Well, winter is setting in. Nothing we can do about it other than zip or button our coats all the way to the top, lean into the chilling wind and ride it out until March. At least.
How’s that relate to beer? Well, I’ve met many beer drinkers who veer away from stouts, porters and the like during warm weather, only to return to these meatier styles when winter rears its blustery head.
A few years ago, I first heard the term winter warmer, a phrase that is pretty self-explanatory — or at least I thought it was. But after doing some reading on the term, I found that there are a variety of interpretations of what a winter warmer is. To some, a winter warmer has to be a stock ale style, which is a big, malty brew with plenty of sweetness and a big alcohol content.
For others, the style is less important than the addition of a spicy kick, such as giving a stout or a porter a wassail sort of approach — think cinnamon, nutmeg and the like.
For me, a winter warmer is more like an imperial stout, something big and malty to be sipped on the couch while snow falls outside. I like to think it’s simply a beer that warms the belly and soul. Of course, high alcohol content helps, as a boozy finish in any beer helps create a warmth in the upper body, but it may be something like barrel aging (bourbon is warming all year around) or even just a thick chocolate and/or coffee presence.
Again, this is my interpretation; yours may vary. What I’m here to do is point out a few local beers that might qualify as winter warmers without the beer ending up tasting like a Christmas cookie. Cloves and beer should never mix.
Goodwood Brewing Bourbon Barrel Stout: This is an obvious first choice. As I said before, bourbon inherently makes us feel warmer and the barrel presence in this beer has made it a classic in Kentucky and beyond. With 8 percent alcohol by volume, you’ll be feeling plenty warm after just a few drinks of this big guy and you’ll savor the coffee and chocolate notes along the way.
Any Against the Grain Stout: Assuming you didn’t get your paws on a four-pack of this year’s Bo & Luke, you can take solace in a big can (or four) of 35K Stout, or even its big brother, 70K, if you can find it. The latter is, literally, double the malt bill of the former (13-percent ABV!) and is ridiculously creamy and chocolaty. Oh, and it spends a season or two in Angel’s Envy barrels, just to take it to the limit. But 35K, still delicious and also ample at 7-percent ABV, is a fine winter option.
Gravely Brewing Co. Staying Power Porter: This one is smooth like Barry White — which is exactly who it’s named for (well, a Barry White song, at least). The velvety body and rich malt sweetness bring with them enough alcohol content (6.8 percent) to make this one a warmer without any frills. Like Barry himself, it gets straight to the point.
Mile Wide Beer Co. McPoyle Milk Stout: I’ve been a McPoyle fan since day one. It’s a smooth, sweet beer with a persistent head that is like chocolate candy for my palate, with a hint of fruitiness to boot. It’s big enough at 6.5 percent alcohol by volume and while it isn’t extremely boozy, it will still soothe the winter chill right out of you. Grab it in growlers or by the glass at the taproom.
Monnik Beer Co. His Dark Materials: This one comes in at just under 6 percent alcohol, but it’s a palate-pleasing milk stout that gives me a warm feeling if only because it is so drinkable. Also, it won’t make you sink into your recliner at 8 p.m. (The brewery recently released a marshmallow and cinnamon version, if that’s your thing and the 9.4-percent Noel, a lavender-ginger tripel, also is in season.)
Others: Haven’t had a chance to try it, but 3rd Turn has a Double Haze Baltic Porter (8.6-percent ABC) that would no doubt warm the coldest of hearts; there’s also an equally potent Irish Dry Stout. I’ve been sipping on Apocalypse Brew Works’ Tailspin Ale Fest imperial stout all year and it is available in crowlers for just $8, while supplies last. Delicious. New Albanian Brewing Company’s Naughty Claus is an interesting, spiced ale that will cut the cold as well.