One of my favorite-named beers comes from Cigar City Brewing – the Warmer Winter Winter Warmer. The name makes sense, given that Cigar City is located in Tampa – ironically however, the beer itself is not categorized as a Winter Warmer … it might be a wee bit too powerful at 10% ABV, so it actually rolls into the “Old Ale” category.
Liquor has had several versions of “winter warmers” for years – drinks like the hot toddy, the hot buttery rum, German glüwein, and even hot chocolate & peppermint schnapps – but since you typically don’t want to put your beer on the stove, what else can you turn to in order to warm you up, and bring you seasons greetings in your beer glass? We vote for the Winter Warmer!
So what exactly IS a Winter Warmer? Well, that’s debatable, as there is not a specific style guideline for this category of beer. But as a general rule, this ‘style’ is going to pour fairly dark (think a dark copper to amber color), and bring aromas and flavors that are malty and sweet, generally low in hop bitterness, and many – especially the Christmas ale variety – will also contain some forms of spice such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, orange peel, or clove.
Below are the typical characteristics you can expect to find in a Winter Warmer (on a 1-5 bar scale):
The Winter Warmer is best served north of 45 degrees (higher ABV ones might even be best in the 60s), and can be enjoyed in everything from a mug, to a pint glass, to a snifter.
Given the generality of the style, it’s hard to make specific recommendations as to what to pair your “Winter Warmer” style beer with … However, most will go nicely with your fattier and darker holiday meats, such as turkey, duck, or lightly seasoned lamb. They should also play nicely with most desserts (with the possible exception of dark chocolate), especially those containing cinnamon, and fruit such as apples or pears. But consider just relaxing by a fire with a Winter Warmer and plate of Christmas cookies – this is Santa approved.
What to Buy
At this time of year, there are a ton of really nice, “gateway beers” in this Winter Warmer category at our area’s top distributors and take-out restaurants. Here are 3 great choices to spice up your glass this December:
– Avery Old Jubilation, 8.3% ABV (Boulder, CO)
– Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas, 7.5% ABV (Akron, OH)
– Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Ale, 6.9% ABV (Boonville, CA)