North Country Winter Brews

Some of the best winter brew can be found right here in the North Country


Story and photos by Carey Vanderborg

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Lake Placid Brewery: Real Town, Real Beer, Real Good Time.

 

In regions where the winters are known to be harsh and grain is grown, brewing has historically been a specialty. For centuries, brewers have made seasonal beers for winter that are fuller in body and maltier than standard styles. The Lake Placid Pub and Brewery in Lake Placid, N.Y., and the Vermont Pub and Brewery in Burlington, Vt., are two breweries in the North Country that specialize in winter beers.

“Our business is primarily based around the winter season,” says Kevin Litchfield, head brew master at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. “Our winter brews, which consist of many porters and stouts, are what seem to sell the most up here.”

Stouts and porters are dark beers made by using roasted malt or barley, hops, water, and yeast. Stout was traditionally the generic term for the strongest, or stoutest beer (typically seven to eight percent alcohol) produced by a brewery.

"If you’re looking for something to warm you up and make you feel right, a winter brew is definitely the way to go."

The name “porter” was originally used in the 18th century to describe beer that was favored by the street and river porters in London. The name "stout" is believed to have come about because a strong porter was typically called  “extra porter,"  "double porter," or "stout porter". The term "stout porter" would later be shortened to just “stout.”

“We keep six beers on tap year round, with two rotating seasonal beers,” Litchfield says. “Right now we have our vanilla porter on tap, which is made with a blend of three different vanilla beans.”

Due to the high cost of importing barley in the 18th century, adjuncts were often employed including sugar, molasses, corn, and licorice. As a result, American porters differentiated from the English and Irish versions. Today many breweries produce porters in wide varieties including, but not limited to, pumpkin, honey, vanilla, chocolate, and bourbon.

“When we feel the time is right, we’ll switch the seasonal beer tap,” Litchfield says. “The next beer we put on will most likely be our Dr. Foggs Oatmeal Stout, a full bodied oatmeal stout that most customers say is one of our smoothest selections.”

"We brew lagers, wheat beers, Irish and Scotch ales, pale and bitter ales, and seasonal beers."

Oatmeal stouts contain a proportion of oats, normally a maximum of 30 percent, added during the brewing process, but they usually don’t specifically taste of oats.  The smoothness of oatmeal stouts comes from the high content of proteins, lipids (including fats and waxes), and gums imparted by the use of oats. The gums increase the thickness and body, adding to the sense of smoothness.

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Sampling Tray at The Vermont Pub & Brewery.

“The Oatmeal Stout is a black pouring liquid with a medium-tan head. The aroma is like roasted chocolate maltiness, and it has the typical tastes of a stout,” says Brian Appel, a customer at Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. “It’s mostly chocolate, coffee, and smoke flavors. A bit thin, but overall a nice beer.”

“During the winter, we also offer the Belgium Wit, which is a winter white milk stout,” Litchfield says. “This stout is actually fermented with Belgium wit as opposed to beer yeast”

Milk stout is a stout containing lactose, a sugar derived from milk. Because lactose is unfermentable by beer yeast, it adds sweetness, body, and calories to the finished beer. Milk stout was claimed to be nutritious, and was given to nursing mothers in the early 1900s.

“We brew lagers, wheat beers, Irish and Scotch ales, pale and bitter ales, and seasonal beers,” says Russ FitzPatrick, head brew master at the Vermont Pub and Brewery. “Our seasonal tap right now is Blackwatch, which is a black IPA (India Pale Ale) that’s really black and roasty.”

"As the weather gets colder and the leaves begin to fall, we start coming out with our darker beers."

IPA is a type of ale that is light amber to copper in color, medium to medium-high alcohol by volume, with a hoppy, bitter, and sometimes malty flavor.  With Blackwatch, the Vermont Pub and Brewery has created a take on what is known as the Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA), or a black IPA. Black IPA’s are a relatively new variant of the pale ale and are characterized by a dark or black appearance due to roasted malts, while retaining the hop aroma typical of the IPA style.

“I really enjoy drinking this black IPA,” says Harry Summers, a regular customer at the Vermont Pub and Brewery. “ It has the dark, smooth, roasty malt flavor with a little hop bite you would expect from an IPA, but not as much as you would normally get from a standard one.”

“In December we’ll be coming out with our Schwartz Pils, which is a straight lager malt,” FitzPatrick says. “The pils is a German style beer but pours a dark brown with a smallish tan head. It looks like a porter. The smell is very porter-like. Roasted malt and coffee aromas dominate this beer”

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Persuasive Advertising at the Vermont Pub & Brewery.

The “pils” in Schwartz Pils refers to Pilsner, a type of pale lager. A modern pilsner has a very light, clear color that ranges from pale to golden yellow, and a distinct hop aroma and flavor. But the Schwartz Pils at the Vermont Pub and Brewery is not your average pilsner.

"Our winter brews, which consist of many porters and stouts, are what seem to sell the most up here."

“As the weather gets colder and the leaves begin to fall, we start coming out with our darker beers,” FitzPatrick says. “We have our Vermont Smoked Porter, which has actually been on all year because people like to pair that up with barbeque sauces on their food. It has that smokey character so it works well with that kind of food.”

The Smoked Porter at the Vermont Pub and Brewery is unique in that they use smoked malt to make the porter. Traditionally, malt is dried out before mixing with the other ingredients. The brewery in Vermont smokes the malt over apple, maple, and hickory woodchips to recreate the 17th century robust style ale.

Although most winter beers are often malty and complex, there are no rules for how they should be brewed. Some are made with fruit or spice and some rely on artful malt or hops combinations for wonderful complexity.

“Whether they’re stouts or porters, they’re all pretty high in alcohol content,” Litchfield says. “So if you’re looking for something to warm you up and make you feel right, a winter brew is definitely the way to go.”

 

What's your favorite time of the year to drink a beer?

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