In many parts of the country, especially here up north where the Tour de Foam crew likes to hang out, the long hot days of hefeweizens on the lake and saisons in the sun are fading quickly. Crisp mornings and cool nights are invading our routines and the annual changing of the guard brought by the local deciduous population signals a new season in the year, and a new season in beer.
Some of this authors’ favorite brews really come into their own as the mercury drops. While enjoyable year round, there is a special sensation in sipping a warming, boozy, Imperial Stout or big Belgian Quad under a canopy of falling leaves. This sense of place can be as large or small a part of your drinking experience as you desire, but I think we can all agree, the encroaching cold certainly favors a few of brewing’s bigger, browner offerings, and that’s just fine with me.
As the green outside transitions to gold and then to gone altogether, try mixing a few of these tried and true cold-weather styles into your regular line up, and see if don’t find yourself daydreaming of pumpkin pies and thick wool sweaters with each new sip.
Ghost Town Coffee Stout – Bridger Brewing Company
5.8% ABV, 48 IBU
Pitch black with a creamy and inviting tan head, the Ghost Town immediately brings a heavy malt presence and notes of cocoa and coffee to the nose. As the first sip hits the tongue, the pleasantly assertive espresso flavors mingle with a dry roasted malt and subtle sweetness, moving into more pronounced cocoas and hints of creaminess as the espresso mellows. The aftertaste lingers with a slight bitterness and an overall smooth, roasted character. The Ghost Town is my personal favorite coffee stout available in the Bozeman area, a sentiment shared by many around here. Once only available in extremely limited runs, the popularity of the Ghost Town has forced increased production, much to the satisfaction of the local dark beer crowd.
10 Gauge Belgian Quadrupple – Outlaw Brewing Company
10.0% ABV, 15 IBU
At 10% alcohol by volume, this big Belgian will come after you if you let it. Intelligently served in a snifter glass, the deep amber-brown brew conjures images of roaring fires, high back leather chairs, and good company. Apart from its sophisticated appearance, the 10 gauge is a very approachable Quad, with delicious appeal. It has a complexity immediately present, in part thanks to the Belgian yeast, and a wonderful caramel sweetness from the candy sugar used in the brew- which also helps amp up that ABV. The beer holds with a malty character and notes reminiscent of burnt raisins and plums, and finishes with a slight wintery spice. Delicious right out of the tap, and maybe even a little more complex as it warms slightly, the 10 Gauge Belgian Quad from Outlaw will make a Belgian believer out of just about anyone.
Instead of picking and profiling a third beer, it seems a better tribute to all the wonderful cold weather brews out there to describe a few common characteristics, and hopefully inspire you to discover a new favorite of your own. When choosing a new beverage to enjoy as the snow falls (or for our southern friends, when it gets below 80), keep these points in mind, and you’ll be smiling all the way to the bottom of the glass.
Alcohol: There’s a reason the ice fishermen out on the lake are passing a flask around, and no, it’s not just because ice fishing can be as thrilling as watching paint dry. It’s because alcohol has a perceived warming effect on the body, which, while scientifically the opposite of what is actually occurring, the wave of warmth that a big ABV can bring to the table is an often appreciated characteristic. When in doubt, choose the brown beer with more alcohol.
Hops, IBU’s and bitterness: Generally speaking, heavily hopped beers impart a fresh, floral, and often citric bitterness to their host beverage. Usually bright and bold in flavor, a proper fresh hopped beer can be one of the most pure signs of fall. As the hops are harvested in September around Bozeman, local brewers will put a limited supply of fresh hopped IPA’s on tap, and the taste of one of those big imperial’s signals an excellent hop harvest and the end of a season.
Color and Malt: When it’s cold, we love things roasted. Prime rib, whole chickens, marshmallows, coffee. It’s human nature to cook things and impart new flavors, and why should our brewing ingredients be any different? For this author, the best way to drink as the temperature drops is to let the beer get darker as the temp gets lower. Big roasted, malty beers will bring a ton of flavors to the party, all pleasant and comforting.
So the next time you’re at your local bottle shop, pick up a stout, porter, brown, quad, dubbel or any of the other fantastic seasonal offerings consistently put out by Bozeman’s brewers, and toast to the winter ahead.