Widmer And Shiner Seasonal Beers Show That Porters Aren't The Only Way To Warm Up

With the exception of a few Saint Arnold's Christmas Ale six-packs, recent trips to Central Market, Goody Goody and Applejack are proving that the bounty of holiday brews is but a fond memory. Only those wise souls who stocked up on Anchor, Scaldis Noel, Delirium Noel and other wonderful beers have the perfect accompaniment to the beautiful sight of children's snowball fights, white-draped trees and perhaps a day off from work on this ultra-rare day of true snow in North Texas.

The next best thing would be a dark warming porter or stout. But if you've had enough heavy, malty dark brews, a few new seasonals are appearing on shelves in Dallas.

Perhaps the most interesting of the lot is Widmer Brothers' W'10 Pitch Black IPA, available January through April. It's probably the most widely available example of a new style gaining popularity in the Pacific Northwest, the black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale (named for the fragrant Cascades hop that gives many West Coast IPAs their flavor). The debate rages on in the beer communities of Oregon and Washington as to whether this style is anything more than a gimmick or if the dark malts that provide the color also make a positive contribution to the taste. Of course, there are different versions of these beers, so the answer to that question is probably different for each beer. Unfortunately, most Dallas beer lovers can't weigh in on the argument, as the majority are difficult if not impossible to find in the area.

Hopefully Widmer's W'10 will be successful enough that other varieties will follow it to Dallas.

Almost true to its name, the beer poured a cola-black color, with glints of red shining through the body and a tan head. The appearance certainly belied the citrus zest and pine sap nose of an American IPA. As for the taste, it was very satisfying with a slight bitterness on the finish. It's not so different an aftertaste from the bitterness of a roasted-malt-heavy porter, but perhaps it's from the hops, as Widmer claims the malts include a "specially made debittered black malt." Whatever the case, it's an interesting beer but surprisingly not especially complex for such an unorthodox brew. A blindfolded drinker probably wouldn't pick up on anything out of the ordinary. At 6.2 percent ABV, it's a moderately alcoholic warmer.  Overall, it was intriguing, but wasn't nearly as impressive as Stone's Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, one of the few other dark-yet-hoppy beers that I've tried.

Better suited to warming up your cold bones is Widmer's Brrr 7.2 percent ABV winter warmer, which was intended to be available late October through early January but was still on hand at Central Market as recently as last weekend. A darker amber color with a lingering head and sticky lacing, it has a resiny piney hop aroma and flavor that's a bit subtler than the W'10, and is balanced by caramel malt and a satisfying finish that makes it quite drinkable.

Of course, it's not just West Coast brewers rolling out seasonal beers even after the holidays. Shiner Fröst, a Dortmunder-style lager, is more of a spring beer, similar to a pilsner but more full-bodied and a bit maltier. Why it's called "Frost" is a mystery, as it's not a typical winter beer at all. But, as Paul Hightower pointed out, it makes for a great change of pace from heavy winter beers, and makes a good session beer. It's yellow and mild enough that you could serve it to a guest who'd ordinarily prefer an American macro-brew, but flavorful enough to satisfy most serious beer lovers.

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Jesse Hughey
Contact: Jesse Hughey