brew in Ballard, Seattle’s Norwegian center, seems to allow my imagination to expand just a little bit further.
This bottle is from ’08, the first year that Shelton Brothers imported it into America. I’m not completely sure that it was a good idea to age this, due to the fairly low abv, but I guess we will soon find out. But before we get to that, let’s get a little bit better of an idea of what this beer is all about.
First, the brewery. Nøgne Ø was founded by 2 homebrewers in 2002. The story behind the name is right on the bottle and can be found above, but how do you pronounce it? I long thought that it was pronounced “nagano”, as in the city in Japan. I thought that because that was the way that the Stone Brewing reps that I met pronounced it. I figured that they would know since they had recently collaborated with Kjetil Jikiun, head brewer. Well maybe I miss heard but it’s actually “nir-gneh-err”. Good to know. Now, how you pronounce Kjetil Jikiun, you’re on your own with that one.
The founders started their brewery as a mission to show the Norwegian people what real ale is all about – to essential bring American brewing creativity to a demographic that only knows and drinks macro lagers. This is a very respectable undertaking indeed, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on quite as well as they may have hoped. 70% of the roughly 20 different ales that they make are exported. I don’t know how much of that comes to the U.S. but I do know that Kjetil Jikiun is highly respected by many American craft beer brewers and aficionados. Hopefully, for now, that is enough to satisfy the aspirations of Nøgne Ø.
Though American brewing may be a strong source of inspiration for many of Nøgne Ø’s beers, one reason why I am so excited about this one is that it plays tribute to a piece of Norwegian culture, while still utilizing boldness and creativity (obviously, two of the clear hallmarks of American brewing that the founders intended to incorporate). The honest truth is that there isn’t very many breweries in Scandinavia that are worth a damn. Maybe that’s my opinion because a large majority of them aren’t “American Craft” enough for me. The land, the climate, the people, the culture, on the other hand, is all so beautiful and intriguing to this ill-traveled American. Drinking beers from Nøgne Ø allows me to have a deeply profound experience with a little piece of that far off world, and that is such an enormous reason why I love beer in general. Beer allows us to taste far off (some more that others) lands.
Now, Peculiar Yule. Some may know this brew by a different name – Underlig Jul is the original Norwegian name. As you may have inferred from the bottle notes, the inspiration of this brew is a Scandinavian version of mulled wine. According to Wikipedia, the traditional spices used in Glogg are cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and bitter orange. The spices used in Peculiar Yule are ginger, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. Sounds like Masala chai tea spices to me, which I just so happen to be very fond of.
Now on to my experience with the brew in question.
When I cracked the lid, foam came gushing out of the opening and all over the counter. This is not a good sign. The bottle was not disturbed in any way and was refrigerated for the last few days. Let’s hope that I didn’t spoil it by aging it.
After all was settled, Peculiar Yule filled my glass with a very dark brown, near black fluid possessing a breathtaking tan head that never dissipated and left very small traces of lace. The chocolate malts played their role in the hue. Light is unable to pass completely though, but it does make it far enough to show me the lively carbonation suspended within.
Maybe this doesn’t smell or taste exactly like the brewers intended, but all the more “peculiar”. I’m thinking that the intensity of the spices and the illusion to wine has covered up any off flavors that may exist here. PY is wine like indeed, vinous and slightly tart in both nose and flavor. In gathering the aroma, it becomes most apparent why this is best enjoyed at cellar temperature. When cool, all that really comes out is a mishmash of quelled spices. After warming quite considerably, placing my nose deep within the tulip glass nearly brings me to tears. It’s truly sublime and outrageously complex. Layer upon layer of stratified spices become individually recognizable. There is still a lot of wine recollection, but the malts are now standing taller. Sweet chocolate and cinnamon has been sprinkled on candied ginger, coriander and cloves nipping at their toes… Yeah, my imagination is working overtime. There is something in that southern Norway water.
The mouthfeel is slick. The carbonation that previously appeared heavy has mostly subsided, leaving so many attributes that continue to bring the wine aspect home. I can’t seem to pinpoint what exactly it is, but all I think about is wine until well after the swallow when I get a bit of deep malty chalkiness on the very back of the tongue.
