What is a winter beer? A beer brewed for winter? Is it that simple? CAMRA's annual National Winter Ales Festival is aimed at old ales, stouts and porters but that is not what the US understands by the term. As the Magic Hat offering is called "a dark wheat ale" on the label you can expect to find some experimentation and style stretching with winter ales. Dark, malt rich and strong I often think of them as old ales without the funky "stock" quality.
It is also interesting to note that the Blue Point Winter Ale is being contract brewed at the Clipper City Brewing Co. in Baltimore rather than their own facility in Long Island New York so we have one each from New Hampshire, Vermony, New York and Maryland in this selection.
- Redhook Winter Hook: chestnut ale with beige foam and rim. Malty roundness resolves into a juicy lush drink followed by twiggy hops and then orange welling up. The finish has a minerally or black malt toastiness. Rich but not overly sweet at all. Not too complex at all but quite pleasant. Very likeable. Come to think of it, this is not too far off a Scots heavy like Caledonian /80 but silently stronger than that at 6.1%. Here is the brewery's take on it and here's the word from the BAers.
- Magic Hat Saint Gootz: cloudy mahogany ale with beige rim and a lot of yeasty chunks. Very distinct taste with the green grass of the wheat over a dark malt richness. Vegetative with some bell pepper notes. Steel hops. Lighter body than expected with soft water quaffability. Something like a cross between a Belgian dubbel with a German pilsner at 6.2%. A little querky for me though Magic Hat does spin a good tale. Here's what the BAers say. I would think the most common example of this sort of dark strong wiezen would be Aventinus...maybe not if there is a difference between a dunkel wiezen and a weizenbock. You tell me.
- Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale: Quality. The best of the lot and another confirmation that the guys at Southern Tier in western New York have something going. Red-chestnut ale with white foam and rim. The nose is spiced citrus. This ale has a great grainy texture sweetned by crystal malt and, I think, a bit of corn in the American style. The hops are grapefruity f rom a very generous measure of US hops - cascade?. Smooth and rich without a hint of mustiness. Almost a double IPA like Stoudt's. [Ed.: later] Then I thought it was like a practically impossible style, a double ESB. Anyway, it picks up 100% BAer approval and achieved 7.5% with utter stealth.
- Blue Point Winter Ale: Dark red amber ale - the lightest in colour so far, a more subtle version of the Southern Tier version above. Again there are citrus hops but lighter by a notch. The malt is grainy and a little sweet but a bit of a distinct sultana note. Rich and round with good grainy texturing. The milky quality of the yest is nice as is the soft water. Like the others something that is both big and wasy to take. At 4/5% it is the lightest in strength as well but the BAers also all approve.