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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Winter warmers, an introduction and a review.

It's January and for all our readers in the northern hemisphere that means it is winter. One of the great things about beer is how it changes and compliments / complements the seasons. This month we are going to be taking a look at "winter warmers" This is a weird phrase because it can be used as a style of beer, but also a branding thing by corralling the myriad of different beer brewed for the winter season, be they old ales, bocks, brown ales, etc.  

Traditionally a winter warmer was a stronger, maltier, & heavier beer brewed for the end of the year for holidays and festivals. Brewers have been making this stuff for a long time. Over time though, particularly in the last few decades this definition has started to break down. Brewers are stretching the definition on this and frankly that is awesome. So here is how we are going to define "winter warmers" on the blog. A seasonal beer brewed for winter. And while holiday beer and ales fall into this category we are going to exclude them since we spent all of December looking at them. We will also be excluding stouts and porters. They get their own months. (Yay!)

This is our working definition and I am happy to hear your thoughts on this. 

Starting right out the gate we are going to stretch the traditional definition of a winter warmer. 

The beer was lackluster,
but the bottle art was cool
First Snow by RJ Rockers Brewing Company, located in Spartanburg, South Carolina. 

I really expected more from this beer. It poured a hazy, reddish-gold color with some particulate matter suspended throughout the glass. Interesting to note that it stayed the way also, never settling. It had a nice fluffy white head that stuck around for awhile and glommed onto the side of the glass as I drank it down. It has a nice aroma that lends you to think that the beer is hearty than it is. 

Here is where the disappointment set in. My first thought was "it's flat," there was little carbonation in mouthful. The spices flashed immediately and then just vanish, they didn't give me much to work with. I almost wanted to season it a bit on my own, a little of nutmeg or coriander to liven it up. It had a flat, uneventful aftertaste that disappeared rapidly after the drink. 

Here is the crux of the problem, winter warmers have an expectation with them and this isn't fulfilling the basic ones. More hearty and some "weight." Let's go back a few weeks to the review of Starr Hill's The Gift. First Snow suffers from pretty much the same problem we had there. We have a beer that is trying to do too many things. It is labeled as a "hearty pale ale" It doesn't do the hearty very well and it not bringing the hops I would expect from a standard pale ale. 

I was a bit surprised that this comes in at 6% ABV because I honestly couldn't tell. It is very well masked. In summation I could chug this beer and that is not necessarily a good thing, at least it is not what I am looking for in a wintertime beer. I am glad I tried it, I may have had a bad bottle, and I still would love to try it off draught. Overall I would recommend this as a "gateway beer" where it may serve a useful purpose of exposing inexperienced folks to the larger world of beer. 

Here is the "propaganda."

This hearty American pale ale contains a rich blend of spices that warms the soul on a cold winter's night. Chill the mug, stoke the fire, and savor this quality seasonal brew. Available only during the Winter season. 


  1. Good review! I'm picky on my pumpkin & winter seasonals as well.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I so wanted this beer to be better than it was. I feel it had the potential to be much more. Always sucks when you want to introduce a beer to a wider audience and it falls flat on its face.