Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Winter Warmer

Upland Brewing Company
Bloomington, IN

Style: Barley Wine
ABV: 9.0%

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

Pair With:
With American Craft Beer Week over and the website being inundated with updates, I figured I should probably contribute. A scant review during one of the finest craft beer weeks of the year isn’t going to cut it, so Nigel is back at it, sacrificing his Saturday evening. Had I not been on a deadline established by Webmaster Glick, I’d likely be doing something exhilarating tonight, like drinking a craft beer at home and NOT writing about it. I’m truly the epitome of excitement.

As my gift to you, the loyal recession-battered reader, I shall begin my review by offering this tip: craft beer, like most products sold in retail stores, occasionally goes on clearance. With craft beer, it’s typically seasonal offerings that are lingering and need to go quickly in order to make room for the newer selections. Not all places do this, as many have enough room and are willing to hold on to the product at full price until it’s gone, but some, like the grocery store I was at recently, have more limited space and want winter releases gone to make room for Oberon. When shopping for craft beer, look for a clearance section in the cooler, on an outer shelf, or occasionally in a randomly placed shopping cart in a high traffic area, and you never know what kind of deal you’ll stumble upon.

Thus, I picked up a six pack of Upland’s Winter Warmer, a powerful barley wine, for the low, low price of six bucks, about 33 percent off. With the extra cash money saved from this transaction, Nigel bought a $3 scratch-off lottery ticket and lost, thus completing the circle of life. If we Americans had any monetary common sense, we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with, so I feel it’s my patriotic duty to continue nonsensical spending on things that provide no return on my investment. Hooray American capitalism!

Winter Warmer is described as an “English-style barley wine,” which basically means it’s a barley wine sans a noticeable hop profile. The term “American barley wine” is somewhat deceiving, as the barley wine is an English creation and the American version is essentially exactly the same, but with more hops (compare Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot with Upland’s version, and you’ll sense it instantly).

Upland’s Winter Warmer pours more profusely than expected, with a finger-plus frothy tan head that slowly dissipates, leaving a creamy lace throughout with significant cling. A rich amber hue with some sedimentation, I have no complaints looking at it in the glass. The aroma is somewhat disappointing, with a touch of staleness that I didn’t appreciate. Overall it’s a grainy, earthy aroma due to heaps of barley malt, with a touch of roasted nuttiness and smoke. While I wasn’t expecting (and didn’t notice) any hops, I was expecting more sugary sweetness that never fully came to fruition. Not a bad aroma, but not up to par.

The taste is very good, but nothing exceptional, making this a three-mug barley wine, but a low four-mug beer overall. I have very strict standards when it comes to my barley wines, and I can’t really find anything above average in this one. Again, barley malt dominates, giving it an earthy punch that never really relents. Hints of smoke emerge at various times, as does the flavor of roasted nuts. Unlike the aroma, some sweeter notes are present in the flavor, mainly in the form of dark fruit (black cherry, fig, and raisin). Sugary notes are still a bit scant, though a slight touch of toffee and molasses is present in the background at times. This does assist the mouthfeel, however, as Winter Warmer is less syrupy than a typical barley wine, meaning it doesn’t coat the tongue as much and is a bit more drinkable as a session beer than most of its brethren. Medium to full bodied and smooth on the palate, there is some aftertaste and the 9 percent ABV indicates that even if you think it is a session barley wine, you may want to reconsider.

Overall, I enjoyed Winter Warmer but I can’t say it’s going to enter my pantheon of fine barely wines. It’s a bit more approachable to the non-extreme beer drinker than many of its craft counterparts, but it lacks the unique qualities that would take it from very good to great. Try it should you find it (you’ll likely have to wait until the snow flies again), but don’t expect to be blown away … just expect another quality, enjoyable American craft beer.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on May 27, 2009.
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Happy anniversary, Lakefront Brewery!

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