Winter – mild or not – is upon us, and often seasonal beers are as much an indication of the season as the dropping temperatures here in Wisconsin. Many Wisconsin breweries release some very special beers about this time and beer bars start to show a different tap menu leaning toward darker, heavier or stronger beers that might keep you warm at night. Here are a few brews you should be on the lookout for:
Some beer drinkers consider these dark ales too heavy to drink in the summer, but as the nights get longer toward the holidays, we gravitate toward darker roasted malts. (For the uninitiated, think Guinness.) That’s What I’m Talkin’ ‘Bout Stout from La Crosse’s Pearl Street Brewery is an excellent version made with oatmeal to give the beer its smooth, creamy texture. Hinterland Brewery in Green Bay is a fine choice for its Luna Coffee Stout available in bottles and served from a nitro tap for that lovely cascading foam (like Guinness, only better). Central Waters offers a potent version in their Satin Solstice Imperial Stout. The limited edition, barrel-aged version is something to watch for because it goes fast.
For Bavarian-style beer fans, Sprecher offers its award-winning Winter Brew, a dunkel bock that will take you to Munich for a moment. Leinenkugel’s has released a new seasonal called Snowdrift Vanilla Porter. Rush River Brewing also does a Winter Ale, based on their Scotch Ale and packing an extra punch as some of these special editions tend to do. (What does that tell you about long winters?) This time of year, O’so Brewing puts out a limited Imperial Red Ale called Dank, which is aged in oak barrels, loaded with hops, and packed with a punch at 9.2% ABV.
Late fall after the apple harvest, New Glarus Brewing Co. offers its limited release Apple Ale. But also special from New Glarus in 2012 is a twist on their Wisconsin Belgian Red, an ale flavored with Montmorency cherries. The year’s meager harvest of cherries forced brewer Dan Carey to find alternatives. He gives us Serendipity, the same tart and fruity ale but with apples and cranberries added to the cherries. Find it at your local liquor store in 750 ml bottles; serve it in a brandy snifter.
Spiced pumpkin beers also appear in late fall and linger on into winter. (Not true of Point Brewery’s Whole Hog Series Pumpkin Ale which took gold at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival: it sold out in a heartbeat.) But other alternatives remain, such as Capital Brewery’s limited release Pumpkinataur Wrex and Lakefront’s Pumpkin Lager. Milwaukee Brewing Co. offers Sasquash, a porter made with pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and a bit of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
The list goes on (and on), and a trip to your local brewery or liquor store may be in order for you to see what winter has in store for you.
Kevin Revolinski is a Madison-based travel and beer writer and the author of the newly released Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide, a road-trip guide to all the breweries in the state. He has written several other Wisconsin travel and outdoor guidebooks. Check out his website The Mad Traveler or follow Wisconsin Beer Guide on Facebook or Twitter.