Frothy Brews for a Frosty Season

I’ve long felt that winter in eastern North Carolina is a nearly unbearable season. No, we don’t have blizzards—but that’s half the problem for me. If it’s going to be cold and precipitating, it might as well snow. And once the last bit of metallic confetti is swept up from New Year’s celebration, there’s nothing left to look forward to. We’re over the honeymoon sensation of the first frost’s cuddle with a cozy blanket and a cup of chili. Once December’s done, what else is there?

Well, reveling in craft beer’s winter warmers gives folks—or, at least, me—something new to celebrate. Both sweet and spiced, dessert-inspired porters, stouts and ales alike invite novices to test out new brews. Coffee tastes abound, too, satisfying those who love a good cup of joe but don’t want all the caffeine. Plus, twists on traditional brews—like a white IPA—offer an easy transition into spring’s lighter craft-beer contributions. This January, curl up with a chilled mug of one of these brews.

Breakfast Stout
Founders Brewing Company
Grand Rapids, Michigan
ABV: 8.3% • IBU: 60
With a 100-percent rating on, Founders’ Breakfast Stout is one of the most anticipated beers of the season. Brewed with flaked oats, both bitter and sweetened imported chocolates, and Sumatra and Kona coffee, the stout pours rich and black with a dark tan head. Off the bat, the aroma is powered by roasted coffee beans. Each sip is sweet and smooth, while slightly bitter. With a dry finish, Breakfast Stout remains well-balanced.

Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale
Atwater Brewery
Detroit, Michigan
ABV: 5.5% • IBU: 11
The first sip of this almost-black beer elicited a wide smile and an audible “Ooh!” from me, despite the fact I was home alone watching TV and my excitement wasn’t immediately shared. I’m admittedly a chocoholic, and I believe anyone who is a fan of Hershey’s will be smitten with this Atwater brew. It smells just like Yoo-hoo, but the flavor profile is much richer—like hot cocoa with toasted marshmallows. Still, it offers a light mouthfeel for great drinkability, and it’s not overly sweet. I’ll be heading out for a six-pack of this Atwater goodie while it’s still around.

Thunderstruck Coffee Porter
Highland Brewing Company
Asheville, North Carolina
ABV: 5.8% • IBU: 26
Highland is a renowned North Carolina brewer, founded in Asheville in 1994. Their robust Black Mocha Stout, available year-round, earned silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. But I wanted to give their winter seasonal, Thunderstruck, a try.

The coffee porter proves to be another good offering from Highland. It’s full-bodied with flavors of chocolate and malt swimming along with the coffee—which is actually organic and roasted near the brewery in Black Mountain, NC, at Dynamite Roasting Company. The fruits of Dynamite’s labor can be tasted from the beginning to the end of each swallow. A java aftertaste beckons another sip. Thunderstruck—a black brew with a thick, tan head—also gives off a slight aroma and flavor of hops for just the right harmony.

Fireside Chat Winter Spiced Ale
21st Amendment Brewery
San Francisco, California
ABV: 7.9% • IBU: 45
I picked this ale up in a can, and the artwork is delightful: FDR is having a heart-to-heart with one of Santa’s elves near a roaring fire. Poured in a glass, the brew is dark brown with a nice tan head and a malty aroma. The brewery reports starting the process with an English-style ale and adding seasonal spices in an experimental style until they got Fireside Chat just right. The result is a bold and spicy beer with nuances of nutmeg and cinnamon, along with a thicker, warmer mouthfeel than most ales.

Accumulation White IPA
New Belgium Brewing
Fort Collins, Colorado
ABV: 6.2% • IBU: 70
This is the first time New Belgium has produced Accumulation, a winter seasonal, and it became my favorite new beer of 2013. I have to admit that I’ve only recently accepted hoppy beers into my catalogue; thus the ones I’ll drink must be well-done (namely Southern Tier’s 2X IPA and Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale). I won’t just order an IPA to order an IPA. Familiar with Saranac’s White IPA and understanding the beautiful marriage that can be had between bitter hops and sweet citrus wheats, I ventured to taste Accumulation.

The beer pours hazy and light yellow with a billowing head. New Belgium employs four types of hops—Target, Centennial, Mosaic and Amarillo—so the bitterness is definitely there. However, thanks to the Pale and Wheat malts and Ale yeast, the bitterness is cut by beautiful, bright citrus. This marriage allows drinkers to discover the spicy and herbal qualities of hops without being turned off by bitter flavors. I recommend Accumulation especially to anyone who likes wheats and is looking to branch into IPA’s—and to just about every beer enthusiast in general.

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