When I was young, the winter celebration season used to kick off around Thanksgiving, but today, the Christmas displays are up in stores before the Halloween candy has left the shelves. And though the calendar still says fall, the winter beers are already arriving, with a dozen or more already in stores.
A wide variety of styles are released under the moniker winter brew, but typically they are stronger, darker and fuller bodied than their warmer season counter parts. On the clean and dry end of the spectrum, Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale is a perennial favorite. This year is no exception. An amped-up hop profile is nicely balanced by rich toasty malt. The finish is crisp and long in this copper hued classic.
Also on the dry-hop side, Full Sail's Wassail has a nice coffee and toasted malt character, with intriguing hints of dark chocolate. The hop bitterness comes through more on the finish, making this a great choice to serve with food.
On the sweeter side, Deschutes Jubelale is a worthy effort. It has lots of rich, toasty malt, a distinctive caramel flavor, and a nice, balancing bite of hops. Finishes with a hint of apricot and a touch of spice. Dark brown in color, Bridgeport's Ebenezer also shows good richness with a nice touch of spicy nutmeg and very mild hops. Not a complex style, but appealing, nonetheless.
If you like things on the softer side, Pyramid's Snow Cap is a good choice. Lush, sweet malt, a mild hop backbone, this bright mahogany brew is smooth and well balanced. Alaskan Winter Ale, with its light golden color, is also on the softer side, with delicate malt, subtle hops and a very clean finish. A touch of spruce and smoke make this an interesting choice.
With a formula designed by a home brewer, Widmer's Snowplow Milk Stout is something new and different from this venerable Oregon brewery. Using milk sugar in the brewing process, the end result is a silky stout that is soft and sweet without being cloying. Marked by dark chocolate and coffee aromas and flavors, with creamy malt, and an oh-so-light kiss of hops, this brew is just too easy to drink. Put it at the opposite end of the winter brew spectrum from the Celebration, but along with Sierra Nevada's entry--at the top of my list. :