’Tis the season for spiced beers. Lakefront has released one annually since the early 1990s. However, this year the brewery decided to depart from its traditional Holiday Spice Lager and release a bigger, bolder, brandy barrel-aged version.
What is it? Brandy Barrel-Aged Spiced Winter Lager from Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee.
Style: Spiced beers are commonly found during the winter holiday season. They are often made with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, mint, figs and raisins and other ingredients. These beers are hard to categorize because they take on the character of the add-ons. They come in both ales and lagers. Generally, spiced beers are dark, medium- to full-bodied, with a background of caramel and chocolate malts. They are sometimes strong, with enough alcoholic warmth to accentuate the spices.
Background: Here, flavor comes from a variety of ingredients including cinnamon, cloves, ginger, orange peel, and Wisconsin clover honey from Kallas Honey Farm of Milwaukee. The base is a strong malty winter warmer with lots of Munich, caramel and chocolate malts. What really makes the spicing smooth is six months of aging in brandy barrels. “Brandy is a Wisconsin thing, so it’s a little local twist on a spiced beer,” says the brewery’s Matt Krajnak. With its aging in brandy barrels, “the spices mellow out, and it’s a lot more drinkable.”
This is the first time Lakefront has released a brandy barrel-aged version of its Holiday Spice Lager. It’s part of a growing seasonal series of brandy barrel beers that include Imperial Pumpkin Spice Lager which just finished its fall run. Two new beers will join the lineup in 2017: Blackberry imperial porter in February and Imperial Cherry lager in May.
Lakefront Brandy Barrel-Aged Spiced Winter Lager finishes at 13.9 percent ABV and is sold in six-packs for around $15/each. This is a beer that will age well, perhaps for several years, if cellared properly.
Aroma: Oaky barrel tones with hints of toffee and dark fruits.
Appearance: The body is dark, amber-bronze with ruby highlights. A tan, marbled head.
Texture: Full-bodied and soft, with alcoholic warmth throughout.
Taste: Solid spiciness of cinnamon and cloves that blends with the sweetness of brandy and oak from the barrel.
Finish/Aftertaste: Oak, vanilla and sweet brandy accents. Also a lot of alcohol warmth.
Glassware: This is a big sipping beer that deserves a big glass, so a large goblet is a great way to highlight the bold dark color and allow the aromas to gather on the nose.
Pairs well with: desserts, or drink on its own as a night cap.
The Verdict: I’m usually not a fan of holiday spiced brews. However, Lakefront has me rethinking this. Although there’s plenty of cinnamon, clove and ginger here, this bold lager comes off smooth, with dark fruity sweetness melding with the brandy and oak. I was reminded of the decadent seduction of rum-spiced eggnog. In the end, it’s a welcome winter warmer for the holiday beer enthusiast.