Winter Warmers 

Local breweries prepare for season of dark, malty brews

For dark beer lovers, winter is, indisputably, the best time of year. Thick porters and stouts pour like oil into tulip-shaped glasses, settling like high-octane milkshakes. And while there are plenty of roasty, barrel-aged brews heading to Boise from other markets, there's also a bounty of local winter seasonals in the works.

Crooked Fence, which offers Three Picket Porter year round, ventures deeper into darkness this season with a trio of winter seasonals.

"Our main repeating seasonal is our Augustus; it's a dark chocolate stout. It kind of falls into the winter warmer category," said Marketing and Events Director Kelly Knopp. "The other one we're throwing into a barrel. It's called Rudolpho and we put it in [Oct. 29] and it'll be coming out right before Christmas. It's also a winter warmer. We got some rum barrels from Rogue brewing, so we're going to age it inside the rum barrels."

Crooked Fence has also aged its Sins of our Fathers Imperial Stout for up to four months in bourbon barrels. Both the aged and nonaged version of this 10 percent alcohol by volume, chocolaty brew hit shelves and taps Nov. 4.

"Our dark beers are definitely some of the biggest ones for us. I guess we're just really good at making dark beers," said Knopp, with a laugh. "Or it's getting colder out and everyone's jumping from the blondes and the lagers to more of a sipper."

Meridian's Slanted Rock Brewing is also experimenting with barrel aging this year, with an imperial Baltic vanilla porter--dry-hopped with Madagascar vanilla beans--and an imperial stout due for drinking in a few weeks.

"We're going to be putting a small portion of that batch into Woodford Reserve whiskey barrels and barrel-aging it," said Sales and Marketing Manager Amy Wardle.

Though Slanted Rock's 10 percent ABV imperial stout will be available by mid-November, the barrel-aged version won't be ready until the start of the new year.

If you want to sip a barrel-aged stout sooner, Payette Brewing is releasing special 22-ounce bombers of its yearlong, bourbon barrel-aged 12 Gauge Imperial Stout, available only at the brewery and part of its dark beer-centric Black Friday event, Nov. 29.

Now in its second year, Black Friday at Payette runs from noon-10 p.m. at its Garden City taproom and gives shop-o-phobics an alternative to department store drama.

"Don't shop, come drink beer; it's a lot more exciting," said Payette Director of Marketing and Events Sheila Francis. "We're going to have at least 12 beers from local breweries, as well as regional breweries. ... Then we'll also be collecting food and clothing items for the Rescue Mission."

TableRock is also building a unique event around winter beers. New Head Brewer Derek Anderson, who recently took the reins from Kerry Caldwell, is organizing a beer-blending party that will take place right before Christmas. The event will feature eight to 10 different stouts--some filtered through cocoa nibs, coffee beans or pie cherries--along with a menu of food specials. Participants will be given 10 ounces of each beer and a calibrated dropper called a pipette, so they can make their own blends using precise amounts.

"And then each table will vote on their favorite blend," Anderson said.

TableRock is also hosting a Belgian brown aged in a 55-gallon port barrel; a dark lager called Dunkel, which will be released around Thanksgiving; and a wheat porter.

"That'll be definitely a really great winter option," said Anderson. "It's got some of the roasty, chocolate character from the porter, but based on a wheat beer so it should have a really nice, easy-drinking, smooth texture."

Boise's RAM Brewery is also working on a full-bodied winter wheat this season.

"As far as winter-specific seasonals, I've got Weizenbock, the big, rich wheat beer that I'm actually brewing at the end of this week," said RAM Brewer Jake Schisel. "And in the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be doing the Lost Reindeer, just a big, strong ale that I've done every year; it's kind of our traditional winter beer. I want it to taste wintery; I want it to have kind of a piney resonance flavor; I want it to be a little bit sweet, too."

Sockeye's annual Winterfest also veers toward the bitter end, with 7.2 percent ABV.

"It's an American-style strong ale that's kind of on the hoppy side. It's got nice ruby highlights in the color," said Sockeye Head Brewer Josh King.

Kilted Dragon's winter beer is also shaping up to be decadent, but a little lower in alcohol, hovering around 6 percent to 6.5 percent ABV.

"The beer that we typically are doing right now is our Hand & a Half Stout, which is an oatmeal coffee stout. ... We make it with Dawson Taylor Sumatra roast coffee and it's very rich and creamy, but it's also very smooth on the finish," said Kilted Dragon co-owner Jeremy Canning.

Highlands Hollow Head Brewer Chris Compton is also concocting his own winter brew, tentatively called Wreck Tangle.

"I want it to be a big, fairly malty beer, dark amber, alcohol content around 7-7.5 [percent]," he said. "I'd like it to have a warm mouthfeel like a winter warmer."

The brewery is also releasing its annual pray for snow brew, Face Plant Porter.

"That's kind of our traditional 'kick off the ski season' type beer," Compton said. It's very dark; it's got a rich, roast flavor."

Speaking of summoning the snow gods, 10 Barrel Brewing released its Pray For Snow winter ale, which rings in at 7 percent ABV, way back in September.

"We care about two things in the winter... snow and beer," wrote 10 Barrel's Bec Milgrom via email. "We changed this year's Pray For Snow winter ale by using seven different malts and changed up the hops for a piney, herbal hop complexity. Drink beer, stay warm!"

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