There’s something about the winter that brings on not only a change in climate, but a change in people’s tastes. The palette tends to crave a different set of flavors, some more earthy, some more sweet. Brewers know this trend and take full advantage of it when they put out their winter seasonal beers. These holiday offerings tend to be of the darker variety, such as chocolate stouts or coffee porters, and much like the man in the red suit, these beers tend to be full-bodied. However, not all winter seasonals are as black as coal in a stocking.
Take Troegs Mad Elf Ale, a beer that pours ruby red in color and is brewed using honey and cherries. At first sip, I immediately taste how strong this beer is, and with an ABV of 11%, why shouldn’t I? The tartness of the cherries comes through, followed by a bittersweet taste that lingers for awhile. This is not a beer you drink quickly, this is a holiday sipper. The Belgian yeast used in the brewing of Mad Elf Ale gives it a nice spiciness which complements the honey and cherries. According to Troeg’s website, they also use chocolate malt in the brew process, a common malt used in many winter ales. I’ve yet to find Troeg’s in Connecticut, but a quick trip over the border to Massachusetts could prove worthwhile. Granted, Mad Elf Ale may not be for everyone, but after a couple snifters of this high octane beer, it’ll be sure to warm the heart of almost any Scrooge.
Now, this next beer isn’t necessarily a seasonal offering, yet it embodies the characteristics of a winter brew. Shed Mountain Ale came from humble beginnings in a small brew pub in Vermont, where not long ago they were forced to close their doors, halting brewing completely. Then came along Otter Creek Brewing, which decided to buy Shed and restart production of their beers. Now, under the guidance and distribution of Otter Creek, Shed is becoming a whole lot easier to find on the shelves of your local spirit shop or your favorite pub. The Mountain Ale pours a rich dark brown, with a slight bread-like aroma. Technically, it’s considered a “strong” ale (which really has nothing to do with its alcohol content), but it could easily be mistaken for a brown ale. The taste of malt and slight toffee make this a great beer for a cold night by the fire. Luckily, Shed Mountain Ale is available year round which, sadly, cannot be said for this next ale.
Rogue Brewing Company, Oregon’s monster of craft beers, is known for a large selection of big, full-bodied ales. Each year, around mid-November they release Santa’s Private Reserve; and what man is more deserving of a cold one, after a trip around the world, than Ole St. Nick. Santa’s Private Reserve, a double-hopped red ale, weighs in at an admirable 6% ABV. The story goes that the Rogue brewers used one of their old recipes, but doubled all the hops, giving the Reserve a nice, bitter start and a hint of spruce at the finish. When poured from the bottle, a bright-white, puffed head rose up quickly and was maintained throughout consumption. If you enjoy this beer, I suggest trying any of Rogue’s other offerings as well. Act fast though, because much like Christmas, this beer is here and gone in a flash.
Before I conclude, I’d like to wish the readers a happy and safe holiday, and may Santa bring you all the mixed packs and 22 ounce bottles on your list. As you meander through the busy streets during this holiday season, keep in mind that the rosy cheeks you see on all the people passing by may be the result of a strong gust of wind, or it may just be the affects of a holiday beer. Slainte!
Chris Parrott has been brewing beer almost since he was legally allowed to. When he’s not writing about beer, Chris is serving it up at his family’s pub in the Ledgebrook Plaza just over the Barkhamsted line in Winsted. You may write to Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org and write “Brew” as the subject.