Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Winter Ale for a Winter's Day

Beer: Winter Ale
Brewery: Great Lakes Brewery (Toronto)
Type: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.2%

"A broken watch is right twice a day."  

Good advice (I guess?), which also happens to perfectly encapsulate my feelings about Great Lakes Brewery.   For all their gimmicky beers with mediocre flavors (Green Tea Ale, anyone?) and cheesy packaging, every once in a while they manage a hit.  Shame that this only happens every so often, because I really bear no ill will towards any brewery, except perhaps for Faxe.  I truly want every brew to be a success story - it just sometimes doesn't work out that way, more often than not for Great Lakes.  Fortunately, this hearty, spicy brew can be counted as one of Great Lakes' better offerings, although that sentiment still comes with a bit of an asterisk.

I've had this before, so this is somewhat of a re-review for the 2010 edition, to see if there has been any difference between the years.  Once again, this bottle is courtesy of the lovely Michelle as a Christmas brew!

Poured into a nonic glass. Dark amber-ruby, a thick white head, with a bit of lacing. The head sticks around for most of the sample, leaving behind a thin, but sturdy ring.  An attractive little brew.

The smell for Winter Ale is quite strong: malt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, orange peel and caramel.  Not bad, certainly more noticeable than some of the winter brews I've had thus far.  There can be no denying that this brew was designed with Christmas in mind, as this smells like a kitchen full of holiday baking and mulled cider.

With other Great Lakes brews, the flavors have been to thin, too boring, too washed out.  In this case, I felt that, if anything, there was too much flavor - I'll happily take that.   Indeed, this was quite the spicy beer.  Huge flavor punches of cinnamon, ginger, clove, pepper, orange peel, with bready malts only reaching the surface every so often.  Flavorful, but a bit difficult to finish.  The best way I can describe the brew is that it's like when you're making homemade apple cider or mulled wine, and you grab a cupful near the very end of the batch.  The liquid has spent more time with with cloves/cinnamon sticks/spice pouch than those before it, and thus the flavor is just a touch too strong.  You'll still drink it, but it's still damnably strong.  This brew in a nutshell.

The mouthfeel is decent, reasonably carbonated and slightly creamy.  The spices leave a definite burn on the tongue, making this a slow sipper.
This year's edition feels like an improvement upon the former, with bolder flavors and a better mouthfeel. However, I think the spices have been jacked up to a more-than-reasonable level, making this bit difficult to drink.  Still, I have to give credit where it's due. This is by far Great Lakes' best wide-release brew, and worthy of a pickup on a cold winter day.  Just be sure to share it; a tall bottle is a bit much.  (Grade: B-)

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