Seasonal Brews Warm Souls

Bread, milk and eggs alone won’t take the edge off winter’s ferocity. Seasonally appropriate antidotes (read: carb-packed beverages) are perfect for staving off brisk weather, priming fireside conversation and replenishing bodies après-ski.

Greenport Harbor Brewing Company
ABV: 6.9%

The strong ale variety is a variant of the “old ale” but this does not mean it’s been sitting in the attic for decades next to grandma’s wedding dress. The term comes from the fact that ales were conditioned and served from casks. As the ale aged, it would oxidize resulting in a stronger taste. Anti-freeze follows this style. A blend of six different malts, brown sugar and honey creates bready notes and flavors of molasses as well as dark fruits. Use of English hops effectively masks the 6.9% ABV, making this dangerously drinkable. “Anti-Freeze showcases six different malts for complexity as well as a hefty addition of honey and brown sugar to the kettle,” said brewer Pat Alfred. “Deep sugary notes are balanced by English hops.” As the name implies, this beer will keep your motor running even in the most foul and inhospitable weather.

Bier de Noel
Saint James Brewery
ABV: 11%

A relative newcomer to the scene, Saint James Brewery in Holbrook focuses on crafting artisanal Belgian ales with local ingredients. Keeping true to this style, brewmaster Jamie Adams decided on a quad as opposed to an imperial stout to celebrate the season. This brew stacks up well against long-established, seasonal big hitters such as Chimay Bleue, carrying a robust character, deep, ruby hue, spicy finish and a thick meringue-like head. “I enjoy the seasonality and keeping to the traditional of making a holiday ale,” Adams said. As with other quads this one packs a wallop at 11% ABV, but the alcohol payload is well hidden behind a smooth finish—a hallmark of the brewery’s house-strain of yeast—without any trace of the harsh flavors often associated with stronger beers. Adams recommends pairing this with stews and other savory meat dishes.

Winter Coat
Moustache Brewing Company
ABV: 6.8%

Matt and Lauri Spitz, the husband and wife dynamo behind this Riverhead brew house, have created a snow day beer to ignite the senses. It’s brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove and clementine peels. Tasting notes include aromas of dried fruit and spice with flavors of graham cracker. “It’s not overly spiced,” Matt said. “I also really enjoy that touch of citrus. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the oranges stuck with cloves hanging up around the holiday times, but that was an inspiration for this beer. It’s not too sweet and the spices give it a bit of a drying sensation on the palate.” The beer pairs well with glazed ham (complete with pineapple rings and cherries) after a snowball fight.

Black Chocolate Stout
Brooklyn Brewery
ABV: 10%

There are many different types of stouts, but not all are created equal. The most famous is Guinness (a dry stout), which provides a light mouth-feel and is low in alcohol—even though it pours dark. Imperial stouts are the bigger, burlier cousin. They possess a heavier, denser mouth-feel, more intense flavors and a higher alcohol payload to boot. Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout pours ink black with a pleasing, tan head. “Though it’s fairly strong at 10 percent, it’s not very sweet and it’s also not tremendously bitter,” said brewmaster Garrett Oliver. “I like to think of the Brooklyn character as: balance, structure and elegance. Despite being a big beer, Black Chocolate Stout typifies that.” A blend of six malts and three distinct mashes creates the dark color and rich, toasted aroma. It’s a weighty brew with a thicker, more viscous mouth-feel and delivers prominent chocolate and coffee notes. A faint cocoa and tobacco aftertaste lingers on the palate and pairs nicely with rich dessert.

Sierra Nevada
ABV: 9.6%

Barley wine-style ales are a behemoth in the craft beer realm. This type often carries double-digit ABV payloads. Bigfoot is predictably a big hitter clocking in at 9.6% ABV. It pours a deep, reddish brown with a beige head. Strong, caramel malts create the slight sweetness most have come to expect in winter beer. When consumed “fresh” (that is, as soon as it’s available) some have found it “hot” (the alcohol content jarring and dominating). Many folks buy extra and let it sit until next winter when the boozy tones fade and the toffee, caramel-like qualities of the barley wine come to the forefront. “Bigfoot develops a rich dark fruit flavor from the oxidation and begins to take on notes of rum, raisin, fig and date,” said Bill Manley, new product development manager at Sierra Nevada. “The longer it ages the more the malt flavor comes forward and in its oldest forms, it starts to taste more like a vintage Oloroso Sherry.”