Ale's Well in Winter

Every year when the snow flies, liquor store shelves fill with seasonal beers from breweries across the country. To a beer purist, this time of year can be painful. Pumpkin ale, cranberry spiced lambics, eggnog porter and other bizarre flavors rear their festive heads and are guaranteed to send beer geeks into fits of rage as soon as the scent of sugar plums wafts out of an opened bottle. Some winter beers take a more subtle approach and aim only for a seasonally-appropriate weight and taste to pair well with the heavier foods and increased couch-time of the blustery months. Brooklyn Brewery Winter Ale happens to be one such beer.

In 1988, Brooklyn Brewery launched in, oddly enough, upstate New York. By 1996, the company was successful enough to afford the astronomical rents in New York City, and opened a new brewery in Brooklyn. Originally, Brooklyn Winter Ale was supposed to be reminiscent of a time when a wide variety of spices were added to beer to give it flavor. But in 2006, the recipe changed to steer the beer in the direction of a traditional Scottish ale. That decision delivered a solid cold weather drink well worth driving to a well-stocked liquor store for, especially at $8.99 for a six pack.

Unlike many winter brews, Brooklyn Winter Ale is on the lighter side. Anyone looking for a massive black hole of a beer to get lost in should look elsewhere. It pours a ruby brown with a weak head that quickly fizzes away to nothing, possibly due to the fairly crisp carbonation. As a Scottish-style ale, Winter Ale avoids the apocalyptic levels of hops currently in vogue and pushes the malt forward. These nutty malt flavors underscore a sweet caramel aroma with just enough hoppy bitterness to remind you you're drinking beer. Interestingly, the brewery adds no spices, only a variety of Scottish, English, American and Belgian malts alongside oats and Willamette hops, so the warm afterglow of a little cayenne pepper is a nice surprise that's uniquely suited for the brutal deep freeze the country seems to be stuck in.

Even with dry apple and cinnamon flavors lingering under the malt and caramel, the brew is fairly simple to drink. It doesn't demand too much of anyone and seems ideally suited to a lazy day on the couch along with a bowl of chili, stew or even some heartburn-inducing buffalo wings and the NFL playoffs. And at just 6.1 percent alcohol by volume, it'd be easy to wile the day away drinking bottle after bottle while checking fantasy scores. Yet it's also complex enough to work incredibly well alongside heavy roasts, duck, or even venison if this hunting season was a good one.

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