Just as there are lighter, fruitier, floral beers for the summer, there are also heavier, darker, spiced brews to embrace the winter, specifically, winter warmer beers. Winter warmer is the British umbrella term used to describe the traditionally spiced winter seasonals, although you're more likely to find them under the name winter ales or Christmas ales in the US.
The two foundation brewers under this variety are the spiced Wassail and the strong English ale. Between these two winter warmer beer styles, the central difference is the means of spicing.
Spiced Wassail's utilize old school classics to spice their winter warmer beers, such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. A combination of these cooking spices is blended with robust ales to make the traditional Wassail winter warmer.
The strong English ale focuses on using the more modern spicing agent, hops. The hops character can be pronounced in the aroma, but adds little bitterness to the brew and is very balanced. American varieties have a particularly larger presence of hops in bitterness and flavor. Although they use no actual spices in this English version, it still carries the label winter warmer.
Although the means of spicing may vary, you can always expect alcohol warmth, and a big malt presence in flavor and body. Other variations of winter warmer's include whether they are barrel aged or not, whether their color is a brown red or pitch black, and whether they have added sugars from maple syrup, molasses, plums, raisins, and more.
Most winter warmers generally become available in early September and remain on shelves until early January. While winter warmers are meant to be enjoyed as their own treat with the season, they can be accompanied by roasted holiday meats such as turkey, ham, and roast beef, as well as holiday pies, like pumpkin and apple. The best beer glass for winter warmers is a goblet or chalice, and most have an ABV in the 5.5-8.5% range.
People have become so enthralled by this beer style, that winter warmer beer festivals occur in different states across the US, with an exceptionally big event in Ohio. These winter warmer fests usually feature beer tastings, food trucks, and live music. This winter season be sure to see what winter warmers are released and give them a try!
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