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THE CASK WHISPERER

Blog by Nigel Walsh

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The Cask Whisperer Tackles the Tough Subjects: Winter Warmers

Who even knew that this was a controversial subject?

Well, Evil Twin did, and they even got me thinking about it with the name of their Winter Warmer, which I happened to taste at the Grand Delancey late last week.

And a mighty fine example it was too… or was it?

  • It was an ale, always a good start.
  • The color was about right, deep amber but only tending towards ruby, so on the paler end of the range I would say.
  • It had a big creamy head, but that was more due to the sparkler than the beer itself; the head dissipated quickly leaving a more familiar scuzzy appearance.
  • It was warming without being boozy, so right on the nose there; I mean, it is a winter warmer, not a barleywine or old ale.
  • It was malty but not a malt bomb, the sweetness had a more toffee-like quality and was quite subtle.
  • There was no noticeable bitterness; well maybe a little in the finish.
  • It was seasonal and ‘tis the season, and it was on cask, so it appeared to be brewed in limited quantities, maybe even a one-off as Evil Twin are not known for their prolific cask output.
  • Finally, it was spiced, which is expected for seasonal beers brewed on this side of the pond and optional (apparently) for those on the other side, but the spice, just like the malt, was quite subtle, more clove and nutmeg instead of ginger and cinnamon.
  • The only disconnect for me was the body, which was quite thin, although that may have just been my own palate after subsisting on Strong Rope’s full-bodied pumpkin ale for the past three weeks, or it could have been the sparkler (more controversy there).

It would appear that Evil Twin answered their own question with this brew; it adroitly threaded the needle between a strong mild, a wee heavy, and a barleywine, without venturing too far into the exotic world that is the Winter Ale or Christmas Ale or Holiday Ale.

Not that there is anything wrong with that world.

That world even has a BJCP Style Guideline which is more than the humble winter warmer can manage; the closest that it gets is a honorable mention in this one.

Yep, our poor winter warmer gets lumped in with the oakeys and the boozies, a beer to be sipped, in small snifters whilst sitting around the fire, instead of being savored whilst leaning against a festively decorated bar, from a full pint glass or mug (your preference).

In the past that pint would have been the legendary Young’s Winter Warmer, which around this time of year would turn up in a pin, perched at the end of the bar at one of my usual haunts; the Lamb Tavern in Leadenhall Market, or the Prince of Wales on Lea Bridge Road, the Flask in Hampstead, the Hole in the Wall at Waterloo, or any of several Young’s pubs in Richmond.

One even turned up in my “local” the Little Gem in Aylesford; I am so happy that the Gem has reopened after many derelict years… a visit home to Kent may be in the books.

But the most convenient venue for me more recently (well, 20 years back) was d.b.a. in Manhattan; back before their brief experimentation with a beer engine they managed to secure a pin of Young’s Winter Warmer and parked it right on the corner of the bar; it took me many visits to kill that pin off…

I have managed to sample other American brewed winter warmers on cask over the years, some of which were not just disguised Christmas ales.

Snow Plow from Climax Brewing in NJ used to appear on cask at one of the Barcade pubs in NYC, when they still had the handpumps (bloody Covid); it ventures a little too close to barleywine territory but still good for a half pint.

K-9 Cruiser (or K-9 Winter Ale) from Flying Dog is just about perfect to style; or would be if there was an actual style…

It used to turn up at Churchkey in DC, sometimes with added coffee beans (don’t knock it).

Harpoon Winter Warmer and Port Jeff Ice Breaka have both now appeared to cross over into Holiday Ale territory, but again there is nothing wrong with that either.

Even though most winter warmers are to be found in bottle or can form these days, you can still find them out there in the wild if you search for them, sometimes even on cask.

 And if you cannot find a “proper” winter warmer (what even is that?), chance your arm with a Holiday Ale…

… ‘tis the season after all.

Scorecard w/e 12/12/23

In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has enjoyed the following casks:

  • Strong Rope Growing Round @ Jones Wood Foundry
  • Evil Twin What Even is Winter Warmer? @ The Grand Delancey
  • Fifth Hammer Richard Neverdick @ Fifth Hammer

Upcoming Cask Festivals

1/21/2024: 6th Annual Cask Ales FUNdraiser at The Brewers Collective

3/30/2024: Cask.On at Cask & Vine, Derry NH

4/10/2024 – 4/13/2024 (5 sessions): 25th Annual New England Real Ale Exhibition (NERAX)

ASK NIGEL

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