These three brews are all great for winter consumption but are all very different: a Finnish ale with juniper twigs, another stand out from Colorado's New Belgium Brewing and the much anticipated holiday release from Boise's own Sockeye Brewing.
Huvila Arctic Circle Ale
There's a distinctive herbal quality to this delightful Finnish brew, something like a cross between the pine notes of retsina and the aroma of those old school, unsweetened Y&S licorice sticks, all backed by light toast. That herbal licorice quality definitely comes through on the palate, but in a very appealing way, along with lightly sweet malt and spicy hops. Touches of rye and black tea color the finish in this uniquely delicious and exceptional ale.
New Belgium Lips of Faith Vrienden
In collaboration with New England's Allagash Brewing, New Belgium has created this unusual ale employing Brett yeast and Lactobacillus, while adding hibiscus flowers and endive to the mix. It sounds like a strange formulation but it works beautifully. You get the funky aromas expected from Brett--that earth and spice mix--along with a lightly sour tang. On the palate, that sour quality is present but subdued, blending nicely with smooth malt and subtle hops. Nice apple and citrus flavors are also present, but endive? Thankfully, not so much.
This winter seasonal is brewed with the recipe that I prefer--there's enough sweet malt to fit the style but with the balancing hop bite I love (think Sierra Nevada Celebration). It pours a dark amber with a thick tan head that slowly dissolves, leaving a nice lacing. Resiny hops dominate the nose, backed by notes of citrus and caramel. Again, balance is the key with those toasty malt flavors playing beautifully against the ripe citrus and bitter hops. I wish more Boise brewers bottled.