A festive 7-pack of winter beers

Every year at Christmastime, my brother Karl, whose very name evokes an ineluctable, late-December drift from staid Teutonic industriousness to beer-besotted frivolity around “o tannenbaum,” smuggles in some local brews from his Colorado homeland.

Colorado is one of the top states in the union for craft brewing, behind only Vermont, Oregon, Montana, and Alaska in the number of breweries per capita. But while Colorado may be a leading crucible of beer-making creativity, we here in Wisconsin ain’t so bad ourselves.

South central Wisconsin is home to numerous craft breweries, and more are popping up each year.

That’s no problem for we thirsty scalawags, but if you’re looking to keep an edge in an increasingly crowded market, you need to keep your product offerings fresh.

More and more, breweries are looking to do this through their seasonal brews. In fact, according to market research group Symphony IRI, seasonal beer sales have increased between 15% and 26% since 2009. For big brewers, releasing seasonals is no doubt part of a strategy to reverse their flagging fortunes. For up-and-coming craft brewers, it’s another opportunity to grab market share and has increasingly become a key strategy for moving forward and staying competitive.

For me, it’s a way to relieve the winter boredom after the Packers have snapped their last football (and collarbone) and the snow keeps piling up like empties around Karl’s head on Boxing Day.

So while Karl is no doubt assembling his mystery box of Colorado’s finest as we speak, I figured I could scour the Web and ask around to find some local seasonal offerings. No doubt I’ll be tasting some of these (some of which I’ve tried before and some I haven’t), and those high-alcohol-content brews on the list will keep me safe at home while cabin fever creeps in.

Ale Asylum: Mercy Grand Cru

At 9.5% abv, this Belgian-style ale is described as “full-bodied and smooth, with a hint of spice in the aroma.” Ale Asylum says it’s “perfect for fall and winter warming [and] holiday meals.”

These days, a beer this strong puts me to sleep, so this might be a late-night choice for me.

Capital Brewery: Winter Skal

Capital calls it “a full-bodied beer with a warm amber hue showing off its rich malt heritage.” The brewery also describes it as “mildly bittered,” which is also a perfect description for most Wisconsinites come January. (5.8% abv)

Grumpy Troll: North Star

This Mount Horeb brewpub’s sales pitch is both simple and siren-like: “Enjoy our seasonal brewed with the finest Bavarian malts and hops. As the days get shorter and nights longer, a brew to celebrate the season.”

Lake Louie: Mr. Mestipho’s

“A high-gravity imperial stout,” this 8+% abv beer is a limited-release holiday selection.



New Glarus: Uff-da

The brewery describes it as a bock “brewed to appease the Gods of Winter.” If there’s any chance at all that drinking beer will keep some snow off our driveway, I’m only too happy to indulge.

Tyranena: Sheep Shagger Scotch Ale

While the name is hardly Christmasy, the beer itself sounds like a holiday delight: “Rich, malty, and full-bodied. Brewed with specially roasted malts for a complex blend of caramel and toffee flavors and a subtle peaty character.” (7.5% abv)

One Barrel Brewing: Wonderland

One Barrel is continually rotating its selections, so seasonal brewing is really its raison d’être. One of its seasonals, a late-December offering, is Wonderland, which the brewpub describes as “a deep amber/light brown winter warmer that mellows with extra time in the fermenter and keg.” For that wintry feel, they also add real vanilla bourbon during secondary fermentation, which helps create “a cinnamon and clove aroma with a creamy vanilla flavor for a balanced big-alcohol beer to get you through the cold nights.” (9.3% abv)

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