Defining The Craft: What is a Winter Beer?

Defining The Craft is a brief look at different beer styles that will help you learn whether they’re right for you. Ultimately, words can’t truly turn you on to a solid craft beer. You have to smell, taste, and savor each sip to truly discover if it’s one you’ll come back to in the future. But the background info obtained in this post won’t hurt anything either.

What is a Winter Beer?

Seasons inevitably change. And as the darkness sets in earlier and the nip in the air becomes more brisk, so does the style of beer we crave. The session ales and light lagers that complement summer so well are quickly replaced by the warmth of thick, full-body strong ales and specially-spiced Christmas ales designed to accentuate the holiday season and keep us toasty when Mother Nature says otherwise.

But what is a Winter Beer? Affectionately known as Winter Warmers, these beers present a large malt presence both in flavor and in appearance. Their colors range from brownish red to pitch black. In these particular styles, the bitterness delivered by hops is low but balanced, but that hop character can stand out in some cases.

Several English versions of Winter Warmers do not contain spices, but those that are spiced follow the “wassail” tradition. Wassailing has been associated with Christmas and New Year as far back as the 1400s. It was a way of passing on good wishes among family and friends. Wassail is an ale-based drink seasoned with spices and honey and this combination was popular before hops became the “spice” of choice in traditional beers. American varieties of Winter Warmers have a larger presence of hops in both bitterness and flavor, although malt-forwardness truly defines these particular brews.

Anderson Valley Winter SolsticeMany great offerings light the marquee for Winter Beer supremacy and, ultimately, it’s going to come down to personal style preference and overall drinkability that will truly define your winter go-tos. Personally, my favorite winter offering, the one that first introduced me to these particular styles as I was transitioning into craft beer, still tops my list and makes the colder months much more bearable. Anderson Valley Winter Solstice came into my life almost by accident and instantly had me hooked. I pulled up a stool at a neighborhood bar on a snowy Saturday evening and asked the bartender what he recommended. He could’ve recommended a variety of other options, but he went Solstice and, as the old saying goes, the rest is history.

Winter Solstice is Anderson Valley’s take on the Winter Warmer, featuring an amber hue, rich mouthfeel, and creamy finish. It contains notes of toffee, spice, and caramel. The brew complements a snowy night accented by crisp winds almost perfectly.

Take my word for it, Solstice is a great place to start. But there are many others offering similar styles with exceptional quality. In addition, Winter is a great time to find and enjoy stouts and roasty porters, too. The overall profile of these beers, just like all craft beers, can be enjoyed year-round. However, there’s a certain quality in these beers that makes them pair with winter in exceptional fashion.

Get to know more winter beers:

“The 15 Best Winter Beers”

“The 25 Beers of Christmas”

As always, it doesn’t end here. Keep your options open, allow some variety into your world, and you’ll soon discover that special Winter Warmer you’ll hope Santa leaves under the tree for you Christmas morning.




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