Spew Brew Review: Winter Ales

Oh, when the weather outside is frightful and the when the fire is so delightful, what is your go-to brew?

Well, it damn well better be a winter ale!!

Why? Well, the name itself should explain it all. But if that doesn’t convince you, how about this…..

They are pretty good beers. And like all seasonals, they yank them off the shelves as fast as possible when the next season comes.

So what is a winter ale? Some call it an Old Ale, others call it a Winter Warmer, but normal folk just call it a winter ale. Well, it tends to be on the darker side of hues (they can be lighter as well, but those are for pussies) and have a strong, malty taste with a hint of sweetness to it. They are not as weighty as a porter, but have more beef than a red. But what makes these ales more fun than other ales is the strength; usually between 6%-10% to keep you warm at night.

So which of these brews should you grab off the shelves before they hibernate through the spring and summer seasons?

Let’s look at five of these bad boys and discuss:

1. Alaskan - Winter Ale

6.4% ABV 22 IBU

Let’s start with a good brewery, Alaskan. They are out of Alaska, so it is a very aptly named brewery to say the least. So knowing their previous work, I was optimistic about their winter ale named Winter Ale. Alas, it was about as creative as the name itself. It was ok. I mean it was malty, wintery, and served cold. But really not much else. Sort of a run-of-the-mill libation. It is so forgettable, I am not positively sure I even drank it (but it it on my app, so I guess I did).

Rating: 3.0/5

2. Hat Head Winter Warmer - Floating Bridge

7.1% ABV 44 IBU

Apparently this brewery is located in Seattle, even though I have never crossed paths with their stuff. Bad sign. I mean I am no drunk, but I know my way around the local scene. If I haven’t seen it anywhere, either their stuff is so-so or they have a bad agent. Turns out their stuff is so-so. Or at least their Hat Head Winter is so-so. I mean it is not bad and I could tolerate it, but c’mon now. If you want to crack the beer scene here in Seattle, you have to bring something to the table that is different, not just standard fare like this. Floating Bridge can float away into Lake Washington for all I care.

Rating: 3.0/5

3. Pray for Snow - 10 Barrel

7.6% ABV 37 IBU

OK, here we go. I like 10 Barrel. Maybe not as much as Deschutes, their arch-enemy down there in Bend, Oregon, but they make a fine quaff. And this one fits the bill. Malty, sweet, toffee-esque, and oh so strong, Pray for Snow will have you on your knees. This is a high quality winter ale, and one that does it right. It is not exotic or pushing the boundaries of what our idea of what a winter ale is, but exhibits fine craftsmanship. Ultimately that is what any of us want.

Rating: 4/5

4. Cold Snap - Sam Adams

5.3% ABV 10 IBU

I don’t know how this one snuck in. This is one of those ‘light’ winter ales. I mean it really even isn’t a winter ale; it is called a ‘witbier’. The ‘wit’ part means it has pissed-on wheat in it, and the ‘bier’ part is trying to trick you into thinking it is more exotic than American beer. This thing gives beer (or ‘bier’) a bad name. I mean if you know someone who professes to like witbier, feel free to ignore everything else that comes out of their pieholes for the rest of their lives. I am not even hating on Sam Adams; they have some good stuff even if they are from Boston. So don’t think I am playing the snobby card on this one. I am playing the taste card. And the taste card reads ‘Please do not buy me!!’.

Rating: 1/5

5. Jolly Roger Christmas Ale - Maritime

9.0% ABV No IBU

Hot damn! We have a winner!! The Jolly Roger peaks out its malty head every time around November from its slumber. And when it does, it it greeted with a fanfare and warmth unbeknownst to any other seasonal. The Jolly Roger is strong, the Jolly Roger is smooth, the Jolly Roger is brave, and if you are not careful, the Jolly Roger will plunder your booty after round 3. With its caramel and toffee overtones, this brew entices you to sail the Seven Seas, live with weird pirate-like people, not eat healthy for months, and die of scurvy.

Rating: 4.5/5