New Glarus Brewing
The Wisconsin beer enthusiast will likely consider a cold can, dewy bottle or draught pour of their classic or craft favorite to stand as the state's official drink. However, there are others who will place the brandy Old Fashioned on that same pedestal, some maybe event a step above beer. The cocktail is certainly iconic, especially over the colder months of the calendar.
So what happens when Dan and Deb Carey, owners of one of Wisconsin's most recognized breweries, decide to blend the personalities of two of the state's quintessential beverages? The result is Spiced Ale, the latest in the Thumbprint line of beers released by New Glarus Brewing. It's one unique winter warmer.
What is it? Thumbprint Spiced Ale from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wisconsin.
Style: At the heart of New Glarus Spiced Ale is a Scotch ale, a style that's often placed among the beers called winter warmers because of their rich malty flavor and strength. The Scotch ale is medium- to full-bodied, with dark color and deep caramel and chocolate flavors that come from dark malts in the grist. The style commonly ranges from 6% to 8% ABV. New Glarus Spiced Ale is very similar to the brewery's Thumbprint Winter Warmer released in 2013, albeit with a few tweaks that include the amount of malts and hops in the recipe, as well as the fact that this new brew was aged on oak.
Background: New Glarus Spiced Ale disappeared quickly at Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest 2014 -- the beer didn't even make it through the festival's opening-hour premium session. However, in local stores, it seems to have not attracted as much attention since being released in early January.
New Glarus brewmaster Dan Carey says that he has not received much feedback and is a little surprised with its quiet reception, especially at a time when winter warmers are as common as snowshoes and stocking hats. Spiced Ale may be going relatively unnoticed because of its name; some may confuse it with beers that are introduced for the holidays, full-bodied brews with spices and candy adjuncts. Granted, this is not really a beer for the heat of summer, but it was actually made with the brandy Old Fashioned in mind. Spiced Ale mimics the bitters of the cocktail so well that it's all the more delicious just when the doldrums of shoveling snow are at their most overwhelming.
"When Dan and Deb were talking about creating this beer, they wanted it to taste like an Old Fashioned, with its spiciness that comes from bitters and the sweetness from brandy," says Randy Thiel, who worked with the Careys in the brewery's lab to get the spices just right. "This was all Dan and Deb's beer; they worked on it together. They let me taste it and occasionally offer my two cents," he adds with a laugh.
Spiced Ale gets its Old Fashioned flavors from cinnamon cassia (Chinese cinnamon), allspice and ginger. Those flavors combine with a light amount of Savinsjki Golding (Slovenian) and Spalt Hallertau (German) hops. The beer is also aged for three weeks on two different types of oak. "We did lots of benchtop trials to see how different spices would interact with the beer," explains Thiel.
"We were trying to make a marriage with the oakiness you find in brandy and the spiciness from the bitters in an Old Fashioned," says Dan Carey. "We just didn't want it to be over the top."
This is the first time New Glarus has made Spiced Ale, which is sold in four-packs for around $11. The beer is bottle-conditioned, so expect it to mellow somewhat and get stronger with cellaring. "I expect it to age gracefully," says Thiel.
Next up in the New Glarus Thumbprint series will be a Belgian Dubbel, which is slated for release sometime in March.
- Aroma: Spicy, with hints of ginger and cinnamon and a touch of oakiness.
- Appearance: Clear orange-copper color, with a marbled, soft tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied and soft.
- Taste: There's a spicy front to this beer that really does make you think that you're drinking a brandy Old Fashioned. The undertones of caramel malt and oak aging really work well and contribute to its overall sweetness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Light lingering dry-orange spiciness, with warmth.
Glassware: The heavy dimpled glass mug is a great way to show off Spiced Ale's copper and bronze hues. The thick glass allows the beer to slowly warm, bringing out more of its sweetness.
Pairs well with: Pair this beer with a soft, sweet and creamy cheese. Sartori MontAmoré is a nice companion. So too is mascarpone. Desserts like apple pie or bread pudding also go well with New Glarus Spiced Ale.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: New Glarus Spiced Ale should not be confused with a hold-over holiday brew. While it may have some wintry spicy qualities, its brandy Old Fashioned persona lends a season-transcending shelf-life. This is a beer that will cause a drinker to pause, just for a moment, and wonder what's in it. The beer certainly surprised me with its bitter-orange, dry ginger, caramel, toffee and vanilla-oakiness, which made me savor it, slowly, like an Old Fashioned. It leaves an impression of brandy and herbal bitters, similar to what one finds in the spirited drink. In a state that loves the brandy Old Fashioned as much as beer, New Glarus Spiced Ale deserves attention.