SXNW from Widmer Brothers Brewing
“As we head into fall and winter, our brewers start thinking about rich, complex beers that warm from within,” said Rob Widmer

Halloween seems to be the tipping point around Portland when the rain becomes constant and the colder temperatures start to creep in. Beer drinkers in the Northwest also welcome in the maltier, more warming winter brews from Portland breweries. Widmer Brothers Brewing is no exception as you'll see four new releases from them on the shelves right now. “As we head into fall and winter, our brewers start thinking about rich, complex beers that warm from within,” said Rob Widmer, co-founder of the brewery. “We have some new brews with unique flavor profiles that fit the bill, like our chocolaty SXNW ale and our roasty Milk Stout. We’re also bringing back some brewery favorites with Brrr, our seasonal Northwest red, and Barrel Aged Brrrbon ’12, our latest vintage release.” Thanks to the brewery, I received a nice Winter care package with samples of the seasonal beers.

The most aggressive of the releases is the SXNW, a Northwest ale with flavor roots in the Southwest: chocolate, pecans, cinnamon, and chilis. This beer is a nice sipper, but I'd take it out of the fridge about 20-30 minutes before opening. When served right from the fridge, the subtitles of the cinnamon and chili heat are lost to the big chocolate flavors. Warming up this beer opens it up a bit, allowing the lighter flavors to escape from the stifling cold temperature. Rising out of a warmer serving are spice notes from the cinnamon and the chili finish lingers a bit more. There is a slight nut brown style nuttiness in the body. Of course, this could be from the pecans, but maybe just from the malt bill. It's very subtle. There's no explanation of the process for the pecan additions, but my guess is that they are crushed, roasted and added into the mash.

Milk Stout is also on the shelves, hearkening back to the days when Snow Plow was in the brewery's bottle lineup. I haven't had Snow Plow in a long time, so there's little chance of me comparing these two, but I'd venture a guess that this is some variation on that recipe. Huge roast notes mingle with the light hop bitterness and the milk sugar sweetness. It's a very nice stout and I think the ABV at 7% adds a great balance of alcohol to the flavor profile.

Brrr is also back for its annual appearance on draft, 22 ounce bottles, and in 12 ounce six packs and twelve packs. This rust colored red ale is a nice balance between the sweetness of the malts and the citrus flavors of the hops. Despite a more pronounced malt bill and 7.2% ABV, this beer is not heavy and goes down quick. It's not a bold beer by any means, but it does make a good transition beer for the gray Portland Fall.

Brrr's big brother—Barrel Aged Brrrbon—on the other hand, is a bold rendition of a winter red ale. Bolstered by a 9.5% ABV and some time in Kentucky bourbon barrels, the oak and vanilla flavors compliment the malts nicely. The bourbon notes and high alcohol of the beer make this offering very assertive and warming. For me, this beer turns from very good to great after spending at least a year in the cellar. The dry, crisp finish of the "fresh" version is lengthened and sweetened by the aging and highlights the bourbon and barrel flavors.

All of these beers are available now and worth adding to your Winter beer to do list!

SXNW

Malts: Munich 20L-10L, Chocolate, Extra Special Hops: Alchemy Original Gravity: 22.5 IBU: 40 Alcohol by Volume: 9.3%

Milk Stout

Malts: Pale, Chocolate, Midnight Wheat, Munich 20L, Roasted Barley Hops: Alchemy, Cascade Other Additions: Milk Sugar Apparent Extract: 6.0 IBU: 50 Alcohol by Volume: 7.0%

Brrr

Malts: Pale, Caramel 10L & 80L, Carapils, Dark Chocolate Hops: Alchemy, Simco & Cascade Original Gravity: 17.0 IBU: 50 Alcohol by Volume: 7.2%

Brrrbon ‘12

Malts: 2-Row Pale, Caramel 20L, Carapils, Caramel 80L, Dark Chocolate Hops: Alchemy, Simco & Cascade Original Gravity: 20.3 IBU: 40 Alcohol by Volume: 9.5%