Drink Up and Stay Warm

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Posted by Rick Bonino on Dec. 3, 2018, midnight

While winter days grow darker and shorter, the season’s beers get darker and bigger. Strong stouts, malty winter warmers and robust barleywines are the liquid equivalent of bulky coats, hats and gloves to ward off the elements.

Here’s a look at what some local breweries are tapping this time of year to help you stay chill, but not chilled.

The annual Midnight Marmot imperial stout from River City Brewing may sound quintessentially Spokane, but its roots run back to England. While American interpretations of the style tend to be more bitter and roasty, says River City brewer Todd Grove, the Marmot is smoother in the British tradition.

“We use an old English-style yeast that really mutes the hops and boosts malts,” Grove explained. “There’s lots of dark chocolate and caramel, and it’s toasted around the edges.”

Seasonal beer with winter decor

While River City doesn’t maintain a regular taproom, it opens the brewery for First Fridays and special events.  For the winter solstice Dec. 21, a Darkest Day of the Year party will showcase several versions of Marmot – infused with such additions as vanilla, coffee and cocoa, and one blended with barleywine and aged in a whiskey barrel – plus other dark beers, against a brooding backdrop of horror movies and heavy metal music.

And River City’s sixth anniversary celebration Feb. 1 will feature a double-strength version of the brewery’s standard red ale. “It will be rich as all get-out,” Grove said.

 Elsewhere in downtown Spokane, other returning favorites include the roastier, more aggressive Goatnik imperial stout at Iron Goat Brewing, the big, malty Stack Frost winter ale at the historic Steam Plant and a strong, spiced Gingerbread Winter Warmer at Black Label Brewing.

Bellwether Brewing specializes in Old World styles, and in that vein, it offers a warm, spiced Hygge Mulled Ale (after the Danish word for “cozy”) on Sundays during the holidays. Several barrel-fermented and barrel-aged beers also are due through the winter – brewed with everything from frankincense resin to rose hips to juniper boughs – along with a rich, sweet stout, made with milk sugar and caramelized honey, inspired by the “butterbeer” of Harry Potter fame.

Bellwether has several events scheduled to celebrate the season, including a holiday market Dec. 8 with an assortment of local vendors, Old World Santa photos Dec. 9 to benefit Higher Ground Animal Sanctuary and traditional Christmas Eve caroling.

Twelve String Brewing takes a hoppier approach with its 12 Strings of Winter this year, which centers on piney, spicy Chinook hops.

“It still has a nice malt backbone,” said owner/brewer Terry Hackler. “A maltier IPA is what I call it, though it falls into the winter category.”

The same goes for Twelve String’s anniversary beer, which will be released for the brewery’s celebration of seven years in business Dec. 8-9. Hackler took a recipe similar to his Electric Slide imperial IPA and has been aging it in a bourbon barrel for the occasion.

 Bennidito’s Brewpub features its Winter IPA again this season, using new hop pellets from this year’s harvest, along with the addition of hop “hash” – a concentrated form of the lupulin powder that gives hops their pungent kick.

The hearty Destroy My Sweater at Hopped Up Brewing is all about the malts, with a twist: the addition of homegrown spruce tips.

“The way I do it is very minimal,” said owner/brewer Steve Ewan. “You just get a little bit of evergreen from the oils in the tips.”

This year he’ll be serving a fresh batch alongside six kegs that have been cellaring since last winter. Since the spruce is so subtle, Ewan said, “I don’t know what last year’s will taste like, but we’re going to find out.”

As for the name, it borrows from Weezer’s “Undone – The Sweater Song,” but Ewan says it’s also a reference to an ugly sweater contest that turned even uglier when some people got upset that they didn’t win.

Santa Claus drinking by a Christmas tree

Also in the Valley, Millwood Brewing is marking its first holidays with a Hookie Bob winter ale accented with seasonal spices, while English Setter Brewing is rolling out a winter warmer, a heavy stout and a porter brewed with Reese’s Puffs cereal.

In Green Bluff, farm-based Big Barn Brewing welcomes the snow with some of last year’s White Out Stout – spiced with cinnamon, clove, ginger and orange zest – that has been aging in wine barrels since February.

Over the state line in Coeur d’Alene, Daft Badger Brewing brings back the bourbon version of its Josiah’s Revenge imperial stout, conditioned on oak chips that are soaked in Maker’s Mark and then smoked. Compared to aging in actual barrels, owner Darrell Dlouhy said, “chips are a lot more predictable and manageable.” The brewery’s popular Kahlua Porter also is scheduled to return around Christmas.          

And the seasonal Soul Warmer Porter is back at Trickster’s Brewing in time for its sixth anniversary party Dec. 1. On the way is a new batch of Christmas Stout, brewed with bourbon vanilla beans and cocoa, accompanied by some of last year’s version that’s been aging in French oak Bordeaux barrels.