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Saturday, December 02, 2023

Craft beers for cold weather

The warm, hop-heavy days of summer-session drinking on rooftop patios and Capitol Square beer gardens have long gone, forcing us beer geeks to stay home and find comfort in a fridge full of boozy, dark and rich ales. Thankfully, the craft-beer industry feels our pain, consistently saving many of its best and most ambitious beers for the cold winter months. Today’s column is devoted to highlighting the best of the winter seasonal beers to be released in the following months. 

Tyranena The Devil Made Me Do It: 

I’ll start with a beer that was just released into the Madison market. The Devil Made Me Do It is an Imperial Coffee Porter from the small Wisconsin Tyranena brewery. Anticipate a well-rounded, though not over-the-top profile of tangy oats, dry grain, medium-roast coffee, and a creamy hint of banana. 

Bell’s Expedition Stout: 

This seems to be one of those beers that has been around so long that everyone sort of forgets how amazing it is. The 2012 edition was released a few weeks ago and has been readily available, despite being simply one of the best stouts in the world. In my opinion, this beer helped invent what the modern imperial stout is, and yet still holds up incredibly well after all these years. Unrelentingly rich and flavorful, Expedition Stout features tons of strong espresso, dark chocolate, vanilla, dark fruits and a boozy finish that lends itself well to aging. 

Great Lakes Christmas Ale: 

The so-called “Christmas” or “Holiday” ale is an enigmatic style of beer that seems to exist as a marketing gimmick rather than for any real purpose. Having said that, the Great Lakes brewers are masters of malt, and their take on the style is actually pretty good. Just be warned that this beer is very sweet—but in a bready, cinnamon roll kind of way that doesn’t really come across as over the top. 

Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout: 

A bourbon barrel aged stout with this 9.5 percent ABV beer is very intense. With an aggressive lingering alcohol burn as it scratches down your throat, I would advise maybe aging this beer for a while to calm it down. However, if you are a whiskey/bourbon kind of drinker, then go for it straight off the bottling line, as the coffee and dark fruit backbone will be at its most potent while fresh. 

Bell’s Hopslam: 

Though IPA seasonals are almost exclusively associated with summer, matching their bright citrusy profile to warm and humid weather, clearly Bell’s Brewery didn’t get this message. Instead, they chose to release their award winning Imperial India Pale Ale in February. Regardless, do yourself a favor and pick this beer. With a fresh pine-hop bomb exploding across the taste buds, Hopslam provides the kind of flavor that only a handful of IPAs in the country can claim to offer. It was also ranked the sixth-best beer in the world by in 2012.

Founders Imperial Stout: 

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These guys brew stouts as well as anyone out there. Their Imperial Stout is a limited winter seasonal that doesn’t receive as much credit as the famous Breakfast Stout series, but it actually provides more flavor. Expect this beer to be less balanced however, with big notes of smoke, dark fruit, and burnt chocolate. 

Three Floyds Big Behemoth:  

This late winter barleywine does a great job of representing the style. It’s really sweet and malty but not without a bitter-hop finish. Flavors include caramel, toffee, dark fruits like cranberry, rye and a little tobacco. 

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale:  

Finally, I will end with probably the most well-known and popular winter seasonal out there: Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale. Once again, it’s not entirely clear why exactly this beer is a holiday style ale, but the fantastic balance of hops and malt make this a very solid, though not breathtaking beer. Still, if you have yet to try this guy, I would definitely recommend it. 

Have a favorite winter brew? Share your suggestions with Niko at

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