In reading through the consumer reviews of winter beers (or Christmas beers, or 'holiday' beers) on sites such as Beer Advocate, one can find many comments such as this one:
Unlike most winter seasonals, this beer is very hoppy with no spiciness. While I'm a hop head by nature, the lack of spice and malt flavor and the overwhelming hoppiness leave me underwhelmed.
To these style Scrooges, I say: Bah, humbug! If spices were only consumed at Christmas, well then, toss my cookbooks out the window. It'll be bland food for the other 11 months of the year.
The concept of winter warmer - a stronger beer or special brew, what the late great Michael Jackson referred to as 'more-ish', brewed as a reward to customer and employee - is apparently considered by some to be an antiquated concept, and, via revisionist history, as an 'incorrect' style. Style formalism has run amok in the US craft beer world. Again: Bah, humbug.
Winter beers are celebrations of the season. They can be big, they can be malty, they can be hoppy, or, yes, they can be spiced. What they do not have to be is a pre-ordained style.
Beer writer Lew Bryson at his blog —Seen Through a Glass— reviewed the 2009 Winter Ale from Stoudt's Brewing in Pennsylvania. He liked it. Then he wrote this:
A holiday beer doesn't have to be a spiced beer, or a malt-bomb winter warmer. It can be just a special beer.This Christmas season, relax, don't worry. Drink a winter beer, and with a joyful spirit, relish it without prejudice.
- My post from last year includes a review of Don Russell's book Christmas Beer, a good reference for the season.
- Caveat lector: As an employee for a northern Virginia beer wholesaler, I sell beers from Stoudt's.