NW Brewing News – Winter Beer Tasting Panel Results

December 30th, 2009 · 5 Comments · Beer Reviews, California Beer, Oregon Breweries, Washington Breweries

Note that this content was first published in the Northwest Brewing News and is posted here only with their consent. Check out the NW Brewing News website, and look for a copy of the latest issue the next time you are in your favorite bar/brewpub.

Winter time in the Northwest means it’s time to duck into a bar and dry off from the rain with a pint, or sit in front of the fireplace at home with a glass of your favorite winter warmer and some good conversation. Brewers move on from crafting Oktoberfests and harvest ales and into their take on what’s usually a malt-forward winter seasonal. The colder weather is also a perfect time to break out the big stouts and start dabbling with barleywines.

This tasting panel was conducted blind and consisted of Geoff Kaiser (Northwest Brewing News), Joel VandenBrink (Two Beers Brewing), Tyler Pickel (Two Beers Brewing), Alex Dittmar (Airways Brewing), and Colin Lenfesty (BJCP Judge).

5 pints – Outstanding, a great example of the style
4 pints – Excellent, hard to beat
3 pints – Very good, but improvements are possible
2 pints – Fair, drinkable, but has noticeable flaws
1 pint – Poor, not recommended

Big Al Winter Warmer
Rating: 4.0

This dark strong ale is about as good of an example of the style as you’ll find in the NW. It thrives on a big nutty, caramel base with some dark fruit. Significant, but not overwhelming, alcohol warmth will help you forget about the cold in a pinch. It manages to be big and bold, but it is still incredibly drinkable at 6.5% ABV. Nicely done.

Nectar Ales Black Xantus
Rating: 4.0

This huge 11% ABV Imperial Stout was aged in American oak barrels and then infused with organic coffee. The barrel characteristics, coffee, and base stout all add equally to the final product, and the result is absolutely decadent. Chocolate, coffee, coconut, vanilla, and strong alcohol all come together in this new release from the brewers at Firestone Walker/Nectar Ales. One judge thought the coconut flavors were a bit overwhelming, though. After a year of age to smooth out the alcohol intensity, this might be a 4.5.

Laurelwood Vinter Varmer
Rating: 4.0

This unique winter warmer starts off with a big hoppy aroma. The taste is nicely balanced with sweet caramel malt and resinous hops. Finishes dry, with a serious bitterness. It does a great job of letting the hops shine in an ale that is still decidedly a winter seasonal.

Midnight Sun Berserker Imperial Stout
Rating: 4.0

This 12.7% stout was brewed with molasses and maple syrup and then aged in oak barrels. It pours black as night with a really creamy head. The flavor is huge roasted malt with a little raisin, soy, chocolate, and coffee. The stout does most of the work, with the barrels adding just a little complexity. Amazingly creamy mouthfeel.

Pike Auld Acquaintance
Rating: 3.5

This gem from Pike Brewing is a little different than your average winter ale. It is brewed with orange peel, coriander, and cinnamon. The spice is perfectly used, and is not overwhelming at all. The spice compliments a biscuit malt base and a moderate hoppiness, and it just screams “Happy Holidays!” At just 5% ABV, it’s a nice session ale that will go perfect with holiday dinners.

Oakshire Ill-Tempered Gnome
Rating: 3.0

Oakshire Brewing, located in Eugene, OR, brings us this hoppy brown ale as their winter seasonal. The malt profile is similar to an American brown ale. Light roast with a medium body. A big hop backbone makes this a perfect fit for the NW beer drinker’s palate.

Cascade Lakes Santa’s Little Helper
Rating: 3.0

Pours a beautiful deep amber with a fluffy head that sticks around. Nice roast throughout, with a little citrus coming through. Accompanied by a perfect hop balance with just a touch of alcohol. You’ll have no problem having a couple pints of this one.

MacTarnahan’s Winter Hum Bug’r
Rating: 3.0

This winter release comes in the form of a porter. The core is lots of chocolate and roast, with a little bit of coffee thrown in. It is very smooth and clean, and has a dry finish. It’s not a very complex beer, but if you’re a fan of porters and stouts, you’ll enjoy this. A welcome addition to the MacTarnahan’s lineup.

Alaskan Winter Ale
Rating: 3.0

In Alaska, you’ve got to know how to brew a good winter seasonal. This 6.4% ABV beer is brewed in the style of an English Olde Ale. The use of spruce tips lends a spicy aspect to both the aroma and taste, which mixes with the more dominant sweet caramel malt. Fruity esters lend a little complexity. Nice example of a smooth and easy drinking winter ale that is quite sessionable.

Pyramid Snow Cap
08 Rating: 3.0
09 Rating: 2.5

The panel tasted the fresh batch of this popular winter seasonal, in addition to the previous year’s vintage. In comparison, the 08 has a nice complexity that just isn’t there in the fresh batch. With a year of age, the beer adds some fruity esters to go along with its caramel sweetness. The 09 has a stronger alcohol presence and the hops are brighter. The panel all agreed that a year of age on this is preferable.

Moylan’s White Christmas Spiced Winter Lager
Rating: 2.5

The judges were split on this one; it’s a love it or hate it type of beer. This lager is brewed with curacao, mace, cinnamon, coriander, and white pepper. The result is a medium bodied lager that allows the ensemble of spices to duke it out. A little unbalanced, but it is very drinkable and makes for an interesting twist on a winter beer.

Port Townsend Winter Ale
Rating: 1.5

There was a huge hop nose on this winter ale to go along with a sweet, fruity light malt base and a big bitter finish. Unfortunately, significant diacetyl (butter flavor) comes through in the aroma and taste and lingers throughout. If that could be toned down, this would score at least a point higher.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Dean Ruffner

    Whoof, didn’t know the Berserker weighed in at a hefty 12.7%.

    A stout tasting? What a great idea.

  • Kaiser

    Yeah…seriously. We did the barleywine tasting panel for the next issue last night, and there was not a beer in the lineup less than 9% ABV. I’m hurting a bit today…

  • Pat

    picked up a 12er of alaska winter, the first one tasted awesome, the spruce tips were definirtely nice, however after about 6 is was a bit of chore drinking em every night (i think they might have been too sweet), nice try from alaska but not their best effort

    halfway through a case of jubeale (why didnt they review this one?) and am definitely pleased every time i finish one…good stuff

  • Kaiser

    Pat – I believe we included the Jubelale in our Fall panel for the previous issue because it was out so early this year.

  • Alex

    Mmmm, Berserker. Thankfully, they let me finish the bottle after the tasting. 🙂

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