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Monday, February 25, 2013

New Glarus Brewing's Winter Warmer

  • Style: Scottish Ale
  • ABV: 9.00%
  • Season: Limited (Winter 2012/2013)
  • Ease to locate: Like all New Glarus beer, it's only sold in WI
  • Color: Orange amber with light reddish brown tints
  • Head: Two finger white head with sticky lacing
  •  Aroma: Caramel, toast, pale malts, and a bit of booze.  No hop scent that I could find
  • Mouthfeel: Thin to medium.  Not a lot of carbonation
  • Finish: Short with a boozy chaser
    • Food friendly: Not particularly.  Scottish ale is difficult to pair.  I'd drink it on it's own.  Maybe curled on your couch watching Trainspotting or Braveheart.  Or not.  Your call.  But if you go with Highlander 2, I don't want to know about it.

I think by now, I've made it pretty clear that I'm a fan of New Glarus beers.  Spotted Cow, Back 40, Fat Squirrel are some of the best reasons to travel North to Wisconsin (Why, New Glarus?  Why take away my Fat Squirrel???  Was it something I said?  I can change!  Well, not a lot, honestly.)  So when I discovered that they brewed a Scottish ale this year as a special seasonal offering, I knew that I had to try it.  New Glarus has a Thumbprint Series of limited produced beers that change from year to year, season to season.  They wrap the neck of the bottle in pretty red foil so you know they've got to be special.  This winter they brewed Winter Warmer as part of the Thumbprint series.

Some girls like diamonds.  I prefer red foil

 Scottish ales or Scotch ales if you prefer, can be amazingly complex beers.  There's actually a bit of a debate over which term should be used for this beer depending on the country of origin of the beer and the ingredients used.  But honestly?  It's beer, people.  Not a child that you are adopting through a shady guy with an office in a strip mall.   For our purposes here, I'm going to use Scottish ale since this is what New Glarus calls it.  Anyway, Scottish ales are known for their caramel and malt flavors as well as a rich mouthfeel.  Brewers use a long boil in order to caramelize the sugar in the wort (this, of course, means extra special attention from the brewers because burnt sugar is vastly different from caramelized sugar.)  They are usually lower in hops with under notes of herbs or floral flavors.  Some of the best ones (in my opinion) have a smokey element to their flavor profiles.  Winter warmer is a separate category of beer.  Winter warmers are known for being higher in alcohol (see the 9.00% ABV listed above).  This gives the drinker a warming sensation as it goes down (hence the "winter warmer" moniker.)   They vary from brewery to brewery, but most tend to use a spice element in their flavor profile.   So is New Glarus' a Scottish ale or a winter warmer?  Or is it some weird hybrid of both, like an unholy abomination created by an insane madman,  resulting in a tragic monster that has no home, no world to call it's own?

Again, people, it's just beer.   

You know, even without the red foil it's still kind of pretty
My Winter Warmer poured a glowing amber reddish brown color.  It was only slightly hazy (as expected with a Scottish ale)  with no real bits of yeast floating around inside.  A slightly off white two finger head rose and slowly settled to a spongy layer for most of the drink.  Large chunks of foam created a gorgeous looking lacing effect on the sides of the glass.  It was definitely a lovely pint to hold.  The aroma was that of a malt bomb; sweet caramel and biscuit notes.   Again, all Scottish ale to me.   But when I looked for it, the faint scent of alcohol, all hot and bothered was there as well.  As the beer warmed, the booze scent became more pronounced.  It tasted a bit sweeter than I expected.  Caramel notes with grains and toast elements were easy to find.  I could taste some spiciness that wasn't evidence on the nose, ginger and cloves and maybe some tropical fruit (pineapple possibility.)  It was an odd combination that didn't fully work for me.  I also didn't think that the hot alcohol profile meshed well.  Personally, I was looking for the smokiness that I associate with a Scottish ale to balance it out a bit.  The hops on the back note were a welcome addition.   The mouthfeel was on the low end of medium for me (again, I was looking for the lushness of a Scottish ale) with minimal carbonation. The finish was moderate with the booze feeling lasting through the entire swallow (and yes, I did feel the warmth going down.)

Even looks nice from above.  If only looks were everything...said any sorority girl ever

If you were to ask me even now, I couldn't tell you definitively which side of the Scottish ale or winter warmer debate I come down on for this beer.  It exhibited elements of both, but I can't say that I thought it did either style justice.  It wasn't a bad beer by any means.  The over all appearance was one of the loveliest  that I've seen in a while.  It made me feel cozy just holding the pint glass. And even at 9.00% it was drinkable.   But I wanted so much more from the flavor profile.  I missed the complex layers that the best Scottish ales provide and I really think that a bit of mellow smoke would have enhanced the beer considerably.   New Glarus suggests that you pair this beer with pot roast, pork brats and smoked Gouda (but not all at once.)   I could almost see the suggestion of dark chocolate.  The right kind of Scotch and really good, expensive, dark chocolate is an amazing experience.  But a Scottish ale isn't whiskey and  it seems like an awful lot of work for a beer and a candy bar. If you ask me, Scottish ales are notoriously difficult to pair with food, so why force it?  I say sip them alone on a cold winter's night.  Kilt is optional, but not discouraged.