This January was particularly chilly for us San Franciscans. I believe I experienced 30 degrees for the first time in this state (laugh it up, Midwesterners).
Despite our modest winters, us Bay Area beer drinkers still get into the spirit of the winter season. Stouts, porters, browns, winter warmers, barleywines, and barrel-aged beers are styles that some of the local breweries are brewing to keep the tradition alive. Here is my list of Bay Area winter seasonals I recommend that will guarantee you a cozy Bay Area “winter.”
Baeltane Brewing – Corsair Dark Strong & Tapestery Dubbel
It’s so refreshing to have a local brewery like Baeltane that makes Belgian-style beers as well as they do. The Corsair Dark Strong has everything you would want in a Belgian-style dark beer: the yeast character, clove, banana, maple, caramel; it’s all there. You can try this beer up in Novato where you can chat with Alan Altha, the brewer, who is a super cool guy. The Tapestry Dubbel is soon to be tapped at their brewery and will have a special barrel-aged version out for SF Beer Week. They are also a draught-only brewery, but they will be bottling soon in February, so keep your palates prepared!
Moonlight Brewing – Death & Taxes
Although this is a year-round beer, Death & Taxes is absolutely perfect for the winter season. As Brian Hunt’s claim-to-fame, this dark lager has the perfect balance of abundant flavor, yet a light body; borderline crushable! This versatile beer is enjoyable on a cold snowy night to a warm afternoon and is enjoyed by craft beer novices to beer geek veterans. Death & Taxes is a draught-only beer, but is available at many local bars in the Bay Area.
Photo: Wine Country Beer
Anchor Brewing Co. – Winter Wheat™
The historical San Francisco brewery released a new beer for their winter seasonal lineup. Replacing their old winter bock, this dark wheat beer is brewed with malted barley and five different varieties of wheat from Belgium, Germany, the Midwest and from a Bay Area family farm. It has flavors of sweet chocolate and roasted barley with a robust mouthfeel that of a hefty stout. It is one of my favorites from all the Anchor beers.
Photo: Anchor Brewing Co.
Iron Springs Brewery – Sless’ Oatmeal Stout
If you enjoy extra smoothness in your dark beers, I have just the stout for you. The Sless’ Oatmeal Stout is brewed with generous amounts of oat, giving it that creamy texture to your drinking experience. A textbook-example of a traditional oatmeal stout with an alcohol boost, bringing it up to 7 percent alcohol. Hey, you gotta warm up somehow, right?
Photo: Iron Springs Pub
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers – Scarface Imperial Stout
Moving on up to imperial stouts! This one by Speakeasy Ales & Lagers is their regular winter release that locals always look forward to. Big, bold flavor that is comprised of dark chocolate, molasses, and coffee flavors. They even did a bourbon barrel-aged version a couple of years ago that was killer; let’s hope they do that again (hint, hint). Their Payback Porter is one of my favorites that is also perfect on a foggy San Francisco night.
Photo: Speakeasy Ales & Lagers
Calicraft Brewing Co. – Buzzerkeley Barrel Project Dry Creek Zinfandel
Let’s take a break from all these dark beers for a bit and try something a little different.
This concoction is the antithesis of all that is a winter warmer. A Brettanomyces-infused champagne beer aged in zinfandel barrels that is light-bodied, crisp, tart and yet jammy; dry yet juicy, fruity but finishes with wood and tannins. I recommend this particular wild sparkling ale this season, because it pairs very well with hefty savory meats such as pork loin, veal, and duck.
Marin Brewing Co. – Old Dipsea Barleywine
Back to the big stuff. Barleywines are perfect on a foggy San Francisco evening. But for you hop-heads that prefer something not so stouty, this one has a West Coast take on the barleywine-style and has a good amount of hops toward the end. Old Dipsea was released two months ago, so I would get on it before they run out!
Photo: Premshree Pillai
Almanac Beer Co. – Tequila Barrel Noir
One of my favorite beers by Almanac re-birthed from the wombs of a tequila barrel? Yes please! This 10 percent alcohol stout is surprisingly drinkable with subtle hints of smoke and spice from the agave in the barrels. Get it while it lasts.
Cellarmaker Brewing Co. – Bourbon Barrel Vastness of Space
I have to tease you with yet another draught-only beer from another draught-only brewery… but it’s SO GOOD! So much vanilla, so much chocolate, so much deliciousness. Last I checked, they still have this beer on tap so dash over to Cellarmaker before they run out. If they ran out of it, no doubt they still have their other beers suited for the winter season, especially the BLAMMO! Stout, which lies at 14.5 percent alcohol! My personal recommendation is Tim’s Brown. It flirts between the styles of a dark brown ale and a porter with a lot of hop character. Tim’s Brown is also very filling so try not to drink an entire growler of it yourself…as tempting as it would be.
Photo: Winton White
Editor’s note: Winton White is an employee of Anchor Brewing Co.