I love this time of year. Winter is in full swing, as clearly indicated by the radiant blue skies, verdant foliage, and temperatures dipping into the low 70s. If this doesn’t sound familiar, congratulations on living in a state far shittier than mine.
It was so cold this morning, I almost had to button my cardigan
The beers of this season are typically stout and warming, being full of spices and alcohol. That’s fantastic when the temperature actually begins to drop, but that’s obviously not a problem for me. Even after a frigid day trudging though the California tundra on my way to surfing lessons, that’s just not the kind of beer I’m seeking out.
Thankfully there are still some decent options out there for winter seasonals that are not intended to warm you like the booze keg strapped to the St. Bernards of yore. As an aside, how did we as a society allow that tradition to go by the wayside? Sure, there’s no discernible health benefit to it, but that’s hasn’t stymied homeopathy, crystal therapy, or antibiotics. You can’t tell me that I’m allowed to have a therapy dog for “anxiety” and not one to quell the unbearable strains of sober living.
Mr. Tibbles, Rescue Hound
Great Divide “Hibernation Ale” (8.7% ABV)
The Hibernation Ale is a translucent, but dark ruby ale. It has an inviting crusty, if slightly boozy aroma.
This is most certainly the most bitter Old Ale I’ve ever tried. The malt ball and crusty flavors stand out initially, but fade into the wintergreen and grassy bitterness in the finish. It has a full, if not creamy, mouthfeel that is very satisfying.
The Hibernation Ale strikes me as a hybrid between a standard winter warmer and a traditional old ale, which is pitch perfect for the season. Great Divide always manages to turn out something solid, but this borders on exceptional (if you don’t mind a little latitude with the style).
Bonus: If you drink enough of these and it will produce actual hibernation. Comas are a kind of hibernation, right?
Anderson Valley Brewing Company “Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale” (6.9% ABV)
This amber brew doesn’t bring a lot to the table in terms of aromatics. It smells wet, I guess. Things can smell wet, right?
(Editors Note: Way to flex those skills, Ian. Simply stunning.)
The flavor on this ale feels somewhat upside down. It opens bold and spicy, with notes of red pepper and a prickly mouthfeel to match it. However, those flavors dissolve pretty quickly. It ends up tasting like the watered down orange juice you get at buffets that are trying to compensate for the rising cost of horse meat.
Even by red ale standards, this is pretty blah.
Huyghe Brewery “Delirium Noel” (10% ABV)
This dark, reddish amber ale has a nose rich with cherry and caramel. While I appreciate that unique smells like cherry are a big part of the Belgian ale allure, I find that a little worrisome. Most cherry-flavored stuff ends up tasting like cough syrup to me, which is repellent. How repellent? I’ll preferentially grab cough syrups listed as “original flavor”, which should be telling since they couldn’t identify any flavor precedent to compare it to.
It tastes like something halfway between eucalyptus leaves and death
The aroma directly translates to the flavor, which favors a sugary cherry flavor akin to the powder in Lik-m-Aid. It has a fairly sharp and astringent tone to it, which nips fiercely at the tongue. The finish has a mild detergent tone to it, but is mostly musty and boozy.
This beer has a lot of lambic character to it. It’s fruity and cidery, though it has enough beer character in the finish to differentiate it. It’s not quite my style, but it’s a fun seasonal to try.