Brewed For Battle: Winter Warmers

Anderson Valley Winter Solstice (left) Anchor Brewing's Special Ale (center), and Ska Euphoria Ale.
Anderson Valley Winter Solstice (left) Anchor Brewing's Special Ale (center), and Ska Euphoria Ale.
Jonathan McNamara

At what point does one elevate from merely drinking beer to being a full-on beer snob? Answer: when you feel compelled to tell other people what to drink. And the inevitable result of this peculiar ailment is the beer argument.

In the spirit of all great beer-related discussions, we present Brewed For Battle; a new series of Chow Bella blog posts that pits a selection of brews from a given style up against each other and lets the taste buds of one layman battle them out. Multiple beers go in. One beer comes out the victor.

This week's battle: Winter Warmer

Every year the seasons perform their unavoidable dance, with the colors of fall ceding to the snowy cold of winter. As old friends get together to enjoy the holidays, many breweries put out unique seasonal offerings called winter warmers -- the cure for the winter chill.

Most winter warmers are malty and sweet, with colors ranging from brownish-red to inky black. Many are spiced with adjuncts evocative of the Christmas season: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, molasses, brown sugar and maple syrup would all find a welcome place in one of these ales. that may be darker, stronger, spiced, or otherwise more characterful than their normal beers. Though these winter seasonals can vary from brewer to brewer, all are robust, full of character, and perfect for sipping in front of the fire on a cold winter night.

Zach's Pick: Anchor Our Special Ale 2010 To my knowledge, there's no beer out there that tastes more like Christmas than Anchor's winter warmer. Though the beer's recipe changes every year, the result is always an incredible holiday potpourri of spicy cinnamon, nutmeg, gingerbread and pine. The brewers at Anchor have been cooking this masterpiece since 1975, and like the beer's recipe, the tree on the label changes every year. This year it's the Ginkgo Biloba, symbolizing the winter solstice when the earth appears born anew -- much like you'll feel after your first sip.

Jonathan's Pick: Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Anderson Valley came highly recommended from my own, secret ciscerone. Unfortunately, this is one recommendation I can not second. If you like your brew overly sweet like liquid, gummy bears, this is the beer for you. It's not bad. In fact, it's quite good for what it is. I was looking for more of a spicy edge.

Shannon's Pick: Ska Euphoria Euphoria Pale Ale - Ska Brewery's winter release seemed to be flying off the shelves this year. Fortunately I was able to snag a can from the back of a friends car. Euphoria is a nice change of pace from your typical winter warmer. It's light, balanced and doesn't taste like Christmas in a glass. It actually has more of an early spring feel to it with plenty of citrus notes and just a hint of pine. The perfect balance of hops allows the caramel malts to shine through and at 6.1% ABV, it's perfect for wintertime patio day drinking. Bonus: It will fit in your favorite koozie. Try doing that with a magnum sized bottle.

The Layman's Choice: Anchor Our Special Ale This week's layman is Meghan Olesen, who rather enjoyed all the Christmas presents we brought.

She thought Euphoria had a good hop profile and reminded her of Christmas trees. Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice, she said, tasted like gummy bears, bubble gum and sweet bananas, but needed more spiciness.

But Anchor's Our Special Ale came out the victor for Megan. With flavors of pumpkin bread, molasses, gingerbread, clove and tootsie roll pops, she felt it was the most Christmas-reminiscent.

"Now that's Christmas!" she said. "Kind of like Goldilocks, this beer fits between the hoppiness of Euphoria and the sweetness of Winter Solstice. It's just right."

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