Beer… From Fall to Winter: The Winds of Change are a Blowin'

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste
the fruit and resign yourself to the influences of each
. . ~ Henry
David Thoreau

Doesn’t that quote make you want to sit down to a hearty feast in the
middle of a clearing in the woods, surrounded by an array of
beautifully colored leaves colors, topped off with a pint of your
favorite brew and endlessly toasting to nature and life!? Okay, so
maybe that’s just me, but I’m sure Thoreau would have approved of my
scenario. Thoreau is right; it is imperative we “live each season as
it passes,” take in all of the sights, sounds, tastes [and beers!]
that a season has to offer. It is already the middle of October
(where has my life gone!?) and we are, sadly, approaching the end of
the fall beer season, so grab those Oktoberfest & Pumpkin beers (for
me, Weizenbock) while you can as a whole new batch of brews are on
their way.

I’m sure there are plenty of you wanting to know what makes a beer a
winter brew. Ultimately, there is no right answer; however, the
colder the weather the darker and heavier the beers get, so winter
beers tend to be dark and heavy. The usual suspects are stouts,
doppelbocks, dark lagers, double or quadrupel Belgian ales.

Here’s my list, by style, of the best beers for beating back the
winter-time blues:

Barleywine Ale– This Englishstyle ale is definitely one to warm you up
on a cold winter’s night. One of my personal favorites, this ale
exhibits an intense and complex flavor with hints of fruit, hops, malt
and alcohol. Yes, you can usually sense the alcohol in this beer as it
boasts one of the highest alcohol-by-volume (abv) beers out there,
usually running around 10% to 12%. The best way to drink it is out of
a brandy snifter between 40 to 50 degrees or so. This allows your nose
to get involved in the experience by smelling it as you sip, as well
as the warmer temperature releasing more scent and flavor.

Examples: Weyerbacher – Blithering Idiot; Victory – Old Horizontal;
Flying Dog Brewery – Horn Dog

Doppelbock– This Germanstyle dark lager, which I’ve written about
before, is one of the quintessential winter beers. Monks would brew
this beer during Lent to drink throughout the day while fasting,
giving it, and beer in general, the nickname of “Liquid Bread” in
Germany. A doppelbock is darker than a normal lager, ranging from
amber to almost black in color, higher in alcohol (usually around
7%-8% abv) and full-flavored. Very smooth with a touch of roasted
maltiness, this style will warm you up without overpowering you.

Examples: Troegs – Troegenator; Victory – St. Victorious; Ayinger –
Celebrator; Sly Fox – Instigator

Russian Imperial Stout– Anyone who has followed my writing knows that
this Englishstyle (yes, it was developed in England not Russia) is one
of my favorites. For me, it is a close race, with usually a different
winner each time, between this and Barleywine for favorite winter
beer. Going back to the origin of the style, it was developed in
England in the 1800s for shipment to the Russian Czar to win his
favor, hence the name Russian Imperial. This is the grand-pooba of the
stout family. Forget your Irish Stouts – this is a heavy hitter with
an abv usually around 9% to 10%. It has tons of flavor with usually
roasted, chocolate, coffee-esque notes that compliment its roiling
dark body and mocha-hued head that grips the glass with the ferocity
of a Russian bear.

Examples: Victory – Storm King; Weyerbacher – Old Heathen; Duck Rabbit
– Rabid Duck; Stone – Imperial Russian; Great Divide Brewing – Yeti
Imperial Stout

Miscellaneous Brews- There are a few other great winter beers that
don’t fit neatly into traditional categories but are definitely worth
checking out:

Victory Brewing Company – Yakima Twilight Dark Ale: This is a new
addition to Victory’s seasonal line-up, replacing Hop Wallop which is
now a year-round brew. Of course, you can’t replace Hop Wallop with
just any beer; it has to be one that packs a punch, and Yakima
delivers! It is a dark, nearly black ale. It has a great roasted malt
flavor, set off by a strong hop character. This is a beer that I am
very excited about, as there aren’t many dark and hoppy beers out
there. This one is sure keep plenty of hop-heads warm over the winter

Troegs Brewing Company – Mad Elf Ale & Java Head Stout: These two
Troegs brews are more on the crazy side of things for the wintertime.
The Mad Elf has become a staple for many around Christmas time with
its cherry, honey and chocolate malt flavors plus an alcohol punch to
boot (abv is 11%)! Java Head Stout is a new twist on one of my
favorite old Troegs brews, the Oatmeal Stout. Using a blend of Kenyan
and local coffee beans, the Troegs brothers give their old stout new
life. Unfortunately, I haven’t had it yet but am looking forward to
trying it as I have yet to meet a Troegs beer that I didn’t like.
Yards Brewing Company – Love Stout: You’ll have to wait a little
longer to get your hands on this winter brew, as it doesn’t come out
until February, but it’s worth the wait. With a pleasing dark color
and chocolatey notes, this stout is sure to please any dark beer lover
on a cold winter’s night.

There you have it. The fall season is quickly passing, but you are now
prepared to take advantage of what the coming winter has to offer.
Take time to breathe in the cool, crisp air, drink the drinks and
resign yourself to the warming influences of these and all of the
other wonderful winter brews. Before you know it, spring will be here.

O Winter! ruler of the inverted year. . . I crown thee king of
intimate delights, Fireside enjoyments, home-born happiness, And all
the comforts that the lowly roof Of undisturb’d Retirement, and the
hours Of long uninterrupted evening, know. -William Cowper