It’s beginning to actually feel like winter in Chicagoland now and when the chilly temperatures arrive, that means it’s time to break out the winter warmers! Here are five beers from local breweries that I usually keep on hand to enjoy while getting the feeling back in my fingers after clearing snow.
Alter Brewing Company’s Swedda Wedda is not only fun to say – it’s really fun to drink too! Even at 6.0% ABV, you can usually start feeling the warmth pretty quickly. As an oatmeal stout, the layers of complexity really mask the higher ABV. With notes of chocolate, coffee, toffee, and vanilla, this smooth and creamy stout usually satisfies my craving for a hot chocolate.
Moody Tongue Winter Ale can only be found on draught but I think you’ll really enjoy it if you happen to be at a bar or restaurant that serves it. This 6.5% ABV Belgian-style dark ale has notes of toffee and candied orange peel along with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger aromatics. As a Moody Tongue beer, it’s made to be paired with food. They suggest braised short rib, roast leg of lamb, a panettone, or date honey nut cake – anything rich and indulgent can work.
Spiteful Brewing’s Jingle Balls is a winter ale that comes in at 6.7% ABV and is perfect as an afternoon beer. Perfectly spiced with ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon, this winter ale starts off as an amber ale made with Maris Otter malt so you know it’ll have a nice subtle sweetness to it.
Hopewell Brewing Company’s Long Shadows was something I’ve been waiting to crack open for the first substantial snowfall but I couldn’t wait that long. This red-hued Winter IPA is piney and citrusy with a toasty malt backbone. At 7.5% ABV, this IPA is a great pairing for a holiday roast or a beer to end the evening with.
Of course we had to include Goose Island Bourbon County Stout if we’re talking about local winter warmers because every single BCS is a great winter warmer. As the originators of the barrel aging style, their newest 2023 lineup was packed with great collaboration like the Bourbon County Brand Eagle Rare 2-Year Reserve Stout and Angel’s Envy 2-Year Cask Finish Stout but the one I look forward to most every year is their Proprietor’s. It’s usually the most experimental and most out of the box and I really enjoyed this year’s. Unofficially, I’m calling it the BCS Rice Pudding and I think it’s a perfect treat for the holidays. The toasted rice, vanilla custard, dried fruit, and spice flavors make me feel like I’m in a Dickens novel. At 14.3% ABV, it’s going to be a winter heater for some but it’s perfectly toasty for me.
Here’s the warmth scale just because I liked the way it looked. Maybe I’ll make a Winter Warmer Flight out of it!
Halloween is coming up faster than you know and with all the parties coming up, do you have a costume ready? I know I don’t! So, if you’re a beer or cider lover like us, why not let some of our amazing spooky-themed beers be your costume inspiration this year?
A perennial favorite for peanut butter fans everywhere. The iconic Absence of Light monster from the can will surely draw some attention. Throw on some short horns, put on a brown shirt and make sure you have plenty of peanut butter cups on hand to share.
As the antagonist of one of the greatest horror movies in recent years, this goat could be the GOAT for drink-inspired costumes. Made with real fruit, this blood orange and cranberry hard cider could easily fool some into thinking you’re drinking something much spookier. Find some goat horns and drape yourself in something black with vvhatever you can find!
Darkness is an apt name for a stout this massively opaque! Chocolatey and sweetened even more so with tart cherry and raisin, this beer is balanced by its piney resinous hop character. Every year the packaging is done by a different artist and this year’s eyeball-filled eldritch horror could be too much for some. Grab a pack of self-adhering googly eyes and embrace your inner goth for a quick and easy costume.
A lot of alliteration for Alien Avatar Amber Ale. This smooth and malty beer has a nice hop backbone that should please IPA drinkers. Go retro with an 8-bit themed saucer costume or make it your own by going full Roswell Grey. If you can find it, go with the classic Alien Abduction costume – it brings a smile to my face every year.
