Like Christmas store displays, the first winter seasonals usually hit town around Halloween. In the past—with a few exceptions—winter brews were thick, malt-driven ales, but this trio from the first tranche are all different in style, although they share one characteristic: balance.
Fremont Winter Ale, $2.49-$2.99
This ale, dark in the glass, is topped by a persistent, pillowy mocha-colored froth filled with aromas of fresh roasted coffee bean, date, dark chocolate and a bit of spice. This is a rich brew with a balanced palate and a supple finish. There's a lovely warmth to the roasted malt and spicy mocha flavors, while a hint of licorice and a welcome bite of hops come through on the finish.
New Belgium Accumulation White India Pale Ale, $1.59-$1.99
A murky straw-colored pour is topped by a creamy head that collapses slowly, leaving a thick lacing. Resiny Amarillo hops dominate the nose, which also has light notes of citrus, bread dough, pepper and grass. Though it's slightly sweet on the palate, there's less of a hop bite than the aroma would suggest. The creamy flavors include cracked wheat, citrus and herb.
Sockeye Winterfest, $1.59-$1.99
If memory serves, Sockeye was the first modern Boise brewery to bottle beer, and a winter offering was among its first. The tradition continues, but now in a can that pours a lovely shade of chestnut with an admirable tan head. Caramel malt and chocolate aromas are backed by an earthy hit of hops, and the flavors balance sweet malt with lightly bitter hops and a touch of toffee and dark roast coffee on the finish. This is definitely a worthy winter brew.