The autumn and winter months are here, and they bring with them shorter days and longer, frostier nights. Despite its bad rep, the winter season is the best time of the year for many beer fans. Because this time of year is perfect to (re) discover different brewing gems. For most of us, this isn’t necessarily a time associated with enjoying an ice cold bottle of lager - so what else is on offer?
What actually is winter beer?
With the cold setting in, we’re officially getting ready for all things winter and warming. We love nothing more than an evening in, under a blanket, a cosy film, perhaps a crackling fire, snowflakes falling at the window and a SUB full of winter beer. But what is it? Winter beer, is not a beer style in the traditional sense. Simply, it is beer that is brewed for the colder climates, in other words, the perfect excuse to stay warm inside and really embrace the season. Basically, all the great, cosy parts of winter that people enjoy can be summarised by a good winter beer!
Winter beers are usually a bit heavier, darker and spicier. They often have a higher alcohol content, they're strong beers, you can describe them as more robust. Beers that will “put hairs on your chest', meaning hearty or full bodied, they're often intense and characterful. Sometimes you’ll notice smoky, spicy, malty-sweet and maybe even tart flavours. Notes of open fire, coffee or dark chocolate are typical aromas, but you might also get leather, wood and liquorice flavours. Winter spices (often the same spices as in mulled wine), caramel or dark dried fruits are also common.
Because they are more robust, they go very well with strong cheese. For example, a stout or porter will beautifully complement a full fat blue and a big bold 10% barley wine with an old Amsterdam cheese. Or try a Belgian-style quadrupel with a young Manchego for one of the best pairings going! Beer and cheese? Yes please!
Winter warmer beer
Winter warmer is a generic term used to describe many winter seasonal brews. A lager is a more obvious summer choice because it’s lighter and more refreshing. But whilst you’ll want cooling down in the heat, winter beers are designed to keep us warm during those dark nights, when shielding from the cold. With winter beers, the emphasis is usually on malt. This differs from summer beers, which focus more on either fresh lightness or herbal flavours and fruity hops. The more malt you add, the more sugar can be fermented – therefore the beers become sweeter and stronger. It’s no coincidence that St Bernard’s dogs are depicted carrying casks of brandy around their necks when rescuing stranded mountain explorers. Strong alcohol feels warming!
How do you drink winter beers?
You should enjoy winter beers slowly, don’t be fooled by their sweetness, some are deceptively strong. Also, you don’t want to drink these too cold, otherwise the aromas cannot develop. A good starting point for temperature is using the alcohol content, it should be roughly the same, a beer of 6% should not be colder than 6 degrees. You can find more tips in our article " What drinking temperature should beer be? “
Best winter beer styles
The variety of beer is of course huge, but the following beer styles are very popular in winter:
Porter and Stouts
Porter and stouts are dark, malty beers. Caramel, coffee or chocolate notes might be apparent, and of course, a little more alcohol!
Not that popular in UK, bock beer are big in the Netherlands and Germany. Generally, they are more alcoholic, full-bodied and quite thick. Doppelbock, Eisbock, Weizenbock - the variety of bock beers is huge.
Barley wine is brewed with a lot of barley. The alcohol content is similar to that of a wine - to achieve this, a lot of malt is added so that more sugar can be fermented. Barley wine has a sweet, malty taste and a balancing hoppy finish.
Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel
Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel are typical trappist and abbey beers. They can contain over 10% alcohol (Quadrupels) - this is caused by all the malt and added sugar syrup. But not only that, with the added Belgian yeasts, fruity notes, caramel-like sweetness and overall fascinating, complex aromas are created.
For the uninitiated, barrel-aged beer is beer that has spent time aging in a barrel. The usual suspects for this are bourbon, rye, and sometimes even wine barrels. The barrel ageing process imparts some of the characteristics from the previous alcohol into the beer. Barrel-matured beers are also perfect for cold winter days because they are complex, sturdy and act like a warming embrace.
WINTER BEERS FOR THE SUB
You will also find some beers in our range that are perfect for drinking in late autumn and winter. Beers with a higher alcohol content are good for colder days, as these should be enjoyed a little slower and not too cold. We also regularly add seasonal beer specialties, including winter beers.
Winter beer festivals
Festivals are back! So, if winter beers are really your thing, why not join the Great British Beer Festival Winter this February. Set to be a warm winter celebration with a killer range of beer, food, and music. What’s not to enjoy!?