THREE MIDWEST WINTER SEASONALS
Just a word about the scale of my ratings. I use the weighted average scoring system developed by Beer Advocate, http://beeradvocate.com/help/index?topic=reviewing_beers . Also, here’s how I translate my numeric ratings into actionable intelligence.
To Buy or Not to Buy?
1 = horrible
2 = bad
3 = average (many better beers out there, won’t buy this again)
4 = very good
4.5 = great
5 = rare best
New Glarus Thumbprint Winter Warmer
Pours an orangey-copper into a tulip glass. Two fingers of light white rocky head that soon breaks down, showing a faint haze.
The aroma is a bit tame. Raisin and brown sugar, with wood and grass and metal barrel.
Momentarily sweet on the front end, but only for an instant. Mild hop bitterness accompanies the sweetness through to the throat. A little smoke. Sugary dried fruit of the fruitcake variety, think maraschino cherry and fig. The grassy hops ride the significant carbonation up into the sinuses. No sign of the 9% alcohol anywhere.
Wish this had more body, though the refreshing carbonation has its own appeal. Finishes super dry.
If you’re looking for a syrupy/spicy sweet winter warmer, look elsewhere. This is all imperial Scotch Ale. Yet a very New Glarus take on the Scotch Ale–crisp and refreshing, fruity, earthy, with a bit of hop bite and sharp mouthfeel that dries the style. Oh, man, as it warms, it drifts deliciously closer to the center of the Scotch Ale tradition.
Alaskan Winter Ale, Alaskan Brewing Co.
Had this as a 10 oz. chaser to an exceptional Bloody Mary at The Caribou (Madison). Bright amber, with a small white head and serious lacing.
Knowing Alaskan for the syrupy greatness that is their Pilot Series barley wine, I predicted this winter warmer would have a sugary persona. Boy, howdy. Low in alcohol (6.4% abv) for what I’m used to in old ales, the aroma is quite mild, more like an amber ale, without much by way of spice or hops. Definitely bready and nutty, to be sure, just a bit quiet in the nose.
Surprisingly thick and creamy in body. High sugar content sweetness, even for an old ale, without the leather or sand of others in the style, like North Coast Old Stock or Founders Curmudgeon, which I’m glad for. Surprising sugar-citrus, sweet-ripe mandarin orange. I’d say apricot, green grape, too. Wasn’t expecting all the fruit. No hops to speak of, though the sweetness comes in balance, so there must be some bitterness.
Totally satisfying, though doesn’t touch the outer realms of my favorite old ale, Bells Third Coast Olde Ale (arguably more of a barley wine, anyway).
Bells Winter White Ale
Somewhat unfair to be drinking this after my favorite witbier of all time, Hitachino Nest White Ale. But what are you gonna do?
Pours a Hazy straw color, with a lemon juice look to it. Fast-dissipating white head with fluffy bubbles.
An aroma instantly recognizable for the style, it’s spicy and yeasty in the nose, with some wet cardboard. Green grapes, other indeterminate fresh fruits, maybe pear, maybe melon.
On the tongue it’s grass and white pepper, first. Coriander, awesome winter spice profile.
Eminently refreshing, yet with seasonal fruits, including tart apple and a hint of banana. I like the spices, which are admittedly on the subtle side. Plus the wheat and yeast of Belgian whites that come off as comforting old patterns.
Moderate carbonation keeps everything bright and sharp.
Have I mentioned how refreshing this is? The complexity is all in the fruits, which may sadly overpower the spice. Not quite on par with Allagash White, but close.