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Friday, November 20, 2009

Three Winter Ales, Tasted Blindly

In prep for my media appearance next week (you like how I'm trying to pique interest here?), I blind-tasted three winter warmers last night. I figure we need to do one pretty traditional NW winter warmer. This was really one of the first sophisticated beer styles to achieve fruition, and I have always loved the season's beers as a result.

For my tasting, I chose three I know I like and which are available in the bottle: Deschutes Jubelale, Full Sail Wassail, and Laurelwood's Vinter Varmer. I figure rather than just pick one at random, I should taste them and let the winner emerge. I had Sally pour them out and I tasted them blind. Below are my notes:
All beers are roughly the same color—dark, amber highlights, off-white heads. Of the three, beer one is more straight brown, beer two redder but lighter, beer three red but darker.

Beer one
Mild aroma, tiny yeast quality, tiny hops. Flavor—extremely creamy and rich. Lovely. On the sweet side, but the hops keep it in balance, perhaps fading just a touch green and sharp at the end. Could use a bit more age. Frothy. Malt is candyish. Quaffable, comforting.

Beer two
Frothy head with batter-like head of mixed size bubbles. Sweet, cola-like aroma with just a bit of orange zest. Another very creamy beer, but with a lush hop character--though without bitterness. Earthy, and the cola in the aroma comes across in the palate as a beguiling rooty note. As the beer warms, it strengthens as the hops open up.

Beer three
Tight head of slightly darker color. Again, sweet malt in the nose, but roasty. Palate is likewise roasty. A malty beer with character nodding in the direction of a dry stout. Has a more substantial body. Very nicely balanced; the roast doesn’t overwhelm. At the end you arrive at a tripartite malty sweet, hop bitter, and roastyharmony.
All three beers were great. I was able to guess pretty easily that beer three was Vinter Varmer, a beer characterized by its roastiness. Jubelale and Wassail have always been brothers from another mother--so close, so lovely, two of my very favorite beers of all time. I guessed that beer two, with its lush hop character and sweet body was Deschutes, while the more assertively hopped, sharper beer one was Wassail, from hop-loving Full Sail. Turns out I was correct.

Although I like all three, as they warmed up, the Jubel really began to sing. It has always been a crowd-pleaser, and it's because the profile is so approachable. There's nary a hard edge here--it's like a hot chocolate on a cold day. But for the beer geeks, the layered quality of malt and hop, especially later-boil hops, give it quite a high "beer IQ." So for Tuesday, Jubel it is.


  1. So far Jubelale has been my favorite of the more common winter ales this year.

    I'm picking up the beer for my winter ale taste-off tonight after work. As I mentioned on my site, all the beers being tasted are easily available in 6 packs. I included all Oregon beers that fit this criteria and another 4 of the most profilic winter ales from the west.

    My wife and I will be tasting:
    Alaskan - Winter Ale
    BridgePort - Ebenezer
    Cascade Lakes - Santa's Little Helper
    Deschutes - Jubelale
    Full Sail - Wassail
    McTarnahan - HumBug'r
    New Belgium 2 Below
    Pyramid - Snow Cap
    Redhook - Winterhook
    Rogue - Santa's Private Reserve
    Sierra Nevada - Celebration Ale
    Widmer - Brrr

    We are still deciding whether or not we want to do the tasting blind.


  2. @Kevin: why not Anchor's 'Our Special Ale' (now in its 35th year)? Seems like any tasting of Western holiday ales would be incomplete without it.

  3. Have to agree with anonymous, Kevin. For a lot of us, Anchor was the original winter beer. If you have to, kick out Alaskan or New Belgium.

    I'm surprised you didn't put Sleigh'r in there, being from Eugene and all ;-). Oh, I see, you require six-packs.

  4. I don't require sixers--and I bought a Sleigh'r yesterday. Never had it, though.

    If I could find a Doryman's Dark in the bottle, I might go for that. It is a fantastic beer.

  5. @Anon & Bill: Sleigh'r is in the line up for part 2 of the taste-off, dedicated to specialty and bomber seasonals. It will also include Anchor.

    I wanted 12 beers for this first round, so for the non-Oregon ales, I just selected the seasonal from the top producing brewery in each of the 4 states. I did this since they will be the ones most commonly available throughout the country.

    @Jeff: Is Vinter Varmer worth checking out? There are a couple markets in Eugene that are pretty good about stocking Laurelwood. If it's worth it, I can make a trip to one of them.


  6. That is a good trio to be testing. I love all three.

    Kevin, I'm a big fan of Vinter Varmer. It ended up being my usual evening-at-home brew last year.

    Definitely worth a try. And laurelwood beers are fairly cheap up here. Don't know about Eugene.