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Just What Is The ‘Winter Warmer’ Style That Inspired Summit Winter Ale?

If you’re a fan of Summit beer, you probably know we have an amazing seasonal line-up. (If you’re not a fan of Summit beer, well then, I’m not sure how you got here.) It’s a line-up so strong that it includes two beers we routinely sell out of each year. One of which happens to be the brew that represents our current season – Winter Ale.

For 33 years our beloved Summit Winter Ale has graced glasses. Since 1987, this floral, bready, spicy and sweet brew has kept fans begging for more. And for almost as long, it’s lead drinkers to wonder, just what is a Winter Ale?

Well, allow us to explain.

(credit: Summit Brewing Company)

What is a Christmas/Winter/Ale/Warmer?

If you’ve ever read up on our Winter Ale, you’ve undoubtedly seen that is inspired by the British Winter Warmer style.

But, what does that mean exactly?

Well, it’s a little tricky to explain. Since brewing beer is a tradition that is as old as time, it’s a little hard to narrow down just one exact explanation of what a Winter Warmer style is, but here’s our attempt.

In areas where climates cooled down in the later months of the year, consumers began to look to beverages that had a bit more body (and a lot more alcohol) to keep them warm. Before stouts and porters arrived on the scene, these beverages were a spiced Wassail or Strong English Ale. (Strong Ales generally refer to a beer that has an ABV higher than 5 percent).

According to American Craft Beer, the main difference between a spiced Wassail and a Strong English is in the spice. Wassails used spices like nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon or clove whereas a Strong Ale used more modern spicing agents like hops.

It was these two styles that would then become the base of what is now known as Winter Warmers.

With either a Wassail or Strong Ale as a foundation, beers that fall into the “Warmer” category often get their flavor from the malt bill and hints of spice or fruit (think cherry, raisins, etc). There’s also usually notes of sweet caramel or molasses and light toasted flavors.

The beers are usually between 5% – 8% ABV and brown in color, according to Food & Wine Magazine. Generally, if they are higher in ABV and darker they start to cross over into stout territory. However, with the growth of craft beer and the innovation in the market, these lines have become a bit blurred.

So, what is Summit Winter Ale exactly?

Summit Winter Ale
(credit: Summit Brewing Co.)

It’s our take on a Winter Warmer with a foundation of a Strong English Ale. We like to say it’s a cross between a Brown Ale and Strong English Ale, with more influence from the Strong English Ale.

“We first released the beer as a Christmas Ale in the winter of 1986,” Summit Founder & President Mark Stutrud said. “It was only available on draught as we didn’t begin bottling until 1987.”

The first year Summit Christmas Ale was created it was at 8% ABV which, when mixed with its smooth flavor, proved to be a little dangerous.

So, Stutrud said when they finally bottled the beer they lowered the ABV just a smidge and changed the name.

“We never added any spice to our Winter Ale,” he said. “Some people always thought they tasted cinnamon or clove, and while we used to like to keep them guessing a bit we never added anything like that in.”

With is amber-brown color, sweet black cherry and caramel flavors, toasted malt notes and velvety smooth finish (plus, 6.2% ABV), we know it’ll warm you up even without the designation as a “Warmer.”

Summit Winter Ale is available in 12-and-6-packs of 12oz bottles and 12-packs of 12oz cans. Get it while supplies last!

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