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For me, when the weather turns cold and the days grow short, nothing brings more pleasure than to sit in front of my fireplace with a rich, full-flavored, higher-strength beer.

Whether or not they’re called winter seasonals or winter warmers, no beer styles do a better job melting a snowy winter disposition than beers such as Belgian Abbey Ales, Imperial Stouts, Winter Lagers, Strong Ales, and Barleywines. Just remember, that to show their best, abbey ales, barleywines, and imperial stouts need to be served just slightly chilled or even warmer at a cool room temperature.

Cold temps deaden their flavors and hide their complexities. Warm them up and be rewarded with aromas wafting from the glass to massage your nostrils.

Take a sip and allow it to linger on the tongue. The flavors of toasty/roasty caramel malts, yeast fermentation signatures, mellow hops, and tingly, sweet ethanol take a path straight from the taste buds to to the brain’s pleasure center. Warming you, caressing you.

It’s really not an experience you can get from a hazy IPA, a fruited Gose, or a Pilsner. Among the winter loving beers, Imperial Stouts seem to be most common on West Virginia beer retailers’ shelves and local brewers’ taps. You’ll find winter lagers, barleywines, and Belgian Trappist and Abbey Ales at better beer outlets around the region.

Regularly check your favorite local brewery’s tap list too so you won’t miss trying these often limited-edition seasonal brews. Try pairing them with full-flavored cheeses, barbecued meats, roasted winter vegetables, and sweet potato casserole.

They also pair exceptionally well with rich desserts such as pecan pie.

Weathered Ground Brewery’s Sam Fonda says he enjoys a beer cocktail made by combining a winter lager about half and half with a breakfast stout. He likes to sprinkle it with a little cinnamon before drinking. Sounds delicious. Don’t be afraid to experiment with blends like this.

Some brews to look for in distribution this winter:

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale

This English winter warmer ale has long been a favorite around the world. Apricot colored with caramel-toffee and dried fruit flavors. A true winter seasonal that is vintage dated. 6.0% ABV

Frost Notch Winter Ale from Big Timber Brewing

This strong ale is packaged this year for the first time in cans. A fully malty, lightly smokey ale is at home in your living room or on the ski slopes. 7.8% ABV.

Frosted Ground Winter Lager from Weathered Ground

This amber lager is full of specialty grains like biscuit malts and CaraMunich malts giving it warm caramel hints. Then it is aged on fresh cut vanilla beans. 5.2% ABV.

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Rochefort 10 Trappist Ale

From Belgium, there is no beer more special than one of the true Trappist Ales. Rochefort 10 is a dark brown ale with great strength balanced by complex flavors and firm malt backbone. Aromas of port wine, leather, apricots, oak, and spices. 11.3% ABV.

Way of the Monk Belgian Dark Strong Ale from Weathered Ground Brewery

A smooth, luscious malty sweetheart made in the Belgian style with abbey yeast giving it a tasty mix of fruity esters and spicy phenolics. 11% ABV.

Big Foot Barleywine from Sierra Nevada Brewing

Brewed since 1983, this is the classic American-style barleywine that we are fortunate to get in West Virginia. Enjoy its bittersweet malt-hop taste profile now and put a few bottles in the cellar to drink in future years. It actually improves with a few years of age. 9.6% ABV.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Valley Furnace Imperial Stout from High Ground Brewing

A rich chocolate tasting dark malty stout that is aged for many months in a freshly emptied bourbon barrel. 13% ABV.

Hibernation Libation Pastry Stout from Big Timber Brewing

Richly flavored, the beer is brewed with lots of dark malts and added lactose. It’s then conditioned on vanilla beans, oranges and cacao nibs giving it strong notes of orange creamsicle.

It’s a special beer made from the recipe of homebrewer Steve Straley of the Appalachian Brew Club in Elkins. Straley won a beer recipe competition and Big Timber brewed his beer. 10.5% ABV.

KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) from Founders Brewing

An imperial breakfast stout brewed with lots of coffee and chocolate, then aged in bourbon barrels for a year. Comes out silky and full-bodied with notes of vanilla, cocoa, roasted coffee and charred oak. 12% ABV.

The Italian Job Imperial Stout from Weathered Ground

A double mashed brew for extra strength and richness, it features roasted pistachios, cherry purée, and vanilla beans. 12% ABV.

Charles Bockway is a craft beer blogger and podcaster who writes, blogs and talks about West Virginia’s craft beer industry. For more information visit his website at brilliantstream.com, the brilliantstream Facebook page or the podcast at WVBeerRoads.com. Send questions and suggestions to him at wvbrewnews@brilliantstream.com.

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