Old Man Winter hates us; along with his partner-in-crime, Mother Nature, he has done his damnedest to freeze us all to death this year, but, thankfully, you (the person reading this, who, unless my dream of a zombie apocalypse has finally come true, has managed to survive thus far) and I (as I write these words...no guarantee after that) are still alive. Salutations, fellow survivor! We are about halfway through the struggle that is winter, and, hopefully, the worst is over. Today, for instance, the thermometer reached a balmy 41 degrees Fahrenheit, which felt positively Spring-y after our recent run of single digit weather and prompted Thaz, one of our bartenders, to bust out a pair of shorts and expose everyone present to his terrifyingly misshapen legs. (The horror...the horror) Still, a cold winter night does have its benefits...it's the perfect time of year to curl up next to a significant other and enjoy the benefits of sharing each other's body heat, which can be a lot of fun. (So I am told) Also, it's the perfect time to try a malty beer, something dark (sometimes), sweet (usually), and mysterious (always) to celebrate the fact that Old Man Winter has not managed to kill us.
We know that hoppy beers have been all the rage the past few years, and rightly so: hoppy beers can be delicious, provided they are well-balanced. Unfortunately, according to Adrienne So, a freelance beer writer who has been featured on slate.com, hops "are a quick way for beginning brewers to disguise flaws in their beer, by using the hops’ strong flavor to overcome any possible off tastes." In short, it's easy to hop the hell out of something and have it come out ok...it's much more difficult to highlight the sweetness inherent in a malty ale without sending it over the top into sugar shock territory, which isn't good for anyone. I know it's not "trendy" right now to enjoy a malty beer, but, if you're the type of person that drinks beer because it's "trendy," I guarantee you will be drinking a delicious, malty beverage about three years from now, when the pendulum swings back the other way and the major craft players start pushing their sweeter libations on an America that has grown tired of over-hopped mediocrity. If you are the adventurous type with a mind of your own, I have selected three excellent malty beers for you to try that just might change your opinion of malty beers:
1. Sweet Baby Jesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter
Brewer: Duclaw Brewing Company - Baltimore, Maryland
Style: American Porter
Look: Black and syrupy
Smell: Heavy peanut butter bouquet
Taste: Subtle peanut butter notes up front with a roasted malt finish
Any beer that would deign to call itself "Sweet Baby Jesus" had better be good, and Duclaw does not disappoint. This is an excellent malty beer with enough kick to get you to where you want to be, but not enough to get your keys taken away, provided you pace yourself. It's a great beer to share with a group of friends on a cold winter's night. (And, if you don't exclaim, "SWEET BABY JESUS, THAT'S GOOD STUFF" after your first sip, you have wasted one of life's golden opportunities, my friend)
2. Monk Suffers Serious Sugar Rush On Barbados
Brewer: Evil Twin Brewing - København, Denmark
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Look: Dark, deep amber, clear
Smell: Heavy wine and malt notes in bouquet
Taste: Malty up front with subtle bourbon notes throughout
Evil Twin brewing is the Danish, devilish answer to the question, "Do I really need to own a brewing facility in order to make great beer?" The answer, surprisingly, is no, you do not, as proven by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Evil Twin's brewmaster, who has been "Gypsy brewing," (as the process, which involves brewing at several different facilities, is known) since founding the brewery in 2010. The Monk, as I will refer to it for brevity's sake, is a delightful Belgian style ale that will knock your socks off (provided you were wearing socks to begin with, you dirty hippie). Sugary up front, it is balanced out by its bourbon notes, which show up subtly in the finish. At 8%, treat it like a yellow light and exercise caution, because it will get you there a lot faster than the Sweet Baby Jesus. A great beer to enjoy while the snow falls around you and Jack Frost tries to date rape you.
Brewer: Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg
Look: Amber and clear
Smell: Subtle wine bouquet
Taste: Pleasant fruit and wine notes throughout
Samichlaus is the type of beer Santa serves to his elves after a tough day in the workshop: it serves the twin function of keeping them happy while preventing them from unionizing and overthrowing his icy throne. Brewed once a year on St. Nicholas Day and aged for ten months, it is the perfect winter beer: sweet, smooth, and strong. It tends to grow more complex as it ages, bottle-conditioning itself into a better beer with each passing hour like an Olympic athlete training for the biggest game of his life. Enjoy it when you are snowed in and have nothing to do the next day, and be sure to step outside and give Old Man Winter the most defiant finger you can muster...he hasn't managed to kill you yet.
See you on the flip side.