NO ONE EVER SAYS, “I CAN'T WAIT FOR SUMMER BEERS, MAN.” Such is the theory of Scott Hansen, a seasoned beer guy and partner at Bellevue Brewing. Besides, brewers have more fun with winter’s beers than with any other style, and customers anticipate them more than any other pumpkin, fresh-hop, or raspberry-hued seasonal releases.
And yet, winter beer is a bit of an anomaly in hop-happy Washington. “Brewers make what sells, and what sells is hoppy beers,” says Dean Hudgins, a partner in Capitol Hill’s glorious mortuary-turned-beer-temple the Pine Box. Traditionally winter beers favor nonhoppy flavors better suited to firesides and frost. Most of the season’s styles have roots in Great Britain, which mirrors Seattle’s chilly winter months, long nights, and gray skies. The beers are generally dark complected and so smooth it’s easy to underestimate their deeply boozy powers—perhaps that’s why even James Bond is a beer drinker as of his last film. A winter beer is meant to be sipped slowly, like a dry martini, and warm you from within.
For brewers there’s a certain challenge to making these complex, high-alcohol creations. They generally require way more ingredients and effort than a whoops-I-just-downed-three-bottles summertime ale. Which is why some of the best winter beers are made in small batches that cause a flurry when they’re released. And why many are great candidates for aging—in a bourbon barrel, a rum barrel, or your basement until next winter. This being Washington and all, plenty of local brewers still slip some hoppiness into the mix.
Here, a guide to the beers that fill our local bar taps and store shelves this time of year. (Hit up brewery websites for intel on where to find these brews; they tend to be fleeting of season.)