All Hallows Treat hopes to rekindle your favorite childhood Halloween memories with the aromas and flavors of dark chocolate, creamy peanut butter, and soft vanilla swirl. This rich and malty beer will have you entranced! The artwork from the can gives you two options – zombie searching for “graaaaaiiins” or the classic white sheet ghost!
A barrel-aged take on a classic German style – this lager is transformed into something out of this world with complex wood and whiskey notes over a soft roastiness. Go check your parent’s attic to see if they kept your costume from your solar system project. Or rush out and find a moon-texture printed tee shirt to pair with this lunar-themed doppelbock.
What is more quintessential to Halloween than a Jack-o-Lantern? Ill Repute is chock full of pumpkin pie aromas and flavors. Built upon complex layers of caramel and chocolate to create an imperial stout, this beer is an ideal pairing for all that Halloween candy! Pumpkin-head masks and costumes are sure to be around but if you’re in a real last minute pinch, a real pumpkin on your head will surely spark some interesting conversations.
Apples and oven roasted pumpkin – yum! This delicious and naturally gluten-free choice might just be what you’re looking for. If you have the face painting or make-up talent, this would be a great chance to break out those reds and oranges. Go half apple, half pumpkin face and watch the confused faces until you break out a pack of Apple Lantern!
Also called “The Patch” – this wild pumpkin ale from no other than Jolly Pumpkin finally broke the streak of no pumpkin beers from this brewery. Fortunately for us, they did make La Parcela and it was worth the wait! This ale is packed with real pumpkins, hints of spice, and a gentle kiss of cacao. I’m going to admit that I’m not familiar with this bat-winged cat but if you have a cat that will put up with it, get a few pictures of them doing their best La Parcela impression. You can always up your cat costume from the past with a pair of wings too.
Are you someone who goes against the trend? Don’t want all those porters and stouts coming out for the fall? Well Duvel 6,66 might be exactly what you want! An easy drinking Belgian blond Ale with 6 refined hop varieties. Keep your summer glow going a little longer and dress up not as a devil but a Duvel – yellow jumpsuit and some tiny yellow horns will have you feeling lively and zesty just like the beer itself!
The entire Beer Hug series from Goose Island has been flying off the shelves this year. From Hazy, Neon, and Tropical, these local Chicago IPAs are perfect for any Halloween party. Throw on those big shades or go all out with a bear costume and make sure to bring a pack of Beer Hugs.
Summer grilling is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s primal, a little dangerous, and it creates amazing foods. I like to think of myself as an above average cook but when it comes to grilling, it’s usually a steak, a burger, or some sausages. I haven’t dipped my toes into the world of smoking meats but I always wanted to. Luckily for us, we happen to have an expert at our office.
Rob Chambers, from our HR Department, just so happens to be a professional BBQ pitmaster and we were lucky enough to have him showcase his skills in person. Rob started off like a lot of us – someone who enjoyed BBQ and wanted to learn how to do it. He frequently smoked meat and BBQed.
One day, his friend Jon asked if he would be interested in competitive BBQ. Neither of them had competed before but they wanted to see what it was all about and entered a competition. It’s been about four years since they first competed and they continue to grow and place very highly in the competitions they enter.
I know I’m not the only one who has seen videos online of BBQed meats and wish they could take a bite right then and there. This was my first time being around a pitmaster cooking and he showed me a lot of tips and tricks to get the best end products.
Rob brought in a variety of meats to show what he can do with chicken, pork, and beef.
Chicken is ubiquitous and there are so many different ways to prepare it. When I BBQ though, I tend to stay away from it because more times than not, it turns out to be pretty dry and a little bland. When a BBQ pitmaster does chicken however, it is a flavorful and juicy bite every time. Unlike the one flip method that I’ve always been told was the correct way to grill, Rob lets the smoke do the job and makes sure the heat generated is consistent and at the specific temperature he wants.
