Some recent weather made me realize it is actually winter. Like, right now in Florida. Yes, we've gone through the Thanksgiving-Hannukah-Christmas-New Year's gauntlet, but the weather outside was mild, not frightful. And that sudden dip into the 40s? Time to break out the parkas and fur-lined caps!
The temperatures will be dipping into the 40s again Wednesday night, so we might as well make the most of it. For these random odd days of coolness, it's pleasing to have a beer that warms the stomach -- even though the mountain of scientific evidence points to alcohol being terrible at actually warming you up. Luckily, we're not freezing to death, so drink away.
So what to crack open on a chilly night?
Why not something in the super-sweet, high-alcohol-percentage category?
One of the beers that fits the bill is a huge entry in the line of limited releases from Magic Hat Brewing Co. in Vermont, Graupel. It's a wheat wine, which is a style of beer marked as having a high abv, large percentage of wheat (sometimes more than 50 percent of the total fermentables), and a full body and high residual malty sweetness. They are generally considered an offshoot of the American Barleywine style, but most recipes I have seen use an English ale yeast.
Graupel was initially released in 2012 and makes itself present again for the 2013/14 season. It is brewed with wheat (about 60 percent, according to head brewer Justin McCarthy) and pale malts, with a hopping of Apollo and Simcoe and further dry-hopped with Simcoe for some time after. An English ale yeast does its work here and leaves the brew with a decidedly light yeast flavor and 10.8 percent alcohol by volume.
It has an orange-red to rose color, perceived syrupy thickness, and a light white head. Cherries, honey, and various fruit candy aromas come out. Graupel has a thick mouthfeel that is very warming; the alcohol presence is huge. Some cinnamon and nutmeg flavors abound at the end, with some earthy hops trying to break free from the syrupy coating of the booze. The carbonation is very light and barely perceivable through the syrupy nature.
I love the mouthfeel of this beer; it's like a liquor. A glass of this fine beer around a fire pit would do wonders. Or, if you're like me, taking it inside while you write. Hemingway knew what was up.
Or, if wheat wine is a little too much for you, there's also the dark orange malt bomb of the big winter warmer beers, like Warmer Winter Winter Warmer from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa. This one, as we've looked at before, has an aroma that contains notes of toffee and peanut brittle, with some mild floral hop character. On the palate, this beer is thick and chewy, something that is welcome in a beverage that aims to warm the belly. Caramel and fig show themselves dominantly, with a slight alcohol tinge that hits at the end.
Either way, it's never a bad idea to store one or both of these beers for a wintry emergency: Even if the rest of January and February end up being mild, they'll keep for next year. Some of the flavors will mellow and turn to resembling cognac or brandy. Or just eschew the whims of the weather and drink it on your own terms: You're a grown-ass adult.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow me @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.