Crafty Six: Winter Warmers

What better way to stave off the worst of the winter chills than a warming ale? OK, so maybe a thick doona, a roaring fire or a holiday in the Tropics would work just as well, if not better, but who doesn't love a warming ale (or Baltic porter) at this time of year?

Certainly, Crafty Pint contributor Graham Frizzell does. So, following our feature on Big Beers from earlier in the week, he's sent in six of the best for a guest Crafty Six slot. Given how many top notch, locally brewed beers are released across Australia at this time each year, he has plenty to choose from: Red Hill's Imperial Stout, Murray's clutch of big beasts, Mornington's Porter and RIS, Stone & Wood's Stone Beer, Noisy Minor's Yastrebov, Coopers' Vintage, Boatrocker's Ramjet and Banshee, Thirsty Crow's Vanilla Milk Stout, Moo's Seasonal Stout... well, you get the message.

So here they are – a mix of readily available drops from the bigger brewers and those you have to hunt harder to find – as well as why he loves them. Are they among your first choice winter warmers or do you prefer to indulge elsewhere?


Chances are if you love winter you embrace all that is great about it. That could be rugging up by the hearth while watching a marathon of your favourite TV show, tucking into comforting, hearty roast dinners or pouring a glass of equally-as-hearty winter beer (even combining all three to ensure maximum indulgence).

As it's cold and dark outside, you may well want something just as dark inside your glass, here's a selection of the best Australian winter ales, stouts and porters to help warm you from the inside out.

Mountain Goat Surefoot Stout

The canned beer renaissance continues with Victoria's craft beer pioneers Mountain Goat leading the charge. And, as the cold nights have taken hold, you may have noticed a new arrival to continue the work started by the alluring orange cans of their Summer Ale. The once elusive Surefoot Stout – one of the first ever Goat beers – is now available as a seasonal release every year, proudly donning new, shiny black armour.

The packaging may have changed but the beer remains reassuringly the same. Surefoot Stout still wafts to the nose with its inviting chocolaty aroma; its flavour is still a slightly sweet, easily palatable balance between chocolate, coffee, liquorice and subtle bitterness, and it remains at a quaffable ABV of 4.9 percent. There could be no better beer suited to a Saturday Simpsons marathon session!


James Squire Jack of Spades Porter

James Squire's Jack of Spades Porter is among the least widely seen of the brewery's core range, however it need not be. This is a brew that could potentially convert even the staunchest and most stubborn of pale lager drinkers to the dark side and, with winter upon us, there is no time like the present for such conversions to be taking place.

When loading up the Esky ahead of the next big adventure (be it to the snowfields or a migration to warmer climes), sneak in a sixer of this complex yet accessible porter. If you are familiar with the porter style but haven't availed yourself of the Jack of Spades, consider yourself criminally remiss. By ignoring it you are missing out on a beer with delightful chocolaty, nutty nuances – even vanilla – balanced evenly by a subtle hop finish (Dr Rudi being the single hop variety used). Moreover, there may be no better beer than Jack of Spades Porter for pairing with campfire toasted marshmallows.

[NB If you've overlooked the beer due to its parentage, whenever The Crafty Pint has put it in a blind tasting, public or private, it's pipped its Aussie peers – Ed.]


Brookes Brown Ale

Bendigo gets bloody cold at night – even colder than much of the macro beer chugged in the majority of venues in regional towns and cities like it. Fortunately, venues like the Dispensary Enoteca, Goldmines and the Cambrian Hotel, and the hard work of Bendigo Beer and abattoir-based brewery Brookes Beer, are seeing things change in Bendigo.

Although not that widely available, if you can lay your hands on some of the latter's Brown Ale, you'll be rewarded with a brew that sings of wintery regional life. Subtle dark fruit, spice and woody undertones delight beneath a rich caramel malt backbone, finishing off with the perfect amount of hop bitterness. And at 5 percent ABV, it offers winter comfort without packing too much heat in a beer that, following a switch in malt suppliers, has become even fuller and heartier over time.