Prior to grilling, the chicken is cleaned and trimmed. Meaning, it is rinsed off with water to freshen the meat. Using a knife or scissors, the chicken is trimmed to remove any excess skin or bone. Next, a dry rub would be added to coat the entire piece of chicken to ensure even flavor distribution. It would be preferred to let the dry rub set into the chicken for at least 30 minutes prior to adding it on the grill. There is not much flipping with chicken, however rotation does help.
I have loved ribs since I was a young boy watching the Flintstones car tip over on TV. I will order ribs the majority of the time if they are available. I have had them in all different styles in my travels but there is something very special about BBQed ribs because many times, the sauce is usually the prevailing flavor. The way pitmasters like Rob make them however, has the meat as the prevailing flavor enhanced by the aromas of smoke.
Same process as chicken for clean and trim. However, most ribs have a thin layer of membrane that will need to be removed on the back end of the rib. This can be done by pulling it off with a spoon and paper towel. From there, dry rub would be added to both sides of the meat and smoked with hickory wood. A few flips would help with the ribs, however once they have a good color on them, they would be wrapped in aluminum foil with butter and honey until they are at the right internal temperature.
The skirt steak was chosen because it’s a thinner cut of beef that would cook faster for all the hungry people at our office but many of the principles here work for thicker cuts too. While the chicken and ribs rested, I was able to observe Rob cooking the steak and ask some of the questions that I had.
First, I noticed that he was only using charcoal; I asked why he didn’t use propane (and propane accessories). It’s the kind of grill I have in my backyard and they seemed to be the most popular. Rob really likes the flavors charcoal imparts and he says he can actually taste the gas when it’s cooked on a gas grill. Maybe it’s because I grew up eating stuff made off gas grills but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what gas flavor he was talking about. If you notice those flavors, this may be the method of grilling you’ve been looking for!
Rob also showed me how to cook with an indirect heat method. The meat was never directly above the coals and he tried to keep the lid on the grill closed as much as possible. This ensures a nice even cook through and avoids the dreaded grey layer on steaks. I always liked a nice sear and char on my steaks but Rob’s steaks came out looking very different than what I make at home. It had a very appetizing browning and in certain lights, had the brighter red tones you might see in jerky. This got me wondering, “what do judges at BBQ competitions actually looked for?” Rob explained to me that although taste is very important, they are scored on consistency in competition. They will grill multiple pieces of meat but they pick the best looking piece(s) and send it in for judging. It has to look great, taste great, and have the perfect “chew” on it.
[When it comes to the perfect chew] it would be preferred to have a perfect bite through. This means that once you bite into the meat, there is barely any pull and [for chicken] you are taking skin with you on the chew. Basically like biting into a piece of bread and seeing your teeth marks.
I learned a lot from Rob and after talking to and watching him grill, I am excited to try his methods at home this 4th of July. Although mastering grilling will be very difficult, talking to Rob showed me it wasn’t quite as intimidating to start. It might be a while before I am confident enough to try my hand at the more expensive cuts of meat but I am looking forward to the day when I can smoke me some beef ribs and channel my inner Fred Flintstone.
In previous years Goose Island would invite the media to the Goose Island Barrel Warehouse on the west side of Chicago, where they would taste through all of the variants of Bourbon County. Obviously this year, things looked different. Instead of meeting in person, they sent out tasting kits and did a virtual tasting over Zoom with Goose Island President Todd Ahsmann, Brewmaster Keith Gabbett, R&D Manager Mike Siegel and Senior Brand Manager Mike Smith. While the setting was different, the beers were still the star of the show, and this year they absolutely did not disappoint.
Also if you are looking to stay updated on how to get your hands on this year’s Bourbon County CLICK HERE
The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder and the holiday season is here. This is a season filled with office holiday parties, family get togethers, Christmas themed bars or cold nights in binging Netflix. But, this is also the season of some of our favorite styles of beer and we wanted to highlight a few of our favorites.