Updated: Dec 10, 2020
ANY SELF-RESPECTING HOST KNOWS THERE'S NO BIGGER PARTY FOUL than serving someone a warm beer. Nothing shows your tepid regard for a houseguest quite like it. It's so important, in fact, that receiving an ice cold beer from someone could be likened to a good strong handshake; a consumable welcome mat of sorts, especially at a summer BBQ. Well, fortunately for all of you refrigeration-challenged entertainers there's good news, because there's a myriad of beer styles that fall into the Winter-warmer category. You may be drinking one now, and it would be absolutely prime after you take a little chill off of it. Let's look a little deeper at what a difference a few degrees can make.
Much like the nuanced differences in defining Hazy IPAs (read more on that on our prior blog entry), it can be used as a broad or specific term used to describe a general category of seasonal beers that have a warming effect as they tend to be maltier and heartier. Many can be sweeter and subsequently higher in alcohol for balance, while others still may be spiced or flavored with baking spices and other adjuncts found in typical holiday-themed eats such as dark and/or dried fruit. Think of it as the beer equivalent of comfort food. Stylistic examples include everything from Imperial Red and Brown Ales to Scotch Ales, Barleywines to Imperial Stouts, Belgian Quads and English Olde Ales. If it sounds like a meal in a glass, it's probably a Warmer. More generally however, many feel that a warmer is a style of beer that contains the following: 1. Imperial (higher ABV) 2. Spiced or flavored 3. Malt-forward. Now, that's not a hard & fast rule, but it represents a large majority of warmers on the market. Let's get into how to make the most out of these cold-weather suds, and what to avoid.
THE RIGHT CARBONATION
At a basic level, CO2 needs a couple things to be readily absorbed (and remain) into a liquid: Pressure and temperature. More specifically, cold temperature. That's why a beer loses its carbonation so quickly after you open it - It gets warmer, and is not pressurized. Carbonation does something really special for the experience of drinking beer. It brings aromas to the surface, which you then experience with your nose the moment before you drink, and because we know that aroma is responsible for up to 80-90 percent of what you taste, it makes sense that the more bubbles that are present, the more aroma is released. It's also responsible for the 'bite' or 'crispness' associated with beer. Sounds great right? It is for many beer styles, but not necessarily the Warmer, because the qualities of a comfort beer should present themselves as thicker and less effervescent, as opposed to crisp and refreshing. In that regard excessive amounts of CO2 aren't doing it any favors.
"To get the most out of all the complex flavors packed into that glass, let the beer sit out for 15-20 minutes prior to consuming."
As the beer warms, a slight amount of CO2 is released, giving the beer a fuller mouthfeel and less 'bite'. Many brewers package these types of beers with less CO2 to begin with, but many do not. Be your own judge and adjust as necessary. Sipping slowly and allowing it to 'breathe' can make a world of difference.
THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE
Here's a helpful example: you know how the smells of food intensify as they heat up? Sure cold pizza has its place as a decent hangover remedy, but no one in their right mind would trade it in for a piping hot, ooey gooey slice of hot pizza pie. Beer is no different. It happens under very different circumstances, but the result is similar. Air particles begin to move more quickly as the beer warms, allowing aromas to travel up the beer column and into your glass, or nose. We also know that you are less sensitive to cold agents than warm ones and that cold matter has an anesthetizing or desensitizing effect that impairs your senses, which is why we put ice packs on injuries, for example. To get the most out of all the complex flavors packed into that glass, let the beer sit out for 15-20 minutes prior to consuming.
Pro tip: To speed up the warming process, or if you don't have time to wait, pour your beer into the glass and swirl it around while cupping the glass with your hands. Make sure to maximize the heat transfer by using as much surface area of your hands to the glass as possible.
THE RIGHT GLASS
Glassware makes a big difference in the way your beer drinks. Factors like rim diameter, height, and bowl shape all contribute to the experience. In the case of something like a Winter-warmer, you are typically sipping, which is better achieved with a narrow rim that restricts flow as you tip the glass. The tapered shape of the rim from the wall of the glass to the edge helps to trap aromas at the rim and create surface tension that allows the thick, lacy head to persist at the top. Bowl size is important for a couple reasons too. First, it creates a large surface area on the glass for heat exchange with your hands as you grasp it, but also a larger area across the top of the beer for CO2 to escape. Notice a theme here? The glass helps facilitate the correct carbonation level AND temperature. The three together are the triple-threat. For further reading on the subject check out Advanced Mixology and craftbeer.com
Want to take your Winter-warmer game to the next level? Try out a NITRO beer for complete sensory overload. Our 4Seasons Winter '20 is a prime example, and it's delicious. Just ask Joe.
Hopefully now you have a better understanding of the Winter-warmer style and the best way to drink one. To search for any of our past or present 4Seasons Winter vintages near you using our Beer Finder.
Keywords: Craft Beer, Mother Earth, Four Seasons, Barrel Aged, Stout, Porter, Dark Beer, How-to