Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Winter Ale

Summit Brewing Company
St. Paul, MN

Style: English Strong Ale
ABV: 5.9%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

It’s the first day of spring here at and Nigel has the itch. The weather has been spring-y all week, March Madness is in full effect, and I only have one winter brew left in the ol’ beer fridge that needs reviewing. However, with my Badgers playing in the NCAA tournament tonight, that’ll have to wait awhile until they’ve been eliminated.

On second thought, I’m going to go ahead and do it now, because I just remembered that my Badgers aren’t very good this year and are about to get a one-and-done whoopin’. Since it’s the late game, I might as well get a craft beer buzz going to help cushion the blow, although it seems a bit wrong to celebrate Wisconsin’s elimination by drinking a beer from Minnesota. I haven’t been able to catch the Madness this year like I have in years past (Nigel is a college hoops junkie), but that’s probably because my ‘roid rage has me craving baseball.

(Update: they actually WON that game, waiting until the second round to get humiliated. My bad.)

Not only does tonight’s review allow me to finish off my winter stash, it also gives me a rare opportunity to experience Minnesota’s largest and best known craft brewer, Summit. Not that Summit is a rare find; on the contrary, they’re extremely widespread throughout the Midwest. I usually overlook Summit releases, as I have yet to be blown away by any of their creations, and I often find more intriguing selections nearby. Summit allows me to use my favorite idiotic phrase, “it is what it is,” because, well … they is what they is. They make decent beer that can appeal to the masses and be respected by craft beer junkies, but isn’t anything over the top or ultra-creative. There’s no shame in that, but for Nigel, I typically go with brewers that are more hardcore and/or unique.

Winter Ale falls in line with my “it is what it is” theme, in that it’s, well … a winter ale. That is, it’s a thicker, darker beer that is meant to have roasted notes and a touch more in the way of alcohol (6.2 percent ABV in this case, which is strong for Summit) in order to create a “warming” brew. While it may seem I’m just a shill for clever marketing (I am), winter brews do typically warm Nigel on cold nights. Be it roasted nuttiness, subtle chocolate, or smoked peat, nothing beats a thick, dark, brew while watching some hoops in the dead of winter.

Winter Ale pours as you’d expect, with a mild tan head of an inch or so that is somewhat slow to die and leaves a noticeable creamy lace at the top throughout and quite a bit of stickiness on the sides. A deep, fiery copper hue, Winter Ale has more reddish tints than I was expecting and is quite picturesque in the glass. Just looking at it gives you a mild warming rush.

The aroma is where things start to level off, which is typically what I’ve found Summit brews to do. While winter warmers are supposed to be very aromatic, mainly in the form of sugary malt or light spice, Winter Ale is somewhat timid. Moderate aromas of malt are present, but it’s more of an earthy, grainy malt with slight roasted notes rather than sugar. No hint of dark fruit, hops, or alcohol in the aroma, making it a bit of a letdown to the nostrils.

The flavor largely emulates that aroma, though there’s more in the way of sugary notes present. Initial flavors of mild roasted nuttiness combine with some, but not a lot, of sugar (light caramel and molasses). Again, there’s more earthiness to the malt than you’d expect for the style, and if I’m not mistaken, I sense some hop bitterness in there as well. Add to that a touch of spice (clove and nutmeg), and Winter Ale has a number of flavors, but none of them ever grab hold of the brew and elevate it to anything other than decidedly average. Medium bodied and smooth, Winter Ale makes a good session brew for the colder months with its tolerable ABV and muted thickness. While there are some elements present that could have made this something special, it ends up being just another beer, albeit an enjoyable one.

It is what it is. Again, that’s the best description I can give of both Summit and their Winter Ale. It’s a good beer, and I enjoyed drinking it on the first day of spring. But it’s missing many of the elevated elements that make winter warmers so unique, and it’s lacking any type of originality that would garner extra points. When compared to other Summit brews I’ve had to date, it’s one of the better ones, but average is average no matter how you spin it.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on March 26, 2009.
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