The first wave of winter brews is here, and while it may seem premature (especially given the unusually warm fall weather), the Great Pumpkin has passed. Thanksgiving is coming and the Christmas displays are already up, so winter must be just around the corner. That said, I'm still not ready for those bigger offerings loaded with sweet malt, but a few of the new arrivals qualify as India Pale Ales, and those make for a great segue into the season.
Full Sail Wreck the Halls, 2010
Weighing in at 68 international bitterness units, this brew strikes a nice balance between an IPA and a winter warmer. It opens with floral hops backed by herb, green tea and lightly roasted malt. There's a nice hop bitterness up front in this beer that gives way to smooth, spicy malt and caramel flavors, before that bitter bite comes back on the finish.
Rogue Yellow Snow IPA
About the only thing that makes this a winter brew is the clever name. Not that that's a bad thing, but if you're looking for a warming malt profile, look elsewhere. This is a hop-driven ale with lots of pine resin and a little citrus on the nose, and with 70 IBUs, hops dominates the palate. Clean and crisp with a lingering bitterness and just the lightest touch of malt, this beer is the perfect thing for this unusual autumn weather.
Sierra Nevada Celebration, Fresh Hop Ale
This is a perennial favorite, and this year's edition is no exception. Unlike many winter seasonals, Celebration has always been understated when it comes to malt. The aromas are a nice mix of fresh hops and soft caramel. The same is true on the palate, where pine-laced hops play against malt flavors reminiscent of fresh baked brioche flecked with bits of dried orange. Don't miss out on this one.