This review is rather ill-timed. This beer is Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale, even though the evidence of spring surrounds us. It seems my little corner of the Midwest is having nothing but 70 degree days all week! Which means three things. First, I can write this review outside. Second, I picked the perfect weekend (that just past) to move all my beer from the garage (which in winter serves as an excellent beer fridge), to the cool dark basement. Third, it’s time to break out the motorcycle!
Goodbye winter! You might have one last hurrah before you depart, but your demise is inevitable! To that end, I toast you with your own brew. Let’s pour!
Aroma 10/12 This is very different from most winter seasonals and a welcome variation. It’s very malt-forward with lots of pale caramel and biscuit aroma, however its most unusual twist is the unmistakable apple esters from a cider (the alcoholic kind, not the orchard kind). It’s a accompanied by a tartness that borders on a citrus sour and I can only assume comes from the Fuggle and/or Golding hops. Also appearing is the faintest of spices and a light alcohol warmth. I’m not sure where the warmth comes from as the beer is only 6.0% ABV, but it is present and holds hands nicely with the citrus astringency. The malts grow richer as they warm.
Appearance 2/3 A bright, high-clarity brew the color of orange liqueur. The head was over 1 finger, barely beige in color, and appears wet and shiny as it sinks into the beer. The retention is adequate and remains for some time to coat the surface. Nothing wrong here, but nothing to write home about either.
Flavor 18/20 It’s no surprise that the malts come forward again in the flavor, but they do so in a very unique way. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a beer quite like this one. The front end seems to be like a spice cake (and again, like the aroma, with very light spice. Much to my relief), but quickly allows that same crispness & astringency to quickly enter and juxtapose itself with the caramel and an earthy butterscotch note. This is very unique! More butterscotch and toffee notes arrive as the beer warms and it adds a great sweetness which combines superbly with the aforementioned spice cake. It also rounds out a superb balance! Toffee +butterscotch + earthy spices (nutmeg) are all being brightened and “unbittered” ever so slightly by the citrus. Brilliant. The finish is dry, bitter on the sides of the tongue, and shows much more of the spices that were so well hidden earlier.
Mouthfeel 5/5 A nice lighter offering that would be just as good in summer as it would in winter. Its medium-light body and perfect carbonation (Not too prickly. Not too much. Not too little), are a great combination. Add to that its high clarity and the touch of citrus and you’ve got yourself a beer that’s very easy to tip back, as well as extremely flavorful. That balance of drinkability and flavor is also not an easy thing to attain.
Overall Impression 8/10 The balance and mouthfeel are definitely the high points in this beer. No wait, the balance and overall composition of this beer are the high points. The balance was covered well in the “Flavor” section, so I won’t rehash that, but let me restate how pleased I am with the start-to-finish vision of this beer. First off, it’s definitely not the alcohol laden, cinnamon explosion winter ale. It’s a lighter, drinkable beer unlikely to offend and maintains that throughout: lighter body, perfect carbonation, citrus for balance, and high clarity. However, it also has elements of a bigger beer: bitter finish, slight warmth, spices, earthiness, and a nice malt presence. This is impressively well constructed and the results are satisfying.
Total 43/50 Now, all that said, is this a beer that’s going to bowl you over? No. Is it going to satisfy the inexperienced and the veterans alike? More than likely. This beer earned more points for its remarkable balance and overall construction than for being a powerhouse that beer geeks are going to clamor over each other to obtain. However, being that this beer comes from Samuel Smith, it should not be any surprise that it is excellently made and an overall solid beer. It also is a really nice change in scenery for those who love winter seasonals. It has everything a winter seasonal should and shows what some brewers should be striving toward. This is classic Samuel Smith’s. Basic, well-made, and balanced. Cheers!
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!