IT SEEMS MILDLY absurd that a California brewery would even attempt a winter warmer. This rib-sticking style—brimming with caramel malts, seasonal spices, and warming alcohol levels—is best appreciated by a fireside with snow piling up past the windowsill outside. But out at Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville, California, tomorrow’s high should be around 16 degrees—Celsius, that is. 60 Fahrenheit. And this not a week from the winter solstice that gives this beer its name.
This notwithstanding, Winter Solstice is readily recognizable as a winter seasonal, dark amber in color with a slightly yellowed head of medium bubbles and an aroma fully aimed towards caramel. Subtler notes of allspice and toffee (more than molasses) also come through in the background along with a little nickel from the brewery’s soft well water. A faint hop response emerges in the aroma’s second wave—indistinctly earthy and floral—but it is invisible in the flavor profile. Deliberately so, it would seem, as the beer contains a higher ABV (6.9%) than it does IBUs (6).
On the palate the body is medium-plus, with thick flavors filtering up slowly through dampened carbonation. Once again caramel leads the way, more literally sweet than malty; the grain bill includes two different kinds of caramel malts but is not particularly layered for all its density. The spices are subtler here than in a pumpkin or Christmas ale, making Winter Solstice a reasonable pairing for roasted nuts, rum balls, or other festive fare instead of being a dessert unto itself. Some small brushes of the slightly elevated alcohol are apparent in the finish, mostly as a bit of slickness and a faint bit of retronasal solvency. The finish stems straight from the caramel midsection and arrives a little flat, as if it intended to give the minerals in the water a chance to complement the spiciness but couldn’t complete the handoff.
Overall it’s hard to deem Winter Solstice a true winter warmer, but could well satisfy a hankering for something sweet yet not overpowering. Indeed, it’s nearly sessionable by the style’s standards. Perhaps a freak blizzard would inspire Anderson Valley to brew something truly deserving of sub-zero temperatures, but until then this beer is more apropos of chilly rain and flannel sweaters than ice storms and bear pelts.
Served: On tap (Clementi’s, Arlington Heights)