Winter warmers are another wildly popular seasonal amongst beer geeks. As the name implies, this seasonal is only brewed in the winter and all have a slightly higher ABV to help “keep you warm” during the holiday season.
What is a Winter Warmer?
For centuries now, beer with higher-than-usual amounts of alcohol has been brewed in the fall and winter months. Nobody is quite sure when the name “winter warmer” was applied to this style, but the name still rings true as this type of beer will definitely keep you warm on a chilly night.
The most notable feature of a winter warmer is the higher-than-average amount of alcohol that you will find within them. While there are no set guidelines of what ABV this style should have, you will generally find that they have an ABV of 5.25-8.0%. In some cases, you will find that this reaches up to 10%, but that is definitely not the norm for a winter beer.
Other than more alcohol, winter beers typically will have a large malty backbone with very little hoppy bitterness. Whatever hop flavor there is will be balanced, to not take away from the malty sweetness this style is known for. You will also notice that the flavor will be full and bold with a medium to heavy body. The color of a winter warmer will be darker, ranging from dark red to deep black.
Some brewers will toss in a few select spices to give their winter warmer a different kind of bite. While this isn’t necessary for this style, it is quite common nowadays. Winter beers from breweries in the United States are known to have an eclectic palate of spices, whereas those from England and other parts of the world are less likely to have these extra ingredients.
Pairing a Winter Beer
Depending on who you ask, pairing your favorite winter warmer with food prove to be slightly difficult. Some beer geeks believe that winter beers shouldn’t be paired with anything, but instead should be enjoyed on their own. Others believe that this style goes great with your Christmas turkey, or other types of poultry. To make things a little more complicated, some people will say that this style of beer goes great with desserts, such as Christmas cookies or fruit.
Everybody is different, and these suggested food pairings are just that, a suggestion. Try different combinations and see what you think.
Serving a Winter Warmer
If you’re going to serve or sample different types of winter warmers, there are a few recommended serving suggestions that you probably want to follow. Please keep in mind these are merely recommendations for you to get the full experience. You may prefer to serve yours differently.
Experts recommend serving a winter beer at a temperature between 45-55° F. If you are daring, you can also try serving spiced winter ale at a hot temperature. I’ve never personally tried it, but I’ve heard that it is great and will definitely keep you warm.
I’m a big fan of using different glassware for your beer. There are many different types of beer glasses out there, all of which are designed to accentuate the flavors and aromas of your beer. For winter warmers, it is recommended to use a pint glass or nonic glass for those with a lower ABV. If it has a high ABV, then you should try using a snifter or thistle glass.
Top 10 Winter Warmers You Should Try
There are literally hundreds of different winter beers available to you right now. If you’re anything like me, you probably have no idea where to start or which one is a great example of this style.
Top 10 Rated:
Here is a list of the top rated winter beers, according to the loyal members of BeerAdvocate.com. Each individual brand has a link to where you can learn more about it. Please note, this list may change over time, but these are the ten most popular winter warmers as of the date of this publication.
- Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer – Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. (8.50% ABV)
- Wintervention – Peticolas Brewing Company (10% ABV)
- God Jul — Nøgne ø (8.50% ABV)
- Decoy Winter Warmer – Carton Brewing Company (12% ABV)
- 12 Dogs of Christmas Barrel Aged – Thirsty Dog Brewing Company (10% ABV)
- Hitachino Next Celebration Ale – Kiuchi Brewery (9% ABV)
- Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale – Highland Brewing (5.80% ABV)
- Barley’s Christmas Ale – Barley’s Brewing Company (6.60% ABV)
- Great Lakes Christmas Ale – Great Lakes Brewing Co. (7.50% ABV)
- Lead Dog Olde English Ale – Yukon Brewing Company (7% ABV)
While these didn’t make the top ten list above, they are all very popular and worth trying. Many of these have a pretty wide distribution network, so they should be easy to find. Of course, depending on where you live, you may not be able to find some, or all, of them.
- Celebration Ale — Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (6.8% ABV)
- Schlafly Christmas Ale — Saint Louis Brewery (8% ABV)
- Saint Arnold Christmas Ale — Saint Arnold Brewing Company (7% ABV)
- Alaskan Winter Ale — Alaskan Brewing Co. (6.4% ABV)
- Christmas Ale – Breckenridge Brewery (7.4% ABV)
Before this seasonal disappears, be sure to go out and buy a couple of six-packs.