Today brings to mind the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” After unseasonably warm “winter” weather (50s, sunny), and many complaints about the lack of snow we finally got this winter’s first snow. And it’s still falling. I’ve shoveled snow twice today and I have a strong feeling that I’m going to again in the morning.
It should then go without saying that today’s appropriately chosen beer to review will be New Belgium’s Snow Day Winter Ale. I obtained this bottle from their Folly variety 12-pack and have thoroughly enjoyed the other bottles. As with the previous day’s review, this beer really surprised me by straying far from they “typical” Christmas/winter seasonal. It’s dark and doesn’t need to use a bunch of spices as a crutch. Not to say that all beers with the “holiday blend” of spices are using a crutch, some are quite tasty, but there are those that hide behind them to flavor what would be an otherwise weaker product. Since past experience has shown that will not be a problem with this beer, I’m just itching to really dissect this beer into its tasty elements. Let’s pour!
Aroma 10/12: The hops on the label do not lead the drinker astray. The first aromas are a warm, piney hop, that is more “juniper berry” pine than it is “air freshener” pine. It has that almost herbal quality to it. There is a hint of straw aroma, but it is faint and fleeting. Just when you think the hops have shown all their tricks, there is a citrus that brightens up the pine hops. Very neat. At first, it is difficult to find any malts behind this wreath of hops, but eventually a dark roast becomes detectable. This dark roast hints at rye and smokey characteristics, but none come close to usurping the hops as the primary aroma.
Appearance 3/3: Generous, but not overdone head comes from a moderately aggressive pour, and lingers like a in-law at a Christmas gathering. Unlike the in-law, which only leaves dirty dishes and a funny smell, the head leaves a most attractive, thick lacing. The beer appears as a coffee brown (in hue, not clarity), but when held to light reveals some surprising scarlets and magentas. Nicely done. Again, I reiterate what a pleasant surprise it is to find such a dark beer as a winter seasonal!
Flavor 17/20: This beer starts bitter and rarely lets up. The dark roasted malts in the aroma now taste burnt, but the roast is still detectable later on. The citrus provides a light backdrop to everything especially if you run the beer over the tip of the tongue. The backbone is this citrus overtone, with the juniper hops and charred malts. This just goes to show that there are lots of different ways to express bitter in a beer. The roast is the longest lasting sensation before departing in to a finish that seems smoother than in the main mouthfeel. The hops show a more grassy nature combined with their previous pine character. This grass note allows the citrus to be showcased a bit more and the result is a satisfyingly fresh finish with a light-medium bitter. Despite the starring role of the hops, the finish is not very dry. The aftertaste is a slow-to-die aspirin bitter.
Mouthfeel 3/5: Not the most substantial mouthfeel here. It’s not a huge beer, but packs a wallop of bitter despite it’s body. The lighter body makes it more quaffable, but it doesn’t accompany it with an overly-bubbly, annoying carbonation. The carbonation is certainly present, but it is so tiny that it just barely foams up the beer inside the mouth. The bottle says 6.3% ABV, but I never caught wind of it.
Overall Impression 8/10: Never again shall a hop head complain about not having a seasonal beer. Not that this is a showcase for hops, but the bitter nature of it should make it a satisfying selection. It’s not the big beer by a long shot, but it is chuck-full of flavor. It’s drinkable, bitter, smells great, and has a helluva lot more guts than most beers available in a variety pack.
Total 41/50: I enjoyed this beer a lot. Best of all, if you don’t spend your holidays with craft beer people, then you can probably have all of the Snow Days in the variety pack to yourself. It’s a little too bitter for the masses, even if its smell could entice anybody. The best part is, you probably CAN drink all of them in the variety pack. The lighter mouthfeel, carbonation, and citrusy hops all make this beer one you can enjoy several of in one sitting. Not every beer can be a monster, that’s a fact. This beer is not a monster, nor extremely complex, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth picking up. Heck, I’d bring this as a sixer to a gathering of craft beer drinks or just casual drinkers. I wouldn’t expect all of them to drink it up, but there might be a brave soul or two you could convert.
Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!