Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale

I am no fan of winter. I’m a boy of summer all the way. You’ll see me in a winter coat the minute the temperature drops below 62. It’s a very sad moment for me in the fall when I have to remove all of my summer shirts from my closet and relocate them to the guest bedroom until May. But there is a silver lining to the arrival of colder temperatures. It’s actually two things: football on the TV and winter beers on the store shelves. I don’t know which I like more!

Although I love the summer, I’m not crazy about summertime beers. All those wheat beers and fruity concoctions just don’t do it for me. But winter beers are another story. Winter beers, with their warming effects and malty deliciousness, are the best. And no winter beer is more warming or malty than Samuel Smith’s venerable Winter Welcome Ale.

No beer style speaks to the timelessness of the world’s finest beverage quite like a winter beer. Winter beers remind us of tradition – of family gatherings and seasonal feasts and holidays and warm nights by the fire. Samuel Smith beer is made at The Old Brewery at Tadcaster, which dates back to 1758 (that’s pre Revolutionary War, for those of you who are historically challenged). The Old Brewery still ferments its beer in stone Yorkshire squares. It still makes local deliveries using its own grey Shire horses. A lot has changed in our world over the past 252 years, but the beer coming out of the Old Brewery has not. The festive-looking Winter Welcome bottle, with its painting of an old-timey looking family of three sledding and its photo of the Shire horses walking in the snow, encapsulates the simple joys of the cold season. The beer’s label instructs you to contemplate its flavor complexities in front of a fireplace. I don’t have a fireplace. I live in a town home community. When it snows, it’s not beautiful. It’s just a pain in the ass. My wife and I don’t have roast goose and Yorkshire pudding at our family meals. But no matter – the Winter Welcome Ale tastes no less delicious. It’s crisp and smooth - full of toasty malts and just enough hop bitterness. And at a modest 6 % ABV, you can drink more than one without thinking twice.

Given how rapidly American craft brewers have advanced the last 10-15 years, this particular winter warmer may seem tame or dull in comparison to what else is out there. But there’s no denying that the Winter Welcome Ale is a true classic. It was the original inspiration for a lot of today’s best-rated winter warmers. I will take the opportunity, over the next few months, to sample a great many winter warmers. But the first one I had this year was the Winter Welcome Ale. If this beer’s not in my fridge, it’s not really winter.

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