In contrast to the Easton, PA brewery's usual (and esteemed) portfolio of high-alcohol, flavor-packed beers, Weyerbacher Winter Ale won’t make you blink. Landing at just 5.6% ABV, the Christmas ale is well-rounded and chestnuty, but not as sweet or spiced as you might expect — especially from the brewery that gifts us with Imperial Pumpkin, Tiny and Sixteen (which all taste almost like they were baked in a bakery rather than brewed from barley).
Office manager Bill Bragg explains, “The market is already flooded with Oktoberfests, pumpkin ales, winter warmers, etc. Could we do a big, bold and spicy warmer? You bet! We just don’t.” Judges at the 1998 World Beer Championships didn’t seem to mind; they gave Winter Ale a silver medal.
Instead of being overly robust or sugared, the ale is like a snow-laden branch heavy with roasty chocolate malts. It pours a rich dark brown, like a leather couch you want to cozy up and nap on, with a head that accessorizes it in comfy khaki. True to style, it’s a very still beer with an easily dispersed head, though what bubbles do burst start out very large.
There’s not a heady aroma, as the beer is so malt-driven (instead of spice-, yeast-, or hop-driven), but what does waft up to the nose is perceived as a light-roast coffee and maybe a bit of molasses sugar cookies. Like those cookies, which pack their sweetest punch just before the swallow, this ale coats the back of the tongue and throat with a definite alcoholic warmth on the finish.
This is a beer that could pair companionably with cranberry-glazed duck or any dark poultry prepared with sugared root vegetables like sweet potatoes or carrots in brown sugar. For an amazing surprise for holiday guests, make up a batch of the bacon beer nuts below. You’ll be the star of the party.
Weyerbacher Winter Ale Caramelized Walnuts with Bacon
(Recipe from Weyerbacher website by chef M. Hamilton)
6 slices uncured bacon
6 ounces Winter Ale
1 packed cup brown sugar
1 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspon cayenne
20 ounces walnut halves
Preheat over to 350 degrees.
Render bacon until very crispy, set aside. Crush into very small pieces.
Add all ingredients except walnuts to a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer, and cook for just a few minutes.
Put nuts in a pan large enough for them to be in one layer, and pour the sugar mixture over the nuts.
Toss to coat the nuts.
Place in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, mixing every 5 minutes or so. Cook until the liquid has evaporated and nuts have toasted and taken on a nice browned color.
Allow to cool until sugar sets and becomes hard.
— Tara Nurin, The Drink Nation
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