Winter Beers

Warming the Soul

There is truly something special about the thought of curling up next to a warm fire with a deliciously dark, strong and warming beer on a cold winter day. It is possible to lose yourself in a snifter full of a bold Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout, or perhaps even discover the meaning of life while enjoying a rich and immensely complex Belgian Quad. Drinking light and refreshing beers in the summer is great, but big winter warmers are pretty special as well. If I had to choose between the two, I might just choose the latter.

This speaks to the seasonality of beer, and how there is always a beer to suit every situation. Cold weather is no exception to this rule, and in fact, winter may be the best time of all to explore the vast plethora of darker and more flavourful beer styles. Often called “Winter Warmers” or “Holiday Beers”, these dark, strong, and sinfully rich beers are at their best when the temperature dips.

The seasonality of beer can trace its origins to the classical brewing regions of the world and has evolved over the years to generally coincide with regional culinary traditions. Consider the common preparations of holiday comfort foods. This is the time of year where fall vegetables tend to be well roasted, and eventually become scarce, allowing meat to take main stage. Imagine smoky hams and roasted beef, or holiday spices and rich gravies. It is exactly these flavours that go so well with styles such as German Doppelbocks or big spicy Belgian Ales, which tend to be more flavourful beers that often share similar flavour characteristics.

Any chef will tell you “colour is flavour”, generally referring to the savoury flavours that commonly accompany browned or even charred foods. The same can be said with beer. This is thanks largely to the Maillard Reaction, which is a chemical reaction that occurs between amino acids and sugars when heat is applied. This reaction creates the char on grilled meat, the toasty crust on bread, and also the darker colours and toffee-like, or even coffee and chocolate notes in roasted malt, which form the flavour base of the beer itself. It is these flavours that are completely complementary and pair perfectly with the typical taste of comfort foods that we all know and love.

But how well do these beers sell? It is true that it would be unlikely for any one of these big, dark, winter warmers to become best sellers in most markets. However, don’t let this dissuade you from stocking these beers, as the number of adventurous beer drinkers seeking out new and exciting flavours is clearly growing. Also, these seasonal beers can often garner a much higher price point. By keeping a couple of simple ideas in mind, you could expose your customers to an amazing flavour experience, and avoid sitting on old product.

Start with keeping your orders to a minimum. Order one case and see how it sells. These beers tend to have a higher ABV and many are bottle conditioned−aspects that aid in beer preservation−so if you did need to sit on some leftover stock, the beer would be just fine (even better in some cases) by next holiday season. Maybe you could market it as “aged”.

You could start a new trend by creating a “Lent Calendar” to get rid of any leftover stock. (Hey, that’s a pretty good idea actually.)

Don’t let the dark colour scare you. A big and bold winter warmer can truly be a thing of beauty, and carrying a good selection can introduce your customers to new and exciting flavours and experiences.

Your favourite comfy chair by the fire awaits…