This is the time of year when breweries start to roll out their winter ales (and lagers). There is no one school of thought on what a winter ale should or should not be. They are often stronger and/or hoppier than the typical beers produced by the brewery. Many breweries model their winter ales after stronger English ales which were traditionally brewed in the winter. These celebratory beers were usually malty, darker (amber to brown) beers with ample bittering hops for balance. I chose to review two such "Winter Warmers" from a pair rapidly growing Northwestern craft brewers.
The Beer: Powder Hound
The Brewery: Big Sky Brewing Company of Missoula, Montana
ABV: 6.2%Brewer's Description: Powder Hound is our Winter Ale, and since it is our own creation we call it a Northern Rockies Strong Ale. Powder Hound satisfies, with the fine hand selected British hops fully complimenting the smooth malt notes. After a day on the ice or in the snow, enjoy a Powder Hound Winter Ale. Available November through March.
Color: Poured into Yakima Fresh Hop Festival pint glass, deep ruby red in color when held to light, otherwise approaching brown. Thin creamy off-white head that leaves lace.
Aroma: cranberry notes? Brown sugar and some darker fruits.
Taste/mouthfeel: medium carbonation, medium creamy mouthfeel. Fruity esters up front fading to medium toasted malt notes.
Finish: pronounced, but not overpowering, hop bitterness. I would never call this beer "hoppy", but it has enough hops to balance the sweetness of the malt. Specific hop flavors are not apparent.
Notes: Purchased at Rosauers Supermarket in Spokane, WA. An enjoyable, if safe, winter ale. Showcases bolder malt and hop notes than a typical beer of this strength while maintaining a surpisingly amount of "drinkability". This beer tastes much better when it is allowed to warm up for about 15 minutes. Served cold, much of the nuances in the malt are masked by the bitterness.
The Beer: Jubelale
The Brewery: Deschutes Brewing Company of Bend, Oregon
ABV: 6.7%Brewer's Description: Jubelale is classified as a "Strong Ale" or an "English Olde Ale," and has ties to the traditional Celebration Ales of England. Characterized by a very large malt body and pronounced bitterness, Jubelale contains five different varieties of hops and a healthy amount of caramel. The perfect ale for surviving the long, cold nights of winter. Our tradition is having a different local artist design our Jubelale label & packaging each year. October - December - draft and bottles
Color: Poured into pint glass, dark brown in color with ruby hues. Thicker and much creamier off-white head than the Powder Hound.
Aroma: very little aroma, I'm having a hard time picking up anything! Perhaps some raisin notes?
Taste/mouthfeel: medium-low carbonation, medium creamy mouthfeel. Creamy, toated-bread malt notes up front, quickly giving way to bitterness.
Finish: the hop bitterness here is a bit much for the beer, in my opinion. I adore hoppy beers but this beer packs a bit too much hop bitterness that overpowers any malt-derived flavors in the ale. Some mild citrus hop notes in the finish.
Notes: Purchased at Rosauers Supermarket in Spokane, WA. Similar to the Powder Hound with much more hop bitterness, a bit too much for my taste. I love hoppy beers, but I expect beers like this to have some rich warming maltiness. I would rather drink a pale ale or IPA when in the mood for a bitter beer. The hop bitterness here is too in conflict with the malt flavors. Instead of balancing them, it competes with them. While the Powder Hound is balanced by the hops, this beer is slightly off the mark. I should note that I still enjoyed the beer, I just feel that it could become even better with a little restraint on the bittering hops.