Winter Warmer: Tips from the Pros

Brewer: Matt “Handtruck” Thrall, Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, CO

I prefer winter seasonals to be chewy.  Here in Boulder we don’t have the worst winters, but it is always nice to drink something thick and hearty while watching the snow fall.  I am not a huge fan of spiced beers, but when done in extremely low levels I find the spices can add another layer to the beer without dominating.

Some ingredients I really enjoy using when brewing winter styles. Without plugging Breiss Malt too much, I love their Special Roast.  It is vastly different from normal roasted barley and adds a very complex roast character.  I also prefer some of the Belgian chocolate and aromatic malts over their domestic counterparts as well.

Overly spicing would be the biggest mistake I typically run into.  In my world of beer tasting, the spice would lend to the overall mystique of the beer, but the drinker would not be able to exactly identify which spice or spices were being used.  The second greatest mistake I encounter are fusel alcohols.  Most winter seasonals are in the higher abv range and without proper fermentation control, fusel alcohols can definitely get out of hand.

Being that most winter seasonals are malt forward, I think one of the best ways to experiment if you want to brew a winter seasonal at home is with malts.  If your recipe calls for chocolate malt, try substituting a foreign malt for a domestic one.  The resulting beer will be similar to the original recipe, but also unique in that je ne sais quoi way.

We have three winter seasonals:  Old Jubilation, The Czar, and Mephistopheles.  The Old Jubilation (8.3% ABV) is our take on the classic English Old Ale.  It is brewed without spices, but plenty of roasted malt and a little turbinado.  The Old Jube (as we call it) also is a single hop beer, bullion.  The bullions add a nice old world, earthy characteristic to both the aroma and the flavor.  The Czar (11.3% aABV) is our Russian imperial stout.  True to tradition there is plenty of black malt, but no roasted barley.  And finally, the Mephistopheles (16.5% ABV) is a huge imperial stout brewed with an incredible amount of roasted barley and black malt.  It is also fermented with a Belgian yeast strain.

Issue: December 2010