Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXXV)

A special holiday edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the festive folks at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits who can help you find your horn of plenty when it comes to wine, whiskey, and beer.

With Thanksgiving Day almost upon us the key question for beer lovers out there is: what brews should I be quaffing to properly celebrate the holiday? Note the plural beers there as Thanksgiving is after all a day to eat, drink, and be merry. Limiting yourself to one brand or even style of beer would be downright un-American. In last Saturday’s WSJ, William Bostick suggested
five beers to pair with your Thanksgiving feast (sub req). They included:

- AleSmith Grand Cru

- Deschutes Hop Trip

- Harpoon Winter Warmer

- Russian River Supplication

- Yuengling Traditional Lager

Decent choices I suppose, although I would quibble somewhat with the Yuengling Lager as there are far better session beers out there. The selection that I find most appealing and matches up most closely with my preferences for Thanksgiving beer is the Harpoon Winter Warmer. Although I rarely wait this late to start enjoying them, Thanksgiving is an excellent time to turn to winter beers. Especially when you can find those beers with the big flavors that you truly wish to be thankful for. Beers like Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale (a perennial standout), Avery’s Old Jubilation Ale, or Full Sail’s Wassail among others.

It’s also around this time of year when those of us in Northern climes can start taking advantage of our garages for storing our stockpiles of beer. I like to have at least a twelve-pack or two of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and Summit Winter Ale on hand in my garage at all times from late-November until March. This is a compliment to my usual beer stock in the downstairs fridge and provides a key component of the SBR (Strategic Booze Reserve) that all concerned citizens should have in case of emergency.

So rather than fight the coming of winter, it’s better to embrace it and enjoy the delicious style of beers that bear its name. Starting this week and going at least up until Christmas, the focus here will be on winter beers. We start with Alaskan Brewing Company-a brewer that should know a thing or two about the season-and their Winter Ale:

English Olde Ale. Traditionally malty with the warming sensation of alcohol, Olde Ales are brewed in the fall as winter warmers.

Brewed in the style of an English Olde Ale, this ale balances the sweet heady aroma of spruce tips with the clean crisp finish of noble hops. Its malty richness is complemented by the warming sensation of alcohol.

From the seafaring adventurers of the 1700s to the homebrewers of today, adding spruce tips to beer has a rich history in Southeast Alaska. Alaskan Winter Ale was first released by the Brewery in 2000.

Alaskan Winter is made from glacier-fed water, Sitka spruce tips and a generous blend of the finest quality European and Pacific Northwest hop varieties and specialty malts. Our water originates in the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field and from the more than 90 inches of rainfall we receive each year.

Perfect winter warmer by the fireside or an accompaniment to holiday fare. Serve with roast goose, turkey, ham or lamb. A nice complement to holiday breads, pound cake, or apple pie.

Throughout Southeast Alaska, bald eagles can be spotted landing atop the towering old growth forests of Sitka spruce trees. As many as 3,000 bald eagles congregate among these evergreen trees on the shores of the Chilkat River for the last large run of salmon before winter. Sitka spruce trees carry a significance of their own to local Alaskans. The tender new growth of the spruce tips lends a delicious, yet subtly sweet floral aroma to teas, jelly and now our Alaskan Winter Ale.

I love that they care enough to give us the story behind the label. Labels matter and like most of Alaskan’s offerings they put some effort into their winter ale. This one has a bluish-purple background and a serenely still winter scene of a bald eagle gliding onto a snow-covered spruce with the moon looming in the back. 12oz short brown bottle.

STYLE: Winter Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 6.4%

COLOR (0-2): Copper gold and clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malt with some tart fruit. Pretty light. 1

HEAD (0-2): Bright white color. Thick and foamy. Moderate volume with good retention. 2

TASTE (0-5): Like the aroma, the taste is mostly caramel malts with a touch of cranberry. Hops are mostly muted. The presence of any flavor from the spruce tips is inconsistent. On one beer I could pick them up, on the next they were absent. The body is on the lighter side and it’s quite drinkable, especially for a winter warmer. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth finish that lasts. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A perfectly acceptable beer that would most of your guests would gladly give thanks for (especially if they’re the type hankering to have more than one). At like all Alaskan offerings, it’s now on sale at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits for $6.99 a six pack so the price is definitely right. But when it comes to what you typically find with winter beers, it’s underwhelming. I’m looking for a fuller, richer flavors in my winter beers and in that area Alaskan’s Winter Ale is really rather pedestrian. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13