I've written about Anderson Valley's Summer Soltice seasonal ale. Now, I bring you a write-up of their Winter Solstice. AV are a good brewery and seem like great people. I was excited to see how this compared to the creamy, sessionable flavor of their Summer cream-style ale, so I grabbed a nicely-priced six pack of this at Burlington Wine & Liquors.
The pour on this is a high clarity golden-tinged orange/brown with decent, even foam and consistent lacing. Though it's filtered, the light it lets through only improves the beauty of this beer's pour. On the nose, I get very bready malts (possibly even some raw bread dough, too), caramel, some light spices and a bit of rum cake. There's a tiny hint of fruit in there, but I think it's probably a flash of alcohol bringing out the esters and not "true" fruit. I say this because the beer does state that it is an "ale with natural flavor added." The Summer Solstice also said that, but I knew there was vanilla extract added to that whereas it feels a bit absent here, replaced by what may very likely be fall/winter spices -- nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. None of them really come to the forefront, but there does seem to be a pinch of drying cinnamon in the middle/finish transition. Carbonation is middling and only really present to move flavors along the palate; no real issue here. Thick dark and caramel malts are definitely in play here and really thicken up the body, making this feel a lot heavier than its easy-drinking Summer counterpart. This has an almost menacing sweetness to it, especially when you take into account that almost no hops are noticeable or present on the tongue save some leafier, fresh flavors and perhaps some earthy notes in the front and middle. At 6.9 percet ABV, this is certainly not a session beer, but it makes sense that this is a bigger recipe than its sister brew given that it is stylistically termed a "winter warmer," which usually refers to a malty, spicy and brown-ish ale with good alcohol warmth and a medium-to-full body. First few times I had this I think I found the alcohol presence to actually be detrimental to my enjoyment, but it feels much more balanced this time for whatever reason. Still, there's a bit of untamed heat at the end of each sip that definitely hits going down, which is actually nice as the weather gets colder. Fruitiness opens up a bit more on the tongue as the beer warms up to room temperature, bringing out some grape skin, candy apple and cherry aspects, though they are pretty ephemeral as the deep malt profile drowns them soon after on the palate. Speaking of this warming feeling, though, I'm picking up a lot of pecan and almond flavor from this beer towards the end of the glass, which is unexpected and excellent! The finish on this is sort of strange but very satisfying with the maltiness taking a turn for the slightly-bitter and the aforementioned alcohol warmth beginning to take a hold. Overall, both quenching and enticing.
The clean palate on this is one of its most defining characteristics; this also aided in the drinkability and overall greatness of the Summer Solstice, which I assume has a somewhat similar recipe to this, though this has a much more complex malt profile. Having so many subtle flavors (spice, biscuits, fruit, candy, gingerbread, rum cake, etc.) all in one place yet so easily picked-out and exemplified is a tough thing to achieve in brewing and AV seems to consistently show the country how it's done. Though the sweetness of this brew may turn some off, there's just enough leafy hop bitterness to try rope in those who love palate-wrecking beers, and there's certainly enough malt to convince lovers of browns and stouts to give this a go. This should be a staple in any winter beer repertoire and I'll be glad to get it again soon.
The official breakdown:
- Style: Winter Warmer
- ABV: 6.9%
- Appearance: Clear as day orange-tinted gold/brown/rusty copper with solid retentive head and pretty consistent, impressive lacing
- Scent: Fruity esters, rum cake, some ethanol heat, figs, bready and caramel maltiness, some light spiciness perhaps. Nicely complex and interesting
- Taste: A veritable malt-bouquet; deep and rich flavors ranging from biscuity to almost-chocolatey; fruity, nutty and earthy; very round and enjoyable
- Mouthfeel: Light-medium carbonation brings out some of the flavors and allows the beer to approach a satisfying finish complete with warming alcohol
- Drinkability: Pretty great. Nothing is too heavy and all the flavors you expect for the season are accounted for