With the arrival of snow, so come the winter brews. "It's when a beer is comforting in our climate - rich in malty sweetness and relaxing in high alcohol," notes New Glarus brewmaster Dan Carey. "Something to enjoy at home in front of a fire."
New Glarus Brewing, New Glarus, $10/four-pack
This one hasn't been made since 2008, but Carey is offering it in his brewery's "Unplugged" lineup of limited-release beers. It's made with apples from the 2010 fall harvest, within 24 hours of Kickapoo Orchard of Gays Mills turning them into juice. The juice was added directly into an awaiting fermenter of brown ale. Apple Ale is wonderful for the hard cider fan who also likes beer. It has an assertive apple aroma and semisweet fruity flavor that blends with an underlying caramel maltiness from the brown ale.
Furthermore Beer Company, Spring Green, $11/six-pack
Hopperbolic was released on local draft accounts in early November; the first bottles started appearing in early December. This hoppy India Pale Ale is made with the 2010 crop of Wisconsin-grown hops, all harvested within 20 miles of Spring Green. Furthermore purchased nearly everything Gorst Valley Hops had to offer. The beer has a distinctive dry bitterness with a citrus hoppy aroma.
Vintage Brewing Company, Madison, $4.50/glass or $10/growler (refill)
Named after the Finnish term for Santa Claus, this is a full-bodied winter version of a Finnish farmhouse brew that has lots of sweetness with some dryness from additions of rye. Its recipe also includes juniper, cardamom, vanilla, star anise and orange peel, which all make for a wonderful holiday spiced ale.
Merry Isthmus Ale
Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company, Madison-Downtown, $5/pint or $10/growler (refill)
This one is always on tap for the holiday, although the style changes from year to year. This season, it's a very drinkable Imperial Stout, dark and semisweet with lots of chocolate malt. It might be a bit on the lighter-body side of the style, but overall it's a big, robust, flavorful beer with a kick at 7.6% ABV. Brewer Eric Brewitz is filtering off small amounts to serving kegs, which allows the main batch to continue aging. The beer should hit its peak about the time Christmas presents are unwrapped.
Norski Nut Brown Ale
Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery, Mount Horeb, $4.25/pint or $12/growler (refill)
Scheduled for release within the next few days, this is a dark colored Colonial Porter made with blackstrap molasses that adds flavor depth and a warm semisweetness. Brewer Mark Knoebl says his kids have been studying early U.S. history, and while helping them with their homework he was inspired to make a brew in homage to the homebrew recipes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The beer is also made with toasted oats that are roasted in the brewpub's pizza oven before Knoebl tosses them into the brew kettle.
New Glarus Brewing, $10/four-pack
This new brew is expected to appear just after the new year. It's a brown ale with a smoky flavor from applewood that is burnt as part of the malting (kiln) process that roasts a significant amount of the barley used to make this beer. Expect it to have a vivid deep copper color with not only a distinctive smokiness but also dryness from additions of rye malt.
Whole Hog Barley Wine
Stevens Point Brewing, $8/four-pack
Expect assertive malty flavor and warmth from Whole Hog's 10% ABV, and rich bronze color with ruby highlights. It's a very good representation of the English-style barley wine, with hoppiness and dryness in the background finish.
Hinterland Brewery, Green Bay, $9/four-pack
This is a robust porter made with juniper berries that, combined with chocolate and hops, make for unique piney evergreen character. Winterland hasn't been seen on Madison shelves for nearly seven years, and was just reintroduced to this market.
Rush River Brewing Company, River Falls, $2/bottle
Brewer Dan Chang makes this special seasonal brew with Wisconsin-grown barley. It offers lots of full-bodied mouthfeel and solid caramel maltiness. It hasn't appeared in six-packs, but check around your favorite beer stores that sell individual bottles - it'll be a worthwhile present to yourself!