Beer Review: Weyerbacher Winter Ale

Chocolate malts add notes of molasses and sugar cookies to the beer (yum)

The Weyerbacher Winter Ale for the holiday season.

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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