There is a dark, toasty solution to the winter chills rattling people’s bones — beer.
The cold season marks the beginning of what brewers and beer drinkers call winter beer, or winter warmers, said Andrew Sparhawk, program coordinator for the Brewers Association.
Stouts and porters are the styles of beer most typical with this season, he said. Historically, these beers were brewed in the wintertime with whatever grain was available. Sparhawk said a common grain used for stouts is roasted barley. Now, with the ability to order variations of grains any time of the year, brewers are able to create these beers whenever, but aim for the winter to keep with tradition.
These beers are usually bolder and stronger than most beers, he said. The color is almost always a deep, dark brown and contains a higher alcohol by volume.
“Those super toasty, deep dark chocolate, coffee flavors are indicative of that style,” Sparhawk said.
The flavor is reached by either kilning or roasting the barley to a certain level, similar to roasting coffee beans, he said.
Sparhawk describes the experience of drinking one of these beers like “the feeling of sitting on a big leather couch, sipping on something in front of a fire.”
Derek Thorne, Kool Keg craft beer bar manager, knows all about brewing beer. On top of managing a bar, he also brews his own beer at home. He said that stouts and porters are traditional types of beer with deep roots in beer brewing.
Although there is a template to brewing this type of beer, there is always room for modification.
“There are certain standards for every style of beer, but you can always switch it up and throw your own wrench into it to really try and pull something unique off,” Thorne said.
Kool Keg bartender Tony Delaunder had several stout and porter options sitting on the bars shelves. He recommends barrel-aged stouts, a type of beer that ages in barrels that at one point contained whiskey or bourbon. The beer sits in these barrels for up to a year and collects the flavor of the liquor, adding another dynamic to the already complex brew.
While Delaunder jokes that you should drink as many as you can, he does recognize the strength of these particular beers and suggests knowing your limit.
“For anyone who hasn’t ever drank a high ABV beer before, I’d say one or two, but everybody is different,” he said. “It depends on how much you weigh, how much you drink and whether you've eaten.”
Sparhawk said stouts and porters are the perfect pairing for foods we eat when it’s cold outside. He recommends pairing these beers with something that will match the intensity, as well as considering the interaction between the flavor of the brew and the choice of food.
“You don't have to be an expert at beer to recognize those sorts of flavors, Sparhawk said. "Flavors and aromas are so strong in our mind and memory that it’s easy to associate them."