If you're looking to curl up in front of a fire with a great beer on a cold, snowy day, a "winter warmer" might come to mind. These brews are not within a narrowly defined style; rather, they're a broad range of beers that offer bold flavors, often with sweet maltiness and lots of alcohol. Winter warmers are big brews that can be quite strong -- so strong, in fact, that after few you may not care about the weather or even read the thermometer.
Kidding aside, winter warmers can come in at ABVs of 8% or more, and have soothing, rich malty tones of chocolate and caramel. New Glarus Brewing has brought back a winter warmer it hasn't produced for a few years. It's a Scotch ale, and joins the brewery's signature limited release Thumbprint series.
What is it? Thumbprint Winter Warmer Scotch Ale from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wisconsin.
Style: Scottish beers tend to emphasize malty qualities, with less attention to hoppiness. They often are brewed with brown malts and for longer boiling times, which accentuate the caramel and chocolate flavor tones. The Scotch ale is distinctive among Scottish brews, with an even richer dark color, more malty sweetness, and a higher alcohol content that ranges from 6% to 8% ABV. Traditional recipes may include peat-smoked malt, which lends light to modest smoky and earthy tones to the aroma and flavor.
Background: New Glarus Brewing hasn't offered its Winter Warmer for a few years, so this is a nice surprise and a good way start off 2013. Brewmaster Dan Carey has been hinting that he'll be bringing back a few of his classic creations to help celebrate the brewery's 20th anniversary this year. This Scotch ale dates back to 2000, or at least that's when I first discovered it.
Carey has tweaked the recipe just a bit. The 2013 release is made with a blend of seven malts and aged on toasted oak. Earlier versions utilized more intensely smoked malt in the grist.
New Glarus Winter Warmer is a hearty amber ale made in the spirit of the barley wine, says Carey, and meant for "laying down" and extended cellaring. With firm malty underpinnings and two months of aging before being released, the final beer has a spicy-alcoholic warmth throughout. (New Glarus does not normally disclose the alcohol content of its beers; however, its Winter Warmer is nearly 9% ABV.)
New Glarus Winter Warmer Scotch Ale is sold in the Thumbprint series of 4-packs for around $11.
- Aroma: Malty, with sweet hints of caramel and biscuit malt-tones.
- Appearance: Deep copper color, with a slight chill haze when served very cold. A medium soft tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, bubbly, a smooth mouthfeel and spicy-warmth from the initial sip.
- Taste: A firm malty body with some light sweet dark fruit (grape-like) sweetness in the background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: A light, sweet toffee-maltiness comes out in the ending.
Glassware: A heavy dimpled glass mug is great to show off the Scotch ale's copper and bronze hues. The thick glass also allows the beer to slowly warm, which will help bring out even more of the smooth malty sweetness.
Pairs well with: The caramel-malty flavors go well with soups and stews, especially those heavy in beef broth. For cheese, you can't really go wrong with a basic mozzarella, or to bring out the malty tones even more, try it with a mild Swiss or Emmenthaler.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: New Glarus Winter Warmer is a very appropriate beer for the season. The smooth caramel tones and mild spicy-alcoholic warmth give legitimacy to its winter warmer title. It's not the boldest example of the style, but there's enough seductive sweetness and strength to appeal to those who enjoy the smooth caramel flavors in a malt-focused beer. It's best to allow this beer to warm slowly after serving, bringing out the toffee-like maltiness in the finish.