We’ve been drinking a lot of winter ales over the past few weeks. Not just because it’s winter and we’ve got the taste for them, but also as research for a feature we’ve written for the Independent newspaper – The 10 Best Winter Ales.
Choosing a definitive list of ten is an impossible task. There are so many available that there’s no way we would be able to taste all of them. And with the current high standards in brewing, and the myriad styles available, rejecting some in favour of others on subjective whims seemed unfair. So to help us along we gave ourselves a list of criteria to work from.
First we decided to narrow the field to UK breweries, covering as much of the country as possible. Next we wanted to showcase a good range of styles within the loosely defined ‘winter ales’ category – so we have a barley wine, an old English ale, spiced ales, and a healthy dose of porters and other dark delights. Finally we wanted to feature thrusting modern breweries that would tickle the whiskers of the hipster drinker alongside breweries that operate on more traditionalist-friendly lines. Throw in the Independent’s rule that all beers must be available online and the task became much less daunting.
However, our judgement casting wasn’t quite finished: from our choice of ten the demand was given to pick out just one to merit the Independent’s ‘star buy’ banner. Step forward Chocolate Marble.
We’ve mentioned Manchester’s Marble brewery before (they got a top five spot from us at a beer festival) and have enjoyed a fair share of their pints on our travels this year. But until we started our winter beer research we hadn’t tried the brewery’s much loved, longest standing brew, ‘Chocolate’. This now seems like a terrible oversight.
The beer is brewed with heavily roasted ‘chocolate malts’, giving it a very dark hue and roasted chocolate flavours. Dark beers are often noted for their chocolate flavours, but few taste quite as chocolately as this, helped by a smooth, creaminess and perfect bottle conditioning. There’s a very slight touch of sweetness to the taste, but a much stronger bitter finish that makes it very drinkable and leaves behind a luxurious, dark chocolate flavour in the mouth. Rich describes it as “like snogging a drunken Mars bar”; Nick’s verdict is “a battalion of hops let loose in a Swiss chocolate factory.” Other detectable flavours include dark beer standards licorice and coffee but it’s the cocoa that leaves the strongest impression.
Winter beers are well worth exploring – their extra strength and heftier, malty flavours give you a good lift during the cold months – but that’s no reason to stop drinking a classic like Chocolate Marble when the weather warms up. It’s well worthy of that top beer spot.
For the full Independent feature, with our tasting notes and links to buy the beer, go here.
Below is the ten best winter beers list. Let us know if you have any favourites that we’ve missed out.
St Peter’s, Christmas Ale, 7%
Williams Brothers, Nollaig Spruce Beer, 7%
Marble Brewery, Chocolate Marble, 5.5%
Eden Brewery, Black Jake, 6%
Tiny Rebel, Dirty Stop Out, 5%
Cheddar Ales, Festive Totty, 4.7%
Harvey’s, Christmas Ale, 7.5%
Lewes, East Sussex
Moor, Old Freddy Walker, 7.4%
M&S / Meantime Brewery, Greenwich Winter Spiced Porter, 5.5%
Beavertown, Smog Rocket, 5.4%
Brewery: Marble, Manchester
Beer name: Chocolate