Winter brews began hitting the Treasure Valley several weeks ago, but as with all things holiday, their arrival seemed a bit premature. I resisted the temptation to buy in--after all, the first frost was still to come and Halloween was several days away. But when I saw a six pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale in my East End neighborhood market, my resolve crumbled. Good timing. These hearty brews are just the thing for our current cold snap. Here are three of my favorites:
Dark copper in color with a two-finger tan head that persists nicely, this beer opens with aromas of fruity hops, caramel and toasty malt. You get flavors of bittersweet chocolate, berry and that roasted malt, which are nicely balanced by an undertone of smooth hops. There is nothing tricked up about this holiday seasonal--just a solid winter ale rich enough for the colder weather.
Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale
I've been drinking this English brewery's winter seasonal for more than three decades, and it seldom disappoints. That said, this 2011-2012 entry is more reserved than some past bottlings. The aromas are a mix of bread dough, herb and spicy hops. There are more fresh-baked bread notes in the mouth, colored by soft malt, light hops and hints of cherry and cinnamon. This brew is a delicious quaff, but misses the mark a bit as a winter warmer.
Sierra Nevada 2011 Celebration Ale
Celebration is a perennial favorite, and I prefer its hop-driven style to the richer, sweet-malt-based winter seasonals. This beer has a deep-brown pour with a creamy head, and the pine- and citrus-laced hops are fresh and fruity. On the palate, it's nicely balanced, though the bitter hops take center stage, playing against more subtle creamy malt flavors. This one is definitely on the subdued side of the holiday offering spectrum, which is fine by me.