3.8AROMA 7/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 7/10 PALATE 5/5 OVERALL 15/20
We American craft beer drinkers are a spoiled lot. We want our beers to be intense regardless of style. This makes it difficult to appreciate the European brews that are complex but mild like Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale. This is a beer that has the intricacy of a Trappist brew as well as the smooth drinkability of a traditional English mild. Those are two traits that make for a really good beer.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
Most winter warmers tend to be very dark in appearance, but Winter Welcome Ale more closely resembles an India Pale Ale as it pours to a bright orange, crystal-clear color. It’s highly carbonated and produces a two-finger, white, fizzy head (which dissolves but leaves some lacing on the glass). The aroma is fairly mild although it hints at malty sweetness. I seemed to detect a butterscotch-like scent, but nothing overly-sugar or candy-like.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, but what I got didn’t really surprise me that much. It’s a palate I would honestly describe as sweet, but in that richer, maltier way not unlike a bock. There’s notes of toffee, caramel, butterscotch and bread – all of which are individually distinguishable.
There is a slight hop bitterness in the finish which gives the beer a somewhat dry aftertaste. A few wintry spices such as coriander and orange peel might also be present, but none that make the beer tear up the palate. I’m actually quite amazed that this beer is able to be so full of flavor and yet so mild. The balance is also impressive since the rich malty sweetness is enjoyable, but the hop bitterness reminds you that it is indeed an authentic brew and nothing gimmicky.
As I said previously, this beer has the complexity of a Trappist brew in that you’re constantly tasting something different with each swig (the overall flavor is very different, however). But unlike those effervescent beers, Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome still maintains the smooth finish you expect out of a British session brew.
This ale is actually quite heavy and thick in the mouth, but drinks like something much lighter. The aftertaste, while bitter, is also mild enough to tolerate. At 6% ABV this would seem to be a heavy beer, but the alcohol is not an issue at all. Winter Welcome Ale could be sessioned easily or paired with a hearty meal.
I think American beer geeks like me need to occasionally step back and try more “old school” beers like Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale. This beer shows that you can have plenty of flavor without trying so hard.