Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Harpoon - Winter Warmer

First off, you may be thinking that it is a tad late in the year to be reviewing winter seasonal beers.  You may be right, but let me defend my decision by saying that the bottle clearly states, "Best by 03/15/11."  So not only is this bottle at its best, but it is my duty to drink it before it becomes otherwise.  This beer was recommended to me by a friend during the holiday season and I had tried it then and enjoyed it.  I recently came upon it again and decided to give it a thorough evaluation.  Thank you Kelly for the bottle and Jim for the suggestion!  Lets pour.

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only
Aroma 8/12
The spice smell is super present, but not so much that you cannot detect notes of sweetness underneath.  The malt is of bread and carmel - maybe even a bit toasted.  There must be a fairly complex malt at work here, I only wish I could detect it through the spice.  The hops could be present (and earthy if so), but I think I'm merely smelling the spices again.

Appearance 2/3
The color is fantastic for a winter seasonal.  A warm dark color like pure maple syrup.  It is bright and clear with a nice tan head.  The head dissipates quickly and leaves only a collar with no lacing.  Its texture while present is light and smooth.  EBC is about 36.
Picture is my own.

Flavor 15/20
The aroma is not lying; there is an abundance of spices in this beer and they are the first thing to greet you from the glass.  It is followed by the sweet, lightly toasty malts, whose flavors make up the majority of this beer.  This beer has a lightly hoppy finish to try and balance out all the malt and leaves a pleasant bitter aftertaste.  The sweetness of the malt plus the spicy cinnamon are almost reminiscent of orchard bought apple cider.  Please do not take that to mean there are any fruity esters in this beer.  It is simply a connection that my brain finds unavoidable.

Mouthfeel 4/5
This beer features a combination that is tough to beat: a nice medium body, but light enough to be drinkable.  The carbonation is just fine, though some might find carbonation this high to be more appropriate in a summer seasonal.  It hints at warmth, but again, I believe that to be the cinnamon playing games.

Overall Impression  7/10
Spices?  Check.  Sweetness?  Check.  That should be all you need, right?  I wish that I could say so.  It is a darn tasty beer, but feel it relies to much on its one strength - spice.  In fact, this beer may be substituting "spice" for "dark."  Winter is time for the nut brown ales and doppelbocks to rear their heads and sweetness usually takes a backseat to darkly roasted malts.  This is not the case here.  Both are present, but Harpoon's priorities to be inverse from the norm.

Total 36/50
While both this beer's spiciness and sweetness do make a great winter seasonal, the beer could be improved with a bit more balance.  I would love to have more carmely malt notes shining through the flavor.  Can we not give the spice as much importance?  Could we invite some earthy/woody hops?  That said, I would have no problem sharing a sixer of this at a holiday gathering.  This beer earns a "very good" ranking and my recommendation to sample it this winter.

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