Our favourite winter beer styles Part 2
In Part 2 of our series on our favourite winter beer styles we go from rich and robust to spicy and dry, from Russian royalty to Belgian farmers. Get your hoody and your uggs on and see what takes your fancy.
What is it?
Guinness. You just thought of it, didn’t you? Dark and creamy and just so, well, stout. Fair enough. And you’re right of course. Guinness is like the flagship stout. However, there is, of course more to stout than Guinness. But like almost every style of beer these days, a single defining feature can be hard to pin down. Just as one person’s red ale is another’s amber, so one’s person’s stout is another’s porter.
Traditionally stout referred to a strong porter. This is no longer really applies – Guinness for example is only a 4.2%. Today it’s a bit of a case of tom-ay-to / tom-ah-to. If you want a good historical rundown of the porter vs stout argument (which has its origins in 18th Century London, no less) head over to https://www.beerconnoisseur.com/porter-versus-stout For our purposes we are going to keep things fairly simple by referring to a few of the generally accepted styles of stout and why they make awesome winter drinking.
Russian Imperial Stout
The Imperial actually started its life as a British beer exported to the Imperial Russian Court who loved its intense, velvety black, highly alcoholic, heavy character. British pale ale malts, roasted barley, and chocolate and black malts combine for distinctive toasted, coffee and chocolate flavour with a refreshing malty, fruity tartness. And remember, just because a beer is heavy doesn’t mean it can’t be subtle or complex. Catherine II of Russia was, after all, a sophisticated lady. And this was the brew that saw her and her court though the deepest and most frigid of Siberian nights.
Our winter’s nights are yet to dip below 15 degrees but with your ugg boots on and a roaring fire (or gas heater) you can easily set the scene for a little stout drinking. We’re fans of the Konrad Imperial Stout from Norway’s Lervig Brewers with its explosion of coffee, chocolate, liquorice and caramel. From Italy, try the Verdi Imperial Stout from Birrificio del Ducato for its peppery roasted bitterness and warming chilli kick at the end.
To the whole roaring fire scene, add a cheese plate – stilton, perhaps, and a fig or quince paste. Ahhhh.
Oatmeal – breakfast of champions, right? Add it to a beer and the result is much the same – a full body, that is creamy and smooth. The added sweetness is also a defining feature and is the result not tof the oats (which can actually cause an astringent taste) but of the malt and yeast types used as they do not soak up too much of the sugar. As with other stout styles, the presence of hop aromas and taste should be minimal – this one is all about that creamy smoothness. Our favourite for a dark and stormy night (though if you can only imagine consuming oatmeal in the morning then we will not judge if you crack one of these open at 9am) is the Lobethal Chocolate Oatmeal Stout. Brewed with oats of course, malted and roasted barley and carefully selected handfuls of English hops, it is silky smooth with delicious hints of coffee and, surprise surprise, chocolate.
Have it with dessert. Or as dessert! It will also be a great accompaniment to hearty winter stew.
Okay, okay – settle down. We know the Belgian witbier style is often described as a perfect summer brew – one to swig after a hard day tilling the fields under a blazing sun yada yada yada. But we think it works just as well as a crisp, refreshing match for a crisp, fresh wintry day. This one is less about fireside sipping, and more about finding that patch of brilliant winter sun and following it around the back yard with your beer and your book/mates/dog until the early evening chill finally sets in.
What is it?
Pale golden and often cloudy in appearance due to it being unfiltered or bottle conditioned, Belgian witbier, is brewed with a mash of at least 50% raw wheat. The other half is generally pale malted barley and there is occasionally a small quantity of oats in the mix also. Hops are generally chosen to subtly complement and enhance the other aromas and flavours rather than to feature as a defining characteristic on their own. It’s the spice additions to the brew that that really give the witbier its distinctive profile. Coriander and orange peel are the most commonly featured but you’ll come across cumin, ginger, chamomile and all kinds of other surprises as you try more examples of the style. With a silky mouthfeel, spritzy carbonation, slight honeyed sweetness, and a dry finish, try it with a bowl of steamed mussels, Belgian style, or a spaghetti vongole. The fizz and slightly sharp taste of the wheat cuts through oil and butter beautifully.
For the real Belgian deal, we reckon you can’t go past the Blanche de Namur from the Brasserie du BOCQ. For a new world take on the tradition, try the Clementine Witbier from Clownshoes in Massachusetts.
So put down your scythe, or your laptop, find your patch of warmth, turn your face to the winter sun, and enjoy.