Brews to fight the blues
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Here in the high latitudes of the Pacific Northwest, winter is a cold, wet and dark time of year. Fortunately, Bellingham’s three breweries—Boundary Bay, Chuckanut, and Kulshan—are offering a variety of winter beers to lift your spirits during this dreary season.
“Winter beers,” also known as “winter warmers” and “holiday beers,” tend to be high-alcohol (typically in the 5 to 8 percent Alcohol By Volume (ABV) range), malt-forward ales and lagers that are made especially for the winter season. Stylistically, the winter beer category is vague, as it often includes a variety of beer styles, such as English strong ales, bocks, spiced ales, porters, stouts and more.
Boundary Bay Brewery’s Cabin Fever is an annual favorite that’s not to be missed. It is a strong (just over 7 percent ABV), burgundy-brown beer that is rich, malty and hoppy, with a pleasant, lingering sweetness and a balanced bitterness. Thanks to an extra-long cold conditioning, Cabin Fever has a velvety smoothness and a soft and rounded roastiness. It also features hints of sugarcoated nuts, toffee and brown sugar, making it the perfect fireside sipper.
Chuckanut Brewery has been especially busy brewing up many winter beers to complement the season, including a Winter Bock, a Sticke Alt, and a Baltic Porter.
Chuckanut’s Bock, which hasn’t been brewed since 2010, is a traditional lager that was aged 12 weeks before kegging, giving it loads of smoothness and depth. Mahogany in color, it is richly flavored with toasty and nutty overtones, a subtle caramel-toffee sweetness, fruity aromas, a balanced hop bitterness and a significant alcohol presence.
“It’s a real festive treat,” says Mari Kemper of Chuckanut, “and it makes a perfect match with any rich entrée or dessert.”
Sticke Alt is a stronger, fuller-bodied, maltier and hoppier version of the German altbier style. Sticke, which means “secret,” originated at the Uerige brewery in Düsseldorf, Germany, at a time when brewers would imprecisely measure and add ingredients. When the brewer accidentally added too much malt to a batch, he also had to add extra hops for balance, and news of this bold brew—i.e., “mistake”—would spread secretively by word of mouth to a privileged few.
There’s no secret at Chuckanut, though. “We intentionally used a greater portion of our imported German malts—Munich, Vienna and caramel malts—and German Spalt hops to create this full-flavored beer,” Kemper says. “A blend of traditional dark and light malts, and its pronounced hops, give this beer its character.” Sticke Alt is 6 percent ABV and it has 45 International Bitterness Units (IBUs).
Also be on the lookout for Chuckanut’s Baltic Porter, which was aged for months. This strong, sweet, full-bodied porter is malty and smoothly roasted. It lacks the sharp roast of an imperial stout, but it still offers a deep and multi-layered malt complexity, featuring notes of coffee and dark chocolate.
Kulshan Brewing Company plans to have its Kitten Mittens Winter Warmer on tap throughout the winter season. This wholesome and chewy brew has tasty notes of sweet grains, dark fruits and chocolate. These malt flavors are complemented by a healthy amount of Apollo and Palisade hops—contributing 39 IBUs—and a surprisingly hidden 7.65 percent ABV, making it a very drinkable beer.
“Kitten Mittens is a nicely balanced, malt-forward ale that offers a little warmth to your cheeks for these cold and wintry days,” Kulshan founder Dave Vitt says. “It’s a perfect companion for your mountain adventures or winter parties.”
Late December, Kulshan released a 7-barrel batch of Royal Tenenbaum Christmas Ale, which may or may not still be on tap by the time this article publishes. If it’s still on, it’s a must-try beer, especially if you have ever wondered what a liquefied Christmas tree tastes like.
Royal Tenenbaum has more than 8 percent ABV, which is hidden dangerously well; it has a delicious, toasty and sweet malt base; and it bursts with flavors and aromas of sappy pine and citrus that were created by Columbus and Cascade hops, plus some very unique and inventive ingredients and processes: Douglas fir branches were stuffed into the boiling kettle and Norway Spruce tips were packed into the hopback (hot wort flows through the hopback on its way to the chiller and then the fermenter).
“I’m super-happy with how this beer came out,” Vitt says. “It’s better than I could have imagined.”
As unique as some winter beers are, most of them can be described as “comfort food” beers, as they are often approachable and easy to quaff, few are sharply roasted or heavily bittered, and they typically contain a good amount of residual sweetness and throat-warming alcohol. All of these qualities culminate into a comforting and cozy beer that not only makes winter bearable, but a time to be celebrated.
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