As temperatures dip and precipitation begins to accumulate, many will reach for one of the traditional winter beverage choices: hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps or whiskey, “real” eggnog, mulled wine, or a glass full of ubiquitous holiday punch.
While each is an excellent choice for those of legal age, there is a problem that they often share: You don’t usually want much more than one glass. Let me explain. Unless you have no fear of diabetes, it’s rare to want more than one glass of eggnog or spiked hot cocoa. Likewise, as tasty as mulled wine or holiday punch can be, they seem to suffer from a natural limit too. Even well-made mulled wine can become overpowering to your taste buds. And on the other end of the spectrum, strong punch can overpower your body’s ability to process intoxicants instead of overpowering your taste buds.
After a long day on the slopes or trudging around campus, you should reach for something a little more familiar and a lot less complicated, namely, beer. Winter is coming, so you should probably brace yourself; but don’t reach for those saccharine, tired, holiday drinks. Brace yourself with some of these beer styles: holiday ale, porter or stout, bock or doppelbock, and barley wine.
To start, holiday ales, also known as winter warmers, range from unique one-off brews, lightly spiced brown ales, to sweeter, maltier, heavier variations of a microbrewery’s most popular beer. Usually mellower and sweeter, holiday brews come in hues of deep copper, brownish red and even rich black. They almost invariably have alcohol contents above five percent by volume, and the most commonly found examples in your local beverage store will be Gritty’s Christmas Ale, Longtrail’s Hibernator and Shipyard’s Prelude Ale, but you can find many others — just look for labels with anything related to intoxicated elves or inappropriate puns about Santa Claus.
While porter is, historically speaking, the mellower older brother of stout, the line between porters and stouts is a hazy one. Typically, porters have richer, dark chocolate notes, while stouts tend to emphasize the charred, dark roasted coffee flavors found in roasted barley. While alcohol and hop content vary wildly from beer to beer, both stout and porter make an excellent choice for a winter beer. And just for the record, if Guinness is the only dark beer you’ve ever had, you’re limiting yourself. Try Atlantic Brewing’s Coal Porter, Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout or any dark beer you can get into a pint glass. In a worst case scenario, you can confirm your hatred of dark beer, and then use your leftover stout or porter to make incredible chili, baked beans, chocolate cake, brownies, bread, cajun jambalaya; the list of culinary applications goes on and on — trust me.
If you’re tired of holiday beer, or if you don’t find the charms of dark English ales particularly alluring, or maybe you take alpine skiing much too seriously, consider dropping a few of your hard earned dollars on a German bock or doppelbock. Once brewed by monks to drink during long fasts, bock continues to be a malty, full bodied, robust style of beer. They’re noted for being full bodied and full of flavor, and typically contain seven percent alcohol content by volume or less. Bock is strong, malty, rich and nutty, whereas a doppelbock, or double bock, is even more robust in every way — a true winter warmer. Often considered a meal in a glass — after all the monks didn’t eat or drink anything else — doppelbock usually runs 8 percent alcohol content by volume or more, so when you come in from the cold, stay there.
Last, and certainly not least, is barley wine. Reaching 9 percent ABV at the low end the upper teens at the high end, barley wine is meant to be shared and enjoyed in a manner similar to hard alcohols, such as whiskey or port, and often has comparable flavors. Barley wine beers have a noticeable mouth feel: They’re just a little thicker but not necessarily darker and are regularly aged in bourbon barrels for added complexity. They also tend to improve with age, gaining more nuanced flavor while increasing in value.
Be warned, these beers are to be enjoyed slowly and responsibly; they have much more flavor than the “ice” beer, or “high-grav” that comes in cans or 40-ounce bottles. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., famous for its India Pale Ale, makes a barley wine called Bigfoot, which coincides as a winter seasonal, but also consider the Signature Series from Shipyard, the new bourbon aged series from Three Tides Brewing, or the Manly Men series of barley wines from Atlantic Brewing.
Whichever your choice of beverage, alcohol or no, just remember to avoid icy roads and ski trails beyond your ability — especially if you decide to have more than one of the former.