Lion’s Winter Ale from Granville Island Brewing Company in Vancouver, British Columbia is a deep, cola-like ruby colour and yields a large and frothy tan-coloured head that gets retained as a thin cap and leaves small spots of lace on your glass. This winter warmer has strong aromas of store bought chocolate syrup and vanilla extract that choke notes of roasted grain and red berries.
The predominant chocolate flavour of Lion’s Winter Ale tastes more natural than it smells and has a nice dryness to it that helps to balance a rich sweetness, but falls just short. The finish has notes of vanilla and cedar, along with a subtle hint of peppermint that comes through in the aftertaste. This ale has a thin, yet mainly syrupy body that doesn’t really stand up to the richness of the flavours presented, a low amount of carbonation and a vague graininess.
Bah Humbug from the Wychwood Brewery in Witney, Oxfordshire, England pours a clear copper-ruby colour with a moderate tan coloured head that leaves minor lacing and settles as a thin collar. The aroma of this spiced winter ale is malt forward with a syrupy caramel tone, a peppery spiciness, a slightly sour ripened fruit tone, a touch of pine needles and a hint of cinnamon.
The taste of Bah Humbug has a caramel malt body with a crisp and spicy bite of cinnamon. A bitter, chocolaty taste is balanced by a sweet dark fruit taste that reminds me of plum. The finish is dry and mildly bitter. The ale has a medium body with a low carbonation level. A strong biscuit or bread-like quality weighs down the tongue and the aftertaste has a syrupy fruit quality.
Winter Ale from the Great Lakes Brewery in Toronto, ON is an excellently-crafted take on the classic “winter warmer” ales from England. This deep ruby-amber coloured beer is brewed with honey, cinnamon, ginger and orange peel added, giving it a robust spicy aroma.
Great Lakes Brewery Winter Ale pours with a light beige head that stays around as a collar. While the cinnamon dominates the aroma, the honey and ginger really come through in the taste. The brew manages to be both spicy and sweet without becoming overpowering.
The mouthfeel is surprisingly crisp and bubbly, a noticeable contrast to the maltiness of most strong, dark ales. Great Lakes Winter Ale has a nice dryness to it and leaves me with a slightly medicine-like aftertaste. In many cases, it also leaves me with a bead of sweat on my brow.
Winter Welcome Ale from the Samuel Smith Old Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England pours a beautiful, clear rusty-amber colour and leaves a thin but frothy beige collar on your glass. This strong beer carries an almost cider-like apple aroma with hints of pine and spice and a caramel sweetness.
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale delivers a very bubbly mouthfeel that gives way to a dry taste, again reminiscent of apple or pear cider. A peppery and clove-like spiciness comes though mostly in the finish, balanced by a hoppy bitterness. You are then left with a pleasant face-warming sensation between sips.