Beer is great all year long, but there’s something special about the winter beer selection from many nationwide breweries that sets it apart. Maybe it’s the warmth associated with the dark, heavier beers or possibly the rich flavor of coriander, oats and nutmeg, but whatever it is, it works wonderfully. Your patronage may die down as old man winter arrives, but that doesn’t mean your bar or restaurant won’t benefit from featuring great, seasonal appropriate brews. Here are some beers with nearly nationwide availability to put on your menu, either on tap or in bottles, as the winter season roars on.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
Sierra Nevada started as a home brewing operation by two friends in 1980 and has since found a place in liquor stores and bars nationwide as one of the premier microbreweries in the United States. Nestled in the Sacramento Valley, this Chico, California brewery has made a name for itself with its hoppy, aromatic flagship Pale Ale and the palate fortifying Torpedo Extra IPA. Their Celebration Ale only strengthens their claim as one of the best ale brewers in the nation. It pours amber red and has a satisfyingly warm taste with a hint of spice. Unlike its sister brews, the 6.8% ABV Celebration Ale has a hoppy presence that won’t linger long, even though it is an IPA. While it was first brewed in 1981, this ale has come on strong in recent years nationwide. Unlike many brews, the Celebration Ale is just as enjoyable in bottles as it is on tap.
Sam Adams Winter Lager
Sam Adams, often thought of as a pioneering craft brewery, has been a major player in bars and stores since its surge in the mid-1990s. It is New England-based and known for its Boston Lager, and a bevy of wide ranging beers ranging from the Cherry Wheat to its Cream Stout. It has a seasonal beer for spring, summer, and fall, but its Winter Lager is the most perfected of them all. The 5.6% ABV beer is crafted from a variety of malts and includes a potpourri of ingredients such as cinnamon, ginger and orange peel. It is a bock-like lager, giving it a dark look and full feel. While the Winter Lager may be Sam Adams’ premier winter beer, it is one of five specially brewed for the season. Try their subtly hoppy Juniper IPA, malty Old Fezziwg Ale, sweet Cherry Chocolate Bock, crisp White Christmas, as well as the flagship Boston Lager and Winter Lager in the Sam Adams Winter Classics variety pack. All are worthy of a place in your bar or home.
New Belgium Accumulation
As a fan of Fort Collins, Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Company, I get especially excited about their beer in the wintertime. To me, their most enjoyable lineup is out when temperatures are near freezing. The flagship Fat Tire is a fantastic amber ale, and they have a great wide range of beers throughout the year, but they are at their best in winter. Their premier winter brew changes every year, but no matter what the style may be, it is always great. 2011’s 2° Below and 2012’s Snow Day were both crafted to perfection, and this year’s batch is no different. 2013 is the year of the Accumulation White IPA, a surprisingly smooth, yet bitey 6.2% ABV ale. Its aroma encapsulates the mixture of the four hops and two malts used in the brewing process. The warmth is like that of a dark, bock beer, though the white IPA pours a golden color. It is limited on tap at the moment, but the six pack is a fine purchase for bar owners and beer fans alike.
Bell’s Winter White Ale
Bell’s Brewery, like New Belgium and Sam Adams, opened more than 20 years ago. Bell’s didn’t reach a widespread audience like the other two breweries did in the 1990s, until 2012, when it opened a new brewing facility. The new location helped increase Bell’s Brewery’s capacity from 180,000 to 500,000 barrels a year. Since then, the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based brewery has seen a dramatic rise in business. Its Oberon Wheat Ale is a crisp summer favorite and its Two Hearted Ale has become one of the top selling IPAs in the United States. Bell’s Winter White Ale stacks up well against its popular sister brews and the aforementioned seasonal beers. At 5% ABV, it is lighter than most winter beer, but don’t be fooled, this beer is not short on flavor. It has a fruity, balanced aroma with the taste to match. It is sweet and malty, but not overbearing like similar beers served mostly in warmer seasons. I suggest it for novice beer drinkers looking to foray into the world of winter brews. It is smooth, warm, but not overbearing like some of the hoppy beers often found in winter. Unfortunately, it is not available nationwide, but with the rapid expansion of Bell’s in the United States, expect it in the coming years. Available in AZ, ND, MN, IA, MO, WI, IL, MI, IN, OH, PA, NY, VA, KY, NC, SC, GA, AL, and FL.