Five Favourite Winter Beer Styles
Stouts and Porters are famed as being the traditional beer of choice in the cooler months of the year. Often viewed as being heavy beers that equate to a meal in a glass, they are commonly shied away from by those new to the beer world. In reality, they are a fantastic introduction to the world of beer. Historically, Porter was a dark ale favoured by street porters in London, hence the name. The style commonly shows flavours of chocolate and coffee with a mild, balancing hop character. Stout is a shortened version of “Stout Porter,” meaning strong porter, which tends to have a similar roast malt character but is somewhat stronger than its Porter counterpart and can sometimes border on having a burnt taste. The differences don’t stop there though; there are all manner of substyles. For example, Oatmeal Stouts include oats to give the beer a fuller mouthfeel. Milk Stouts possess a lactose sugar that yeast cannot ferment resulting in a sweeter, fuller beer. Imperial Stouts beef up the malt content making the beer intensely flavoured, even savoury in some cases, with a higher alcohol content – often being above 9% and even reaching 20% in some cases.
My personal favourite
Tempest Brewing’s “Mocha Porter”. The beer is so creamy and laden with rich chocolate and coffee that you’d be foolish to pass it up.
Other examples: Liberty Brewing Darkest Days, 8Wired iStout, Garage Project Aro Noir, Mike’s Chocolate Milk Stout, Hallertau Double Stout
Throughout history, Brown Ales have changed constantly, going from beers that displayed intense malt character and alcohol levels “to boot;” to being near synonymous with English Mild, which typically boasts an alcohol content between 3-4% and a more approachable maltiness. Brown Ale is a perfect example of a style that tends to vary based on where it’s brewed – even within the same country! Brown ales from the North East of England, such as the famous Newcastle Brown, tend to be strong, malty beers with dominant caramel, chocolate and nutty characteristics, whereas Browns from the South are often lower in alcohol, darker and a bit sweeter. Brown ales all but vanished from the world of beer at the beginning of the 20th century but the style has slowly undergone a renaissance and has become quite a popular style, not only within craft brewing but also massively so within the homebrewing scene.
My personal favourite
“Six Suits A-Hangin’” from Karl Strauss. A bit different to a traditional Brown, this is an Imperial Belgian brown ale so as well as the smooth milk chocolate that comes up front, you also get a mild peppery flavour from the Belgian yeast which is quite an interesting contrast
Other examples: 8Wired Rewired, Newcastle Brown Ale, Hallertau Hopetoun, Garage Project Golden Brown
Of course I had to include a hoppy style in the list and what better than the biggest, booziest of them all? Double IPAs or Imperial IPAs are still reasonably young in the beer world and are speculated to have first been produced in the mid-90s. Not too dissimilar to a regular IPA, the Double IPA is a heavy, hop-forward brew. It is set apart by the higher alcohol content and the intensity of the flavour and bitterness that is required to balance the beer out. What ensues is a beer that flays the drinker’s mouth with a borderline confusing cacophony of alcohol warmth, intense flavours of crushed pine needles, tropical and citrus fruits and a distinctly dry, bitter finish that forces you to take another sip in order to quell the hop assault.
My most memorable
Double IPA must be Epic’s “Lupulingus”. This beer is absurdly hoppy and full of intense ripe fruit flavours. Truly a beer for the hopheads.
Other examples: Liberty C!tra, Garage Project Pernicious Weed, Epic Hop Zombie, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
Barley Wine is a style of beer that is generally quite high in alcohol, between 8-16% typically, that boasts an intense, sweet malt character. Early Barley Wines were mostly quite dark in colour and flavour but in the mid-20th century an amber coloured Barley Wine under the name “Gold Label” was released, giving birth to the more common variations we see today. The key difference between English and American styles of Barley Wine tends to be the intensity of the hop flavour and bitterness. While English examples typically lend a very mild earthy, floral character, American Barley Wines will lend a classic hit of citrus that has become oh so familiar in American styles, alongside an intense bitterness and drier finish to balance out the sweetness that such a large amount of malt creates.
The high alcohol content of a Barley Wine lends it a warming, almost chewy quality. This combined with the intense flavours of toffee, molasses and dark fruits akin to plums, figs and sometimes cherries, makes the style one to savour slowly in front of fire in small quantities – ideally with an old book and the sound of rain of the windows.
Barley Wine is not a style that I often get to try, so when I do my expectations are normally quite high. In saying that, my favourite that I’ve tried has to have been the “Hellbender” from Garage Project – laden with sweet caramel but also a massive hop hit. Really well balanced and certainly a beer worth tucking away for a special occasion.
Other examples: Renaissance Tribute, Hallertau Little Beast, Gigantic Massive
Cask Ale is the infamous “warm, flat” beer that people the world over imagine when they think about English beer styles. While not technically a style of beer so much as a method of serving it, a beer on cask will be very different to the same beer served from a keg or bottle. The key difference between Cask Ale and regular beer is that the beer is still alive and actively fermenting when it is served which makes the job of looking after the beer very important but also allows for the beer to be changed as necessary. Not enough aroma? Add some hops. Beer looks a bit cloudy? Add some finings. Beer a bit too still? Add some sugar and bump up the carbonation.
But it’s not just the cellar person’s influence that makes cask ale so special. Since the beer is served at cellar temperature(11-13°C) and with a lighter level of natural effervescence, you get a much easier to drink ale with more depth and complexity in the malt character and a lighter, more rounded hop character. Regardless of the style, this is the absolute best way to serve an ale in winter, and if you just so happen to have a sparkler on the beer engine then you’re in for a real treat.
If you’re interested in trying traditional Cask Ale I would have to recommend visiting Galbraiths Alehouse in Auckland. They always have 4 house ales on cask and there’s usually a seasonal or guest ale there too. I would have to recommend trying Bellringers Best Bitter for a proper English Pint.
Written By Jack Powell
Don’t forget out Winter Tap Take Over – Come experience all winter beer styles. Friday June 30th from 5pm