Rumination is a good thing. It can be done anywhere, anytime, and around anyone. It is a much better thing to do when crawling in traffic through The Merge, or fighting the 805 South every night than using up those "free" night and weekend minutes your cell phone service provider so graciously "gives" you for committing to an annual plan costing ONLY $59.95 per month. You could even change to the $19.95 plan that only gives you enough time to do what you actually need to do on a cell phone... make a quick call home, or to the office, or to the AAA, and use all of that extra time to ruminate... right there in traffic! One of the first things you might ruminate about or reflect upon might be... "holy cow, I'm saving 30 bucks a month, and gee, people on the freeway aren't honking at me and flipping me off anymore"... (Yeah Bunky, we don't know why they were doing that either. Must have been the idiot in the NEXT lane. Yeah, that's it...). And then immediately after that revelation, another lightening bolt might fly into your head saying "holy cow, that 30 bucks I'm saving (by not endlessly yammering on my cell phone about inane bull*#!%) is about enough to buy a batch of beer! Wow, life is good!!".
Once you've achieved this breakthrough, rumination should be put on hold for the moment. We think you'll have made a monumental stride toward becoming one of the world's true and great thinkers, and we don't want you to overdo this rumination thing early on. Yes, you COULD learn how to save even more money if we helped you substitute thought and reflection for some of your other activities but quite honestly, finding spare money for more than ONE extra batch of beer a month is probably not necessary and might even cause discord at home or on the job. This magnanimous public service is more proof that our help is not simply an overt expression of blatant greed... rather one of sincere marginal concern for your mental, spiritual, matrimonial, and financial well being. (Well, you know... truth in advertising and all.)
As responsible citizens we feel duty-bound to help you channel this newfound beer energy and "cell-free" beer planning time. We don't want you to go back to collecting belly button lint, and anything having to do with your fingers getting into proximity of your nose should be avoided (especially while driving)... lest people start pointing at you again but for a different reason. Instead, let's think about and discuss how seasonal changes impact what or how you brew.
For some brewers there is really very little seasonal impact. Some do not have particular preferences for one or another style of beer at a specific time of year. A true beer fanatic is just as likely to savor an Imperial Stout in July as January. But that is not the majority of beer lovers. Most of us fall somewhere within the range of consuming more lighter colored, drier and/or hoppier beers like Pale Ales and I.P.A.s in warmer seasons, with more of our darker and sweeter or heavier bodied beers being consumed during the cooler periods of the year. In a place like San Diego we tend to be a bit less seasonal than geographical locations that experience greater climate extremes, and as home brewers we tend to be less constricted even beyond that. Home brewers are much more likely to enjoy stronger and heavier beers year round when compared to the general population. Even so, there are some beers that just seem to fit better in the cooler Fall and Winter weather... beers that taste especially good when sipped over a longer period rather than quaffed quickly.
Three notable styles are Barleywines, Strong Stouts, and Strong Belgian Ales. They are often even consumed from a glass such as a brandy snifter, where the shape concentrates the aromatic alcohols and other aromatics as it tapers to the top, heightening those attributes as the glass is brought to the drinker's lips. Also, somewhat like brandy, these styles will sometimes be allowed to warm considerably during consumption, allowing carbon dioxide to dissipate thus bringing out more of the beer's flavors and making the aromatics even more intense. In fact, when consumed in such a manner, these beers can share many of the same attributes as a brandy though not as alcoholically strong. If they are to be reasonably or even minimally aged, now is the time to make these beers. They can be very enjoyable when young, but tend to get smoother and better with a bit of age. Another motivating force is the popularity of serving such styles to family and friends during the holiday season. Like most beer types, these have quite a range of sub-styles within each of them. A common characteristic in all though is their "sipping" suitability. What makes a "sipping" beer you might ask? To oversimplify... higher alcohol, heavier body, and maltier - somewhat sweeter finish. To label it as a sipper may be misleading because you may find them so tasty you consume the first one rather quickly. If enjoying a second though, you will likely savor it more slowly. Let's look at each of them singly, including their specifications as defined for judging in beer competitions.
Barleywines are called that because they are strong in alcohol, and thus become somewhat wine-like in that regard. Since barley is the basis for beer we then have a "Barley Wine", or Barleywine. These originated in the United Kingdom and are still more popular there than in most other areas of the world, except that the American micro-breweries have become increasingly involved in creating them over the last decade or so. A synopsis of the style description, combining both the English and American style ranges is as follows:
Very rich and strongly malty, often with a caramel-like aroma. May have moderate to strong fruitiness, often with a dried-fruit character. Hop flavor character ranges from mild to assertive and may showcase citrusy or resiny American varieties or English hop types. Hop bitterness may range from just enough for balance, to a firm presence, to assertive. Alcohol aromatics may be low to moderate. Color may range from rich gold to very dark amber or even dark brown. Noticeable alcohol presence, but not sharp or solventy. Strong, intense, complex, multi-layered malt flavors ranging from bready and biscuity through nutty, deep toast, dark caramel, toffee, and/or molasses.
