- Mike Riedel
It's all about comfort this time of year. No matter if it's your clothing or cuisine, pampering yourself is the key to surviving what is often one of the most stressful times of the year. Your beer should be no exception. Whether brash and boozy or sleek and polished, a well-crafted beer can set you on a path to happiness, both mentally and physically.
Vernal Brewing Co. Winter Warmer: The term "winter warmer" is probably the most accurate of all of the beer descriptors out there. Designed for the cold, this beer is inherently alcohol-forward, robust and full bodied—just the thing people want from a cold beverage that's designed to keep you warm. This winter warmer pours a beautiful, semi-clear red mahogany, with a dense tan head that is slightly clingy. Instantly, upon opening the can, alcohol is detected; the most noticeable aroma, however, is of the malts and yeast. As the beer warms up, some other sensations like figs and vague spices join the party; hops are barely noticeable.
Sweet malts carry you throughout the first sip, and along the way, you get some roasted malt flavors with a bit of fig and cherry tart. There's definitely a note of caramel nearing the end, and a nice nutty flavor begins to develop. In the finish, there is only the mildest of floral hop character, just enough to keep the drink from becoming overly cloying. I do taste alcohol after the sip is over—it's not unappealing, just noticeable.
Overall: The mouthfeel is surprisingly medium. It's sweet and smooth, but not as heavy as I would expect for a 9 percent ABV beer. The carbonation is light, thankfully, and the beer eventually finishes a little dry and peppery with faint hops. It's overly sweet and not balanced, but that's what makes a winter warmer what it is.
T.F. Brewing Schwarzbier: Literally meaning "black beer," this new lager from the Templin Family Brewery offers the typical appearance of a German schwarzbier, with very good head retention and even more impressive lacing—rings are left behind, building with each sip into an ever growing mountain range. The aroma is roasty with a clean, mildly-sweetish malt that hints at chocolate and caramel. Leafy, floral and perhaps slightly grassy hops linger in the background.
The flavor is full: toasty, caramelish, grainy, roasty, subtly smoky, bittersweet chocolate. It's delicately bitter, allowing the roasted malts to balance in their own way. It's very much akin to a light porter, and the bittersweet chocolate and not-burnt, softly coffee-like roastiness lingers in the finish. The hops notes found in the aroma are slightly fuller, accentuating the malt but never distracting from it. Brewmaster Kevin Templin really hit the mark with the balance on this one—perfectly delivering smooth roasted malt notes drizzled in medium caramel against a moderate bitterness, without any real dark malt acidity. In the mouth, you get a light-medium body with smooth and restrained carbonation that lends a gentle caress to the tongue before becoming more velvety.
Overall: It's an impressive 4 percent ABV schwarz. It's not easy to get the balance right on this style, and T.F. Brewing has managed to do it exceptionally well. Had I been given this blind, I'd have had no doubt that it came out of Germany.
Both of these beers require a little effort on your part, as they are both exclusive to their respected establishments. However, as with all things purpose-driven, the rewards are always sweeter. As always, cheers!