Little Creatures Return of the Dread

Fremantle's favourite brewery is famed for opening the gateway to craft beer’s mass appeal. A few years ago the same brewery provided a guiding hand to newbies wanting to explore more adventurous territory through its Single Batch series. In 2011, that included the most wintry of beers, The Dreadnought (foreign extra stout), a beer that would have emphatically introduced many to the dark side. Those lucky enough to sample The Dreadnought will fondly recall the stout being as imposing as its name suggested.

Fast forward five years and the landscape Little Creatures helped create is changing – as indeed has the landscape at Little Creatures, with its Geelong brewery and ownership by Lion / Kirin. That hasn't stopped new beers coming, including the launch of a quarterly seasonal release line. Kicking it off in time for winter, Creatures decided to revive The Dreadnought (in spirit at least), renaming it Return of the Dread.

Be it Fremantle Harbour or the fireplace, Return of the Dread will teleport you to where you want to be. Any setting is a good setting for this roasty and black as night brew. Espresso stout notes dominate the experience throughout, backed up by mocha, liquorice, hints of woodiness and a strong hop driven bitter finish. Best of all, Return of the Dread represents wintertime decadence without being overly excessive in the ABV stakes.


Moon Dog Black Lung V

Mark July in your diaries folks. Moon Dog is set to unchain the fifth incarnation of its annual, barrel aged imperial stout series. The Black Lung series is a firm favourite among critics and fans alike, winning a trophy at the inaugural Craft Beer Awards in 2014, and with good reason. Past releases have seen each respective brew matured in whisky, Bourbon, rum (pictured) and new oak barrels. This year, Black Lung V looks set to impress again.

This time around, the usual high-impact base – comprising peat smoked malt and oats for balance – has spent its beauty sleep in PX (Pedro Ximénez) wine barrels obtained from Mount Langi Ghiran (a winery based in regional Victoria). PX is a dessert wine / sherry from the white grape variety of the same name, most commonly found in Spain but also on our own golden shores.

PX is typically a warm climate wine whereas stouts represent colder climes, thus providing a sense of paradoxical contrast. More to the point, PX barrel maturation will likely provide a counterpoint to the Black Lung V’s dense peat smoke base, while also delivering a level of complexity different from whisky or rum barrel-aged stouts. Fans of stouts big on dark fruit character (particularly raisin) will feel especially at home here, for PX is known for its deep raisin like flavour. Just imagine the food pairing possibilities!

NB Black Lung V is launched on tap at the Moon Dog Brewery Bar tonight (June 26)


Nail Brewing Clout Stout

Few beers come much bigger than the aptly named Clout Stout. In fact the only thing bigger than this beer is the trophy cabinet of John Stallwood (head honcho at West Australia’s Nail Brewing). Past incarnations have taken home a truckload of awards and experience suggests 2015’s edition will do likewise. They are beers that make for a fantastic reward (for yourself or someone special) in themselves.

Some Clout Stout 2014 is still floating around with 2015 imminent. Along with being a beer big on rich, woody, oily, dried fruit and chocolate characters, Clout is packaged in a striking bottle replete with presentation box (more typically seen with deluxe spirits or wines).

Beer seldom gets a look in when choosing gifts because of the common misconception that it could never be considered “fine.” Here, both the presentation and the beer’s rewardingly complex character proudly state otherwise. What's more, it's the sort of beer that can be cellared to develop over time like a fine wine. That being said, as the nights grow colder and the desire for a decadent winter warmer takes hold, good luck being that patient...


So, there's six of Graham's winter picks; others on his long list included Coopers' Vintage, Stone & Wood's Stone Beer, La Sirene's Praline, Moon Dog's Ogden Nash's Pash Rash and 3 Ravens' English Ale. What are yours?

You can find Graham's writing and thoughts at his blog, Blind Taste Test.

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