Matt’s Myriad of Beer Styles #6 – Winter Warmer

By the time you read this, winter should hopefully be nearing its end (if indeed it arrived at all! It’s a mild, early January evening as I write!) and we can look forward to increasing daylight hours and the thoughts of enjoying beer al fresco once again.

The conclusion of winter seems a sensible time to reflect on a winter style for this edition.  If somebody asks me what winter drinking means to me, I think of sheltering in a cosy, traditional pub from the freezing weather outside, nursing a pint of winter warmer by the fireside with friends.

So, what is winter warmer?  Not surprisingly, it is a style that is generally brewed in the season concerned.  It can also be known as winter ale and is a variation of old ale or strong ale.  So, it’s a strong ale that is chestnut brown to dark brown in colour and often has reddish tinges.  It has malt flavour to the fore and is often very aromatic due to the spices and seasonal fruits used as ingredients.  It is reflective of a time when anyone who could make beer, did so, and they relied on whatever ingredients were available at the time.

The style usually has higher than average alcoholic strength in order to warm drinkers up and compensate for the cold weather outside.  This, together with their complex taste, makes them anything but everyday session beers.  The high alcohol content assists the beer age and mature, so it can be stored for longer periods if desired.

Examples of the style often include flavours such as fruit, Christmas pudding, treacle, toffee, nuts and star anise.  So far this winter I have yet to replicate the experience described above, due to pubs not needing to light their fires yet, but that hasn’t stopped our brewers producing the usual winter warmer brews for us to enjoy, often with Christmas-themed names.

Perhaps one of the most famous beers of this style is Young’s Winter Warmer (5%) (now brewed by Charles Wells, of course).  It is a 100% malt brew, with Maris Otter and Crystal malt combing Fuggle and Golding hops and with cane sugar mix added during the process.

Beers of this ilk that I’ve come across that are brewed closer to home include Acorn The 13th Noel (6%), Cameron’s Festive Frolics (4.6%), The Great Yorkshire Brewery Santa’s Tipple (6%), Old Mill Winter Warmer (4.7%), Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Celebration Ale, brewed by Black Sheep, (6%), Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Winter Welcome Ale (6%) and Wold Top Shepherd’s Watch (6%). So, if we haven’t had proper winter weather by the time you read this, we could do worse than lobby our friendly local brewers to adjust their brewing calendars to provide us with a winter warmer to enjoy during a potentially freezing, snow-filled spring!

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