Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Berghoff - Winter Ale

Some of you may be asking, "How can you review a winter ale during the beginning of summer."  The answer is, "Easily!"  I have kept this beer stored properly and if anything the extra 6 months have given its flavors a chance to mature and enrich.  However, 6 months is about the longest I will trust any bottle not specifically known for maintaining its longevity.  That said... Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 10/12
A lot going on here, especially for a winter ale.  Normally one expects brown, roasted malts and more spices than an oriental trade route.  This aroma meets us halfway.  A sweet "red" malt has been substituted and gives a sharp, sweet backdrop for a myriad of other smells.  Dark fruit (dates) and warmth are present as well as some subtle spicing.  Hints of cinnamon and clove are not difficult to detect and go nicely with an almost banana-like ester.  The banana could be my own misinterpretation of a vanilla flavor mixed with spices, but in any case there are some strange malts afoot.

Appearance 2/3
The beer pours thin and produces a small amount of soda-like head that dissipates almost immediately to a collar.  On the bright side, the collar doggedly sticks around until the end of the pint (no lacing) and the beer itself is very aesthetically pleasing.  A dark, barely translucent brew, but when held to light reveals several gorgeous, dark red shades.  When the red combines with the brown/chocolate tones, they almost appear a dark purplish-red.

Picture is my own.

Picture is my own.  See all those red shades?  The purples show up even more when  not held up to bright light.
Flavor 17/20
While initially starting out with a thin body and little flavor, this beer makes up for lost time almost immediately.    The malt shows first.  It not only seems toasty, but also perhaps a bit smoked.  When held in the mouth, sugary sweetness arises with the dark fruit from the aroma.  The malt takes a bit of a backseat here, even if its toastiness does not.  The finish again showcases the warmth and smokiness with the sugar sweetness and a building creamy presence.  The aftertaste is clean but ebbs into a light hop bitter - a very nice touch for a malt-based brew.

Mouthfeel 3/5
Nothing especially earth-shattering here.  Medium to medium-light body, a light level of creaminess, and very low/subdued carbonation even at the beginning of the pint.  Nice bit of warmth in the finish as well.

Overall Impression 7/10
Not a bad winter ale at all: medium body, subtle spicing, well-hidden hops that show in the end, and a sugary sweetness.  The malt easily is more "red" than the traditional brown used in wintertime brews, but that does not hurt this beer's flavor or score.

Total 39/50
I'm as surprised as anyone about this score.  This bottle is actually from a variety 12 pack I bought some time ago and I was not very pleased about the rest of the pack.  However, this bottle has several interesting flavors that fade in and out.  The sugary sweetness was a interesting twist as opposed to the traditional spices.  It definitely makes the beer a little less "seasonal" and a much more drinkable throughout the year.  While this beer is far from something that will knock you socks off or take home any prizes, it sure was a nice surprise from Berghoff.  I would have to recommend it if you are a fan of winter ales or red ales with a kick.

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