Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane


Each December, a few things usually happen. First, the holiday season kicks into full swing. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but things tend to start getting down right jolly. There is a lot of merry making. Lights hang from most anything within reach of an extension cord and people start looking for any excuse to party. The other two, being long nights and a lot of cold, tend to make the previous activities necessary.
There are all kinds of seasonal treats that happen now that you don’t generally see any other time of the year. While the abundance of cookies is cool and all, we can’t forget about liquid refreshment. The dark and heavy beers really shine this time of year. Stouts and porters or anything with the word “imperial” in its name gets its fair due. There is another option for beer drinkers, however. Usually lighter in color and spiced, the winter warmer offers a unique taste for the season.
What is a winter warmer? Well, that is hard to say. Its not exactly one of those styles that is well defined. Any definition of a winter warmer, other than that its meant to drink in winter, will be quickly disproved by one example or another. To me, it generally means a spiced ale that is, at times, accompanied by a decent ABV and a bit of an alcoholic burn. They are tasty and festive. Its like a Christmas tree sweated booze into your mouth.
Well, minus the gross part.
This week, I picked up Victory Brewing’s Winter Cheers. Billed as a “celebratory wheat ale,” it promised to lift the spirits on the darkest of nights. I’m sure the 6.7% ABV had something to do with the claim. As cold and dark as it’s been getting, a little lifting might just have been in order.
It poured a very pale yellow color. This was an incredibly light looking brew. There was about a finger and a half worth of head with tons of bubbles rising through it. This promised lots of carbonation and a thin body. These aren’t generally characteristics I look for in a beer in the cold months, but Victory had never steered me wrong before.
The scent was largely that of spice. It was alcohol mixed in with cloves and coriander. It certainly gave it the sensation of being warm. Underneath that was sweet fruit, like bananas and yeast. There was also notes of citrus and, if you looked for it amongst all the heavier scents, wheat. There was certainly a lot going on here.
It tasted a lot like a common witbier, though perhaps more spiced. The first thing to hit the tongue were the malts, but only for a moment. After that, its all sweetness, spice and citrus. It certainly carries with it a good amount of warmth. The tastes do not linger long, however. It has a very dry and crisp finish that leaves the palette refreshed. Only the savory pretzel like wheat remains to remind you of each swallow.
Winter Cheers is a good beer, though I wouldn’t say its overly distinct. It would make a good session beer, especially for those who gravitate toward Belgium brews. It certainly has warmed me up and lifted my spirits. As far as seasonal treats go, I’d say this one certainly passes the test.