Whether you’re returning from a long day spent hunting or snowmobiling, gathering around a bonfire, or just cozying in on the couch watching Netflix, winter is the time for enjoying a distinctly different type of beverage from what you might normally drink in the middle of summer.
Winter beers, unlike their lighter, brighter warm-weather counterparts, tend to be a little heavier, a bit maltier and definitely darker. And being a state that knows a thing or two about winter, Maine breweries offer up a wide array of cold-weather beers.
“I usually like something with a little more body and that’s a little more malt forward, and generally darker,” said Jared Lambert, head brewer for Bangor Beer Company, which brews several stouts and lagers that fit that bill. “It just feels good with cold weather and being outside.”
Seasonality is nothing new for craft breweries, which typically brew seasonal varieties in addition to a year-round selection. Asa Marsh-Sachs, head brewer at Orono Brewing Company, said that it’s not just dark beers that he associates with the winter — it’s also lighter, sour beers.
“One of the things I appreciate most about living in Maine is the changing of the seasons and how that influences daily life in so many ways, including what beer we reach for in the fridge,” Marsh-Sachs said. “I find myself looking for darker options, with deeper malt focus and higher ABVs, or sour beers with all their complexity and variety.”
With a long winter ahead and, given pandemic restrictions, likely more opportunities to stay home or get out in nature, there’s ample opportunity to try some new brews. We’ve put together a list of some cold-weather beers that are good entry points for anybody looking to try something different. All of these beers are available either at your local beer shop, or on site at each brewery.
“Life slows down this time of year, and it’s a great opportunity to explore new beer styles and finally take the time to open that special bottle you’ve been holding onto,” Marsh-Sachs.
Likely the beer most commonly associated with colder weather, stouts can range from thick and malty to smooth and chocolatey, in both mouthfeel and flavor profile. Stouts have also risen dramatically in popularity among beer drinkers, according to beer industry site Brewbound, which reported canned stout sales have risen by 28 percent over the past year.
For a simple but deeply satisfying stout, Allagash Brewing in Portland just this year released North Sky Stout (7.5 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV), a Belgian-inspired stout that’s roasty and malty with a creamy texture. Bissell Brothers Brewing, based out of Portland and Milo, have a stout, Umbra (7.5. percent ABV), which is the brewery’s take on the classic oatmeal stout that’s long been a favorite of craft brewers everywhere, with the oats adding creaminess and body, on top of the malty goodness.
For a big, powerful, complex Russian imperial stout, Marshall Wharf Brewing Company in Belfast has long offered Sexy Chaos (10.7 percent ABV), one of its signature brews, packed with flavor. And for those who want a stout that drinks like a dessert, Mast Landing Brewing Company in Westbrook has Gunner’s Daughter (5.5. percent ABV), a milk stout (which means it’s brewed with lactose, aka milk sugar) that really does taste like peanut butter and chocolate. We know that can sound a bit off-putting, but really, just try it. It’s truly delicious.
Browns and porters
The other darker beers most people are familiar with are browns and porters, the former being a brown, lightly bitter type of ale, and the latter being not too different from a stout, other than it being a bit lighter in body and overall texture.
Mason’s Brewing in Brewer has for several years now offered up the Cousin Eddie Baltic Porter (7.3 percent ABV), brewed with smoked Irish peat malt to lend a deep coffee flavor, named for the unwelcome houseguest in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” And for a brown ale, an excellent Maine choice is Foundation Brewing’s Burnside (5.1 percent ABV), brewed out of Portland, a smooth brew with a distinctly malty, caramelized sugar flavor profile.
Lagers are like the pizza of beer: they’re good with everything, any time of year. That said, not all lagers are alike, and some are best enjoyed when the weather turns chilly. Bangor Beer Company brews Victory Formation (4.8 percent ABV), a dunkel — a traditional German style of dark lager — that’s easy-drinking, dark in color and with a smooth, malty finish. Boothbay Craft Brewing also makes a more traditional lager for the winter months, that they’ve dubbed SnowmoBeer (5 percent ABV), a super easy-drinking brew that, judging by the name, is best drunk directly after getting your ya-yas out on the trails.
You might associate a fruity beer with summer or tropical fruits such as berries, peaches and pineapple. But there are also plenty of fruit-forward sour beers brewed here in Maine with cold-weather flavors including citrus, pear, cranberry and plum.
Orono Brewing Company continues its popular Fruitful series of kettle sours into the winter with Cranberry Blood Orange (4.9. Percent ABV), a newly-brewed tart and tangy concoction; just after Christmas, it’ll be replaced with a Fruit Punch Fruitful, for toasting a not-at-all fond farewell to 2020. Sebago Brewing, out of Gorham, is also on the cranberry train, with Bog So Hard (7.5 percent ABV), a dry kettle sour brewed for its 20th anniversary in 2018, but is now a regular seasonal offering that pops with cranberry flavor.