These brews can warm you inside and out as winter descends on us
Brace yourselves, folks: early winter forecasts for the Northeast are not encouraging (depending on your perspective). The vaunted Farmer’s Almanac says it “will be colder and snowier than normal,” while websites like FirstHandWeather.com predict a “wintry battle zone.”
The best way to prepare for this battle, as we know from years past, is to stockpile the weapons to fend off Old Man Winter and his arsenal of wind, snow and sub-freezing temperatures.
Certainly shovels, snow blowers, salt, space heaters and generators come to mind. But what about strong ales, bourbon porters, Belgian quads? What about heavily spiced dark beers that warm from the inside out?
Some local breweries are battening down the hatches and raising the AVB on some seriously stout winter beers. Here’s a round-up of these offerings, which are lovely, dark and deep, and will be flowing from taps and bottles in the very near (and cold) future.
Argilla Brewing Company, Newark
The little nano-brewery continues to crank out some big beers, including its “Baron,” an English strong ale, and a forthcoming Belgian quad that weighs in at 10 percent, due in January. Owner/brewer Steve Powell says Argilla brews between four and five times per week, and is working on installing a three-barrel system.
“Getting three barrels in here would double our current brew capacity from 1.5 barrels,” says Powell. “That would allow us to brew a greater amount and keep certain beers on tap longer. Right now we have between five and eight house beers on tap, but they rotate pretty frequently because of our smaller system.”
Powell is currently working on a collaboration beer (all the rage with breweries right now) between Argilla and Mispillion River, in Milford. Called “Old Earth,” this spiced strong ale will include components like ginger, vanilla beans, cinnamon and molasses, and is scheduled to be on tap at the Kirkwood Highway brewpub in December.
Mispillion River Brewing, Milford
The downstate brewery, which will celebrate its two-year anniversary on Nov. 15, will once again be releasing its popular “Kringle Beer,” a spiced brown ale, just in time for the holidays. Filled with cinnamon and clover, this 6 percent ABV brew is intended for those who like to drink more than a few per session.
Mispillion will also re-release its “Black Tie Black IPA,” which features lots of roasted coffee and black licorice notes, and is rounded out with El Dorado hops for a finish full of pine notes. Six-pack cans should reach northern Delaware spots like Kreston’s and Premier Wine & Spirits by mid-late November, and will go for between $9.99 and $10.99 per six-pack.
Stewart’s Brewing Company, Bear
Head brewer Ric Hoffman is rather blunt when it comes to popular winter beers: “I’m a traditionalist. I kind of despise the heavily spiced winter beers, and I steer away from putting that god-awful cinnamon and allspice in the brew kettle.”
Well, then … what does Hoffman, a two-decade veteran of brewing and Great American Beer Festival medal-winner, prefer? Simplicity, mostly, in the form of a rye beer, called “Winterfest” that shows off a “nice, medium brown color” at 6 percent ABV.
“We put molasses in the kettle for depth and richness, but I also use the tips of Scottish heather flowers, which bring notes of lavender to the beer,” says Hoffman. “That and hops, of course, along with some vanilla beans; the result is beer’s answer to mulled wine. We’ll have it on tap for the Winter Solstice.”
Hoffman also plans on another showing of Stewart’s “Dark Helmet,” an imperial schwarz bier (strong black lager) by Thanksgiving. The malty flavor but clean finish goes well with big holiday meals, according to Hoffman. He is also planning an imperial stout, called “Destroyer,” which was placed in bourbon barrels last December, and will be aged and ready to go this January, weighing in at 10.5 percent ABV.
Blue Earl Brewing Co., Smyrna
The new kid on the block, Blue Earl opened in May of this year, and is owned and operated by Ron Price, a mechanical engineer by trade and enthusiastic home brewer who first warmed up his kettle in 1992.
Price says that some of his favorite beers to brew are the wintery big boys that carry a high ABV or require oak bourbon barrel aging. Blue Earl currently works off a 15-barrel system and features 12 beers on tap in its tasting room off Rt. 300 in Smyrna.
Blue Earl’s winter lineup will include an American strong ale infused with American bourbon called “Born Under a Bad Sign,” at a whopping 12 percent ABV, along with an imperial porter called “Big Joe,” which is also bourbon barrel aged.
“We also just brewed a Russian imperial stout that will be the darkest and boldest beer we’ve brewed since we opened this past spring,” says Price. “We’ll be distributing that in kegs across Delaware through NKS Distributing in December.”
2SP Brewing Company, Aston, Pa.
True, 2SP is technically a Pennsylvania brewery, but with such strong roots in Delaware under the Two Stones Pub umbrella, it had to be included in our round-up. Besides, it has got a lot coming down the pike as it continues its late-summer launch of brews, most of which will be on tap at the Newark and North Wilmington restaurants.
Brewer Bob Barrar, formerly of Iron Hill Brewery, is well known for his Russian imperial stout recipe, which just won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for his former employer, Iron Hill (Lancaster store).
Now he brings his talents to 2SP, where he plans to release his “Russian” on Mischief Night (Oct. 30). Following this winter season, 2SP will release its “triple threat” to limited accounts in Delaware.
Those three beers include a bourbon barrel aged Russian imperial stout, a bourbon barrel aged Belgian tripel, and a bourbon barrel aged S.I.P. (or Stigz’s imperial porter, named for founder and president Mike Stiglitz).
In the coming months, 2SP also will be releasing what it calls the “Citrus Rhine’d,” a collaboration between its brewers and Jeff O’Neil, originator of the highly popular “Flower Power,” from Ithaca Beer Co. This imperial pale ale, at 7.5 percent, will feature 88 pounds of Mandarina Bavaria hops, giving it a distinct tangerine and citrus aftertaste.
Iron Hill Brewery, Newark and Wilmington
Beginning in early December, both Iron Hill locations will feature the brewery’s award-winning Russian imperial stout and the “Winter Warmer,” an English brown ale infused with cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and served in a sugar-and-cinnamon-rimmed glass.
But big beer lovers should mark their calendars for Dec. 19, when Iron Hill Wilmington will host its eighth annual Dark Side Party, starting at noon. Iron Hill’s “Dark Side” black lager, at 9 percent ABV, is the star of the show, and pays homage to brewer Brian Finn’s love of Pink Floyd and Star Wars.
“Last year we had Darth Vader and Princes Leia walking around during the event,” says Finn. “It’s a really fun event that’s become more popular each year. At first, we thought it might scare people off, because all we have on tap are black beers. But as people have come around to darker beers, it’s become big.”
The Dark Side Party also falls on the same weekend that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released in theaters. Finn says that they will be raffling off tickets to see the film at Penn Cinema on the Riverfront, all while pouring big, black beers like 2SP’s Russian imperial stout, Firestone Walker’s “Wookie Jack,” and Iron Hill’s new black IPA called “Galaxy Far, Far Away IPA,” which features galaxy hops. The popular dual-purpose hop (for aroma and flavor) has increased in popularity recently, and offers notes of citrus and even passion fruit.