8 craft beers that will add warmth to your winter

Hop cone
Eric Sannerud, of Mighty Axe Hops, shows off the inside of a hop cone Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 at his farm in Ham Lake. The cone is the flower of the hop plant, which is harvested and added to beer.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News


In November, we gathered some of Minnesota's finest beer nerds to tell us about their favorite Minnesota-only breweries.

As winter sets in, we've summoned the cicerones to share their current favorite seasonal brews. Here's their advice on beers built to ease you through the cold.

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1.) Summit Winter Ale, Minnesota

• Winter warmer, 6.2 percent alcohol by volume

Winter warmers are "robust, big beers that give a sensation of warming up as we drink them," writes Ryan Ferebee, a Wirtz Craft Beer specialist.

Summit Winter Ale is a "malt driven winter warmer, with flavors of toasty malt, toffee, and chocolate. This beer is laden with toffee, caramel and chocolaty goodness, without being overly sweet or too strong, a piney earthy spice of hops balances everything out. Dark fruit characteristics meld with the other components to create a comforting winter experience," writes the Four Firkins' Michael Wagner.

2.) Indeed Brewing's Old Friend, Minnesota

• Winter warmer, 7 percent alcohol by volume

"The color is beautiful and I immediately pick up eucalyptus and tea tree herbal aromas followed by the tart, sweet raspberry rum flavors of a perfectly made raspberry shrub," writes Meghan Larsen of Chowgirls Catering. "The ginger is present and adds the extra layer of complexity one is looking for.

"Old Friend is warming without being overwhelming and complex enough to stand up to fatty or salty foods, or to be enjoyed on its own."

3.) Ommegang Adoration Ale, New York

• Belgian strong ale, 10 percent alcohol by volume

This hearty ale is rich in spicing notes.

"I do not naturally gravitate towards spiced beers, and Brewery Ommegang has lured me in with this beer," writes Nathan Gustafson of the Four Firkins.

"The juicy, fat caramel and raisiny like malt character supports the ample spicing," he says. "Ommegang spices Adoration with coriander, cardamom, mace, grains of paradise, and sweet orange peel. My grandma used to give us sweet cardamom rolls, and the aroma of this beer brings me right back to those heady days."

The spice flavors are well balanced, adds Wagner, Gustafson's Four Firkins colleague.

"Drink it at cellar temperature [50-55 degrees fahrenheit] and all these ingredients will come through as notes in a grand symphony, each one coming forward for a solo, then falling back in place creating something where the whole is far superior than the simple sum of its parts," Wagner says. "Sip and enjoy!"

4.) Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, California

• American IPA, 6.8 percent alcohol by volume

"This beer is one of my 'desert island' beers, as in, if I were stranded on a desert island, which beer(s) would I like to accompany me," writes Robin Shellman of the Better Beer Society.

"This would be one of them. Beautiful woody, pine and citrus hop character alongside toasted bread and caramel notes from the malt, it drinks like an enchanted walk through the Christmas forest. Also, it's a nice break from the traditional malt-forward beers of winter.

"Plus, at just under 7 percent ABV, it has a nice, subtle warmth to it. Perfect for those upcoming chilly nights on my desert island ... or long, winter nights in Minnesota."

Ferebee agrees and adds, "This is a fresh hop IPA, so the flavors from the hops are clearly defined. Sierra Nevada uses fresh, whole hops in Celebration. Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops are all used in this beer.

"There is more to this beer than the layers of hops. There is a noticeable malt presence adding some sweetness that really balances this beer beautifully."

5.) Schell's Snowstorm 2014, Minnesota

• Belgian dark ale, 7 percent alcohol by volume

"As a Minnesota winter favorite, I'm always excited to try Schell's Snowstorm," writes Ferebee.

"The aroma of this ale dominates with fruity pear like phenolic from Belgian yeast that mingles with the spices that have a faint pepper and clove character.

"The citrus fruit carries into the flavor accompanied with flavors of subtle spice, balancing nicely with a medium body. The finish is slightly dry, yet a residual sweetness powers with the finish."

6.) Bad Weather Brewing's Ominous, Minnesota

• American strong ale, 7.5 percent alcohol by volume

"This is a complex double brown ale that will wow your grandma, who barely knows what Newcastle is, as well as that curled mustache guy at your party who brought his own beer glassware," writes Patrick Doran who buys beer for Heritage Liquor. "It has notes of cocoa and fig that are perfect for surviving the cold weather."

7.) Founders' Breakfast Stout, Michigan

• Imperial stout, 8.3 percent alcohol by volume

Another pick from Doran: "This stout is another winter must-have. There's been many beers in recent years imitating this perfect blend of bold Stout, artisan chocolate, and freshly brewed coffee. There is no substitute. Founders adds just enough of each flavor to create a magical experience in your mouth that can be enjoyed any time of day."

Doran adds, "The theme for winter beers is malty and potent with a few exceptions here and there. Both of these beers fit that bill with Breakfast Stout reaching towards the extremes in flavor. It has very noticeable coffee and chocolate flavors from the addition from raw coffee and chocolate added during the brewing process.

"Ominous differs with no additional ingredients, choosing to get its more subtle hearty flavors from more traditional brewing ingredients instead. You'd be wise to buy some of each and switch off pours this winter."

8.) Lift Bridge Commander Minnesota

• English barleywine, 12.5 percent alcohol by volume

"Toffee, brown sugar, raisins, vanilla, fig, cardamom, mint, oranges, molasses — these are all of the wonderful flavors you will find in this English-style Barleywine, specifically this beautiful example from Lift Bridge Brewing Co. out of Stillwater," writes Shellman.

"I had the pleasure of partaking in a sensory panel led by Lift Bridge Brewmaster Matt Hall, and was able to taste through different ages of this beer, he's doing incredible things with their barrel program. While this beer tastes fantastic young, at 12.5 percent it can be cellared. My advice, age this beer for a year."