With the holidays behind us, we are now entering into the truly dreary part of the winter season. Although we’ve still got a couple of dark and snowy months ahead in the Inland Northwest, at least the long, cold nights are perfect for dark beers.
But if you’ve spent November and December sipping on stouts and porters, and you start looking for something different, you might come across the phrase “winter warmer” when perusing your local brewery or bottle shop. But what does it mean exactly?
The first thing to know is that winter warmer is not technically a defined style of beer. There is no “winter warmer” category at the Great American Beer Festival. Instead, it’s a phrase that has come to encompass a wide variety of traditionally “winter” beers, and thanks to modern beer marketing, which likes to label every winter seasonal release as a “holiday” or “Christmas” ale, it’s becoming even more difficult to define.
At the most basic level, however, a winter warmer will always start with a strong base of dark malt with notes of chocolate or caramel. Where you begin to find significant differences is when it comes to adding other flavors.
Traditionally this is done either through the addition of various hops, which create spicier rather than bitter notes when combined with the dark malt base, or using actual spices like nutmeg, cinnamon or ginger. There also might be additional sugars added in the form of maple syrup, fruit or other sweetening agents.
Winter warmers also will vary in alcohol content, but seeing as they are literally brewed to warm up a person during the winter, they tend to be fairly strong, between 6% and 8% ABV. Some American versions can make their way past 10%.
If you’ve read through this and are still confused, you are not alone. Winter warmers are difficult to pin down. Your best bet is to get out there and try them. Head to your favorite local brewery and keep an eye on their seasonal releases. It’s likely that between now and the end of February, they will have a winter beer on tap that would meet the loose definition of a winter warmer.
Ask about the brewing process and try to pick out the spice notes you can taste. Inevitably you will find ones you like more than others, but it will definitely add variety to your post-holiday beer enjoyment.
Lester Cup winter 2020 edition is underway
The Lester Cup, Spokane’s biannual brewing competition, has kicked off its winter competition with six breweries vying for this season’s title. As the winners of last summer’s event, Humble Abode Brewing (1620 E. Houston Ave.) chose “winter beers” as the theme, which as discussed above is a category open to interpretation.
To participate, stop by a competing brewery – Humble Abode, Bellwether Brewing (2019 N. Monroe St.), Black Label Brewing (19 W. Main Ave.), the Grain Shed (1026 E. Newark Ave.), Mountain Lakes Brewing (201 W. Riverside Ave.) and Whistle Punk Brewing (122 S. Monroe St.) – and pick up a ballot.
You have until Feb. 15 to visit each brewery and try their beer. Once you’ve tried them all and select your favorite, the winner will be announced at a party (date TBD) for everyone who completed a ballot.
No-Li, Badass Backyard Brewing collaborate
No-Li Brewing (1003 E. Trent Ave.) has teamed up with Badass Backyard Brewing (1415 N. Argonne Road, Spokane Valley) to develop experimental, small-batch beers on a small, three-barrel system, and the results have been extremely popular.
“Each batch has been selling out within days,” said No-Li’s head brewer, Ryan Brookhart, in a news release. As of now, the brewers are focusing on new and experimental versions of No-Li’s popular citrus and hazy IPAs, but the hope is this small system will allow for greater flexibility and further collaboration.
Fremont Brewing releases single farm double IPA
At next weekend’s Cascadia Grains Conference in Olympia, Seattle’s Fremont Brewing will be releasing its Waves of Grain beer, an annual product that celebrates the independent grain farmers and maltsters of the Northwest.
This year’s release is a double IPA made entirely with Baronesse barley grown by Bill Myers at Joseph’s Grainery in the heart of the Palouse and locally malted by Linc Malt. The beer will be canned and should be available locally in the coming weeks.
Find more beer news by Wildermuth
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