Do you have a favorite winter beer? If not, perhaps you should consider attending the Washington Winter Beer Festival this Friday and Saturday in Seattle and see if you can find one. This event usually sells out, so move quick. I share basic details about the event below. See our previous post for a complete list of breweries and beers.
Although I am certain that all of you are horribly interested in hearing which winter beers capture my attention and how I define beers of the season, I recently reached out to some notable members of the local brewing industry and asked for their input.
While gigantic beers that are barrel-aged, blended, and infused with less-common ingredients may be all the rage these days, you should not discount the classic winter beers. Experts seem to agree that you should not forget about beers like Anchor Christmas Ale, Sierra Nevada Celebration, and Deschutes Jubelale.
I asked a simple question and asked for simple answers: what’s your favorite winter beer and what makes a winter beer appropriate for the season? (Note that I asked them not to select one of their own beers.)
Adam Robbings, Reuben’s Brews – “Guinness. Dark, roasty and smooth, but with a low ABV so it doesn’t knock you out! A perfect beer to drink around a log fire.”
Alex Dittmar, Airways Brewing – “pFriem Belgian Christmas Ale. It has all the qualities I look for in the style: warming, complex, dark fruit. The perfect beer for cool fall and winter nights.”
Annie Johnson, PicoBrew – “Anchor Christmas Ale for the tree label art – different each year and I love the secret behind the recipe – you know it will be malty and spicy and uniquely Anchor. Plus the large format bottle is a hit for parties!”
Chad Kuehl, Wander Brewing – “For winter beers I usually look for depth and body. It might be the only time of year I really enjoy beers with considerable warmth and residual sweetness. Usually, a malt bill not shy when it comes to crystal malts and a high enough ABV and hop hit to keep the beer in balance. I enjoy many of the classic PNW winter releases and it feels nostalgic each year when they return to the shelf. I always look for a pint of Deschutes Brewery Jubelale around the holidays and also look forward to the ever-evolving recipe and label artwork of the Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale.”
Robyn Schumacher, Stoup Brewing – “When I think of a winter beer I don’t see one particular style. I think of something malt forward or a bit more alcoholic, a bit more flamboyant or some combination of all three. Basically, I want to drink something that satisfies my evolutionary craving to pack in the calories. I want a beer that says “swimsuit season is months away. Enjoy!””
Drew Cluly, Beardslee Public House – “When I think to my favorite winter beer I often first think of the classics. Deschutes Jubel Ale, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Anchor Christmas Ale, and perhaps even a strong Belgian ale like Delirium Noel.”
“A winter beer should be big, bold, warming, and a slow sipper, which defines barleywine,” adds Drew. “So when I consider further, I realize that I most associate “beer and winter” with December 1st. That is the date of the Big Time Brewery’s Old Wooly barleywine release. Many in the Seattle beer industry can be found on December 1st at the Big Time enjoying this limited annual release, and that is what makes this beer so special.”
Me – I find it exceedingly difficult to nail down one favorite but I cannot help leaning back on one of the originals: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Not only is it a great beer, but many experts cite it as the earliest example of American IPA. (In the modern craft beer era, of course.) They’ve been releasing this beer to celebrate the season since 1981!
Let’s face it, the holidays are largely about nostalgia and shared memories. That’s why we still listen to songs about chestnuts and open fires. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale soothes my spirit like the warm, rich tones of Nat King Cole’s voice singing about yuletide carols being sung by a choir and folks dressed up like Eskimos. (Sorry, it’s stuck in your head now, isn’t it?)
As for more contemporary beers, one beer that sets me right this time of year is Icicle Brewing’s Dark Persuasion German Chocolate Porter. Though it’s not really a winter beer per se, it has some wintery qualities and it is a personal, seasonal treat for me. It just so happens that my birthday is right after Thanksgiving, as the winter and the holiday seasons are rapidly approaching. My love affair with German Chocolate Cake dates back to my childhood; it was the cake I always requested for my birthday. The association between my birthday, my family, my youth, the holidays, and German Chocolate Cake is thick and rich, just like Icicle Brewing’s Dark Persuasion.
Winter Beer Festival Details:
Friday, December 6th
5:30 pm to 9:30 pm
Saturday, December 7th
1st Session: Noon-4pm
2nd Session: 5:30pm-9:30pm
Warren G. Magnuson Park
7400 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
Advance tickets available now at washingtonbrewersguild.org.
$35 advance/$40 at the door. This event has sold out the last six years so buy now!
Admission includes a tasting glass and eight 5oz beer tastes. Additional tokens are available for $2 each. Designated driver admission is $5 and available at the door only. This is a 21+ only event.