By Dakota “Smoky” Waddell
Winter is an interesting time of year, encompassing heart-warming holidays and the dark and strange days of February. Here in my home of the mountains of Western North Carolina, the past few years have seen an influx of snowstorms. As a “young’un”, I don’t remember that much snow, other than a blizzard in 1993 that dumped around six feet on my sleepy community. Though many hate winter, others just love it. Personally, for me the season evokes feelings that I cherish with a warm heart and busy mind, as some of my favorite activities burst forth from the hibernation of summer. If you can’t tell already, I happen to be one who loves winter.
Winter means wood-fueled fires, early mornings in the woods watching the sun come up and catching up on reading. But with winter also comes a change in my tastes so far as food and drink are concerned. When I am asked if I would like a salad on the side, I might choose soup instead. The same goes for my beer. No more Pabst Blue Ribbon, no more light refreshing beers. I want something dark, warm and filling. Therefore, my beers of choice to knock off the chill are porters and stouts. This is not surprising; in fact, it’s a pretty typical habit for many beer enthusiasts.
Traditionally, beers are directly marketed for a particular season or time of year. I have found that “winter beers” are usually among my least favorite varieties of a fine beverage. Thus, the thought of a winter lager sounded a lot like that side salad. “I’m sure it’s nice,” I thought, but I figured I’d rather pass… until a particular winter lager produced by Sam Adams may have changed my mind.
Sam Adams Brewery has very rarely disappointed me (only twice to my knowledge). Though I’ve tried their Winter Lager before on multiple occasions, I have never really been impressed with what I tasted. Indeed, it is a fairly good all-round beer that the folks at the Sam Adams brewery should be proud of, but I still remember it being nothing to write home about (think of it as one of those beers that if you were offered one at a party, you’d take it graciously, but sip on it until it was room temperature). I did notice, however, that they changed the design on the cardboard container this year… I was therefore suckered into purchasing a six-pack yet again, this time based almost solely on those lovely images of a warm hearth and happy holidays had by all.
The Sam Adams website describes their winter lager as having “a magical aroma that promises something special on the tongue” with an infusion of ginger, cinnamon and hints of citrus. This is not a surprising bit of marketing during the holiday season, since many beers marketed around this time will use the same spices, and all of these spices are staples in holiday baking. But my usual problem with winter spice infused beers is that I have never found an example with the right balance for my taste buds. Some winter beers are too spiced, while others are not enough, and though Sam Adams Winter Lager is still not what I would consider to be my ideal winter beer, it is balanced.
In fact, after taking a second chance on my recent impulse-purchase, I found that this year’s batch was actually better than last year (that or my tastes have improved through maturation). The balance of spices is superb; ginger is one of my favorite flavors, and mixing the spicy heat of ginger and cinnamon with the zest and sweet flavor of citrus, this ruby-hued lager is crisp with a molasses-like aftertaste. The website also describes the beer as malty and warming, another concurrence I can make. Although not particularly high in alcohol content, the spice of the beer does coat the throat with a pleasant feeling; almost like an evening by the fire with family.
As sappy as this all sounds, Sam Adams Winter Lager did evoke images of warm fireplaces and cookies for me, and virtually anything else reminiscent of the holiday season. Many beer enthusiasts may scoff at the fact that I am taking the time to review a Sam Adams brew and not something from on of the multitude of obscure microbreweries out there. But in sticking with my tradition of great taste on a budget, Sam Adams Winter Lager is an interesting and festive choice for those who want to spend a little extra around the holidays for their holiday guests, or just a new flavor to sip after a day of shoveling snow or chopping firewood. This is certainly a beer that I’m glad I decided to give another shot. Happy Holidays!