Holiday Beer Cheer 2007

CHOW rates this year’s winter warmers

By Kurt Wolff

Beer-lovers look forward to winter, for the one-of-a-kind seasonal beers that appear in liquor stores across the country. These ales and lagers are an opportunity for brewmasters to take risks and let it all hang out. The seasonals are only around until January—and while some will reappear next year, others may never be seen again.
Though holiday beers tend to be heavier and darker—and also higher in alcohol (they’re not called winter warmers for nothing)—there is no standard style, per se. To investigate the 2007 crop, CHOW staff tasted 10 holiday ales from the United States and Europe. We conducted the survey blind (tasters didn’t see the bottles), and rated the beers on appearance, aroma, taste, and aftertaste, with extra credit for “seasonal” and “festive” qualities.

Widmer Snowplow Milk Stout
Pulling in a close second was this dark and burly yet smooth stout from one of Oregon’s best-known breweries. It had a “friendly, creamy” appearance, a “crisp” finish, and tasters described it as “nutty,” “smoky,” and “caramel-y.” You’ll also find notes of coffee, chicory, and maple syrup. Like the Anchor, tasters gave it high points for “holiday” character, and one wrote, “Leaves you wanting more.”

Samuel Adams Winter Lager
This medium-bodied amber lager struck tasters as the most “drinkable” of the bunch. They gave thumbs-up to its smooth, malty flavor, which was “not too assertive” and only hinted at holiday spice. On the downside, others found it “fine but unremarkable,” offering “no challenge.”

Samuel Smith Winter
Welcome Ale

Compared to Sam Adams’s, Mr. Smith’s beer is a bit edgier—though this entry (from one of Britain’s most famous breweries) is still plenty soft and easy to drink. It’s an ale, so by nature it’s not as smooth in body as the Adams lager, but it still retains a mild-mannered aroma (“Smells like rain,” said one taster) and a flavor balanced between an initial bite (a tad bitter and citrusy up front) and a malty, if somewhat “thin,” finish.

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