For greater quantitative and flavor qualitative definition, alcohol percentage will range from a low of ~8% to as high as ~12% and in limited cases even higher. Generally the perception as being very malty is due to the high quantity of base malt or malt extract used. Caramelly, molasses, and toffee characteristics are due to generous use of Crystal type grains. There may be a noticeable sweetness in the finish (supporting or enhancing the aforementioned flavors) due to an expected higher level of unfermentable sugar residual but is expected to be balanced by the hop bitterness so that the two coexist, not cancel or contradict. The American ones tend to be the more aromatic of the bunch due to the use of the more aromatic American hop varieties. Excellent examples of these can be found year round in specialty beer stores, but many are only produced for marketing during the late Fall and Winter season. Notable commercial offerings are Thomas Hardy's, Bigfoot, Old Foghorn, Old Crustaecean, (lots of "Old Xxxx's"), and significant offerings from our local breweries such as Alesmith, Stone, and Ballast Point.
Strong, Hearty, Heavy, or whatever qualifier you attach to a BIG Stout, they all originated in the United Kingdom. Probably the most common designation used in naming the biggest of all stouts is to call it an "Imperial" Stout. Sometimes called a "Russian Imperial" Stout, its name originated because these strong beers were originally and commonly produced for export to the Russian Imperial Court. Its description synopsis is as follows:
Rich, deep, complex and frequently quite intense flavor. Moderate to aggressively high roasted malt/grain flavors can suggest bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, cocoa, and/or strong coffee. The malt aroma can be subtle to rich and barleywine-like. Fruity esters may be low to moderately strong, and may take on a complex, dark fruit (e.g., plums, prunes, raisins) character. Hop aroma can be very low to quite aggressive, and may contain any hop variety. An alcohol character may be present, but shouldn’t be sharp, hot or solventy. Color may range from very dark reddish-brown to jet black. Opaque. The palate and finish can vary from relatively dry to moderately sweet, usually with some lingering roastiness, hop bitterness and warming character.
Again, the alcohol percentage ranges from ~8% to 12%. The residual sweetness resulting from the high quantity of malt used can enhance the smoothness as well as the flavor complexities, especially the chocolate and fruit-like qualities. Somewhat surprisingly, there is often a Vanilla note or other flavor quality combined with the dark chocolate in the profile. The synergistic nature of its ingredients is probably more profound in this style than in any other. The more boisterous American versions may have readily identifiable hop flavors in the finish, but usually not dominant. Commercial examples of Imperial Stouts are many, perhaps most notably Samuel Smith's from England but including offerings from most American micro-breweries.
Strong Belgian Ale
Belgian Strong Ale sub-styles are varied. Some are pale golden, some are dark brown. Some are rather spicey flavored and others are more neutrally malty but very heavy. The object of our seasonal interest are those called Dark Strong Ales. The following is the style synopsis:
Complex aroma, with a rich malty sweetness, significant esters and alcohol, and an optional light to moderate spiciness. Fruity esters can contain raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig or prune notes. Spicy phenols may be present, but usually have a peppery quality not clove-like. Flavors are similar to aroma (same malt, ester, phenol, alcohol, hop and spice comments apply to flavor). Moderately malty or sweet on palate. Authentic Trappist versions are moderately dry to dry, Abbey versions can be medium-dry to sweet. Low bitterness for a beer of this strength; alcohol provides some of the balance to the malt. Sweeter and more full-bodied beers will have a higher bitterness level to balance. Almost all versions are malty in the balance. Deep amber to deep coppery-brown in color (dark in this context implies more deeply colored than golden).
This is the original Brandy Snifter beer. Aromatic complexities are really heightened with that presentation, though nearly equally noticeable in a wine glass or other glassware. Repeating a theme in this article, the alcohol percentage is usually from ~8% to 12%. The complexity of flavor and full body and mouthfeel of a beer of this style make it enjoyable to sip and savor, allowing the flavor to be enjoyed from the first impression to the aftertaste. Again, in a beer of this stature the balance of flavors to alcohol impacts and malty sweetness are key. Each offsets or compliments the other so that while noticeably strong in all regards, no one attribute jumps out and makes a dominant statement. For that reason this beer might seem to belie its alcoholic strength... at least until you stand up. Commercially available examples are available from most of the monastic breweries. The most commonly available brand is Chimay and is found even in the specialty beer section of most larger supermarket locations. Local breweries who venture into the Belgian realm (not necessarily only this style) are Alesmith Brewing and the Pizza Port brewpub.
O.K., so enough of this style talk. Just one other thing... as long as we started out on the topic of freeway driving etiquette, do us all another favor or two. ~ Quit clutching the steering wheel in that "death grip", ~ look around now and then when you're driving so you'll have at least half of a clue, ~ and for everyones sake get OUT OF THE FAST LANE! That sound of screeching tires behind you is a BAD thing. Yes, the world is aware that 65 is the speed limit. The NHTSA, IIHS, FTSB, as well as the FBI, CIA, IRS, FLRB, FDIC, and every other initial and acronym group commend you for your knowledge of the law. Now, MOVE OVER, or better yet just GET OFF the freeway. Think of it as another way of avoiding horn honking and finger flipping... you know, like changing your cell phone plan. If you remember, THAT little bit of prophetic, visionary rumination saved you enough money to make an extra batch of beer every month. Who knows what good might happen if you get out of the fast lane? (Say, did we mention you've been looking much younger and more attractive lately?) See, the world is liking you better already. Way to go Bunky, now spend that 30 bucks and start your bonus batch of beer. Don't bother to say it... you're welcome.