At the very moment the brew engages my taste buds, the ginger and cardamom scream for attention. There is a unique interplay between the ginger’s heat and the cardamom’s cool that, well, reinforces just why these two spices play well together. Chai tea is definitely on the mind initially. Late in the flavor profile I’m greeted by a dark, roasted maltiness and a slight tartness. Yet another contradiction with positive results. It seems a fairly short description of the flavor when written, but within those words there is a very distinctive, unique, complex beer that I feel very lucky to have before me on this night.
At this point I can really feel the warmth of the flames…smell the charred wood…hear the crackling sunder… If I could sit by a fire with the good company of the folks from Nøgne Ø, I sure would have a story to tell them. A wild tale about one summer night in Seattle when I was transported to a cabin deep in the white Norway winter, warmed by Peculiar Yule.
If you like Nogne O Peculiar Yule, you should try…
Disclaimer: This beer was purchased on my own with my own hard-earned money at a local bottle shop, and aged to perfection by yours truly.
With 5 days left until Christmas, Beer Blotter wants to dedicate the majority of the posts this week to Christmas and Winter beers. Since these styles are limited to production and distribution only during the winter season, take notes this week and stock up on your “Winter Warmers” and Christmas Ales!
Generally winter beers consist of old ales, strong ales, barleywines, stouts and strong lagers. Roubust in flavor and thick in body, these beers are guaranteed to ease the sting of the winter nights.
Review from 4/12/08 of the ’06 release:
An ale brewed with spices (coriander, orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon) and vanilla beans. Brownish, orange color with lots of sediment. Bright around the edges. A thin wisp of foam on top and pleasant, above average carbonation. A sour orange scent lies in the forefront, but the spices are evident. The nose is just sublime. A dryness is found on the palate after the swallow, but the fluid itself has a silky mouthfeel. A citrus smack will squeeze the corners of your mouth. Drying and sour seems like a strange combination, but it works here. Moments after the swallow a taste of unleavened bread comes to mind…yeasty. Extremely unique and delicious brew from a far off land.
Alaskan Brewing Co.
Review from 1/19/08 of the ’07 release:
An English style old ale brewed with Sitka spruce tips. Pours a bright amber hue with minimal head but serious stickage. If any scent of malts or spruce exists, it’s very faint, or masked by the cool temperature, but once the liquid interacts with the tongue it’s a completely different tale. Candy sugar infused with evergreen trees. The uniqueness of this beer makes it one that I couldn’t drink in quantity…maybe that’s why it’s a seasonal. Alaskan Brewing is one of those breweries that isn’t very glamorous. They have fairly bland label designs and rarely have special releases, but any time you grab one of their brews you know it will be solid, if not outstanding. Without a doubt, a stalwart member of the Northwest brewing community.
Goose Island Beer Co.
Review from 11/24/09:
Light brown in the glass with great clarity and a frothy white head that lingers. Though the brewery calls this a brown ale I immediately smell what I would determine to be Belgian yeast. A nice dose of malts; bready with a little dab of fruitiness. No hop profile to be found. A bit boozy when it warms despite the low ABV. The brewery recommends aging this one, again, despite the low abv. A curious holiday brew indeed…I’ll have another.
Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Review from 12/04/09:
A holiday ale brewed with honey and spiced with fresh ginger and cinnamon, this beer’s flavors surface at first taste. There is no disguising the festive spices associated with the holiday season. The cinnamon is prevalent in the scent of this Christmas Ale. It is light in body and crisp in flavor. Surprisingly refreshing and balanced with no “alcohol” residue from taste to swallow. For some, this is the quintessential Christmas beer due to the spices used and the “drinability” aspect. We recommend drinking this beer at room tempurature. In other words, take it out of the fridge, let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes in a glass and drink away. Perfection!
Stay tuned this week as Beer Blotter reviews and recommends beers for the holiday season. What a wonderful time of the year! For all those who are traveling to see loved ones this week, have a safe trip. Flying Virgin Airlines? 21st Amendment’s Brew Free or Die IPA is available in cabin!