Winter beverages that warm us from the inside out are one of the hottest draws for restaurants. From the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest, restaurants will be brewing up excitement with seasonal craft beers and cocktails that warm not only through the alcohol in them, but also through the warm temperature at which they’re served.
According to market research company SymphonyIRI Group of Chicago, seasonal ales account for 18 percent of craft beer’s dollar sales—the largest category. And research from the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado, shows that the bulk of seasonal craft beers appear in the winter.
Winter beers are popular because they bring feelings of nostalgia, says Marty Kotis, owner of Darryl’s Wood Fired Grill in Greensboro, North Carolina. “They trigger an emotional response,” he explains. “People are also looking for the spices they’d find in a fruit cake around the holidays, as well as something heartier.”
Styles to watch for during winter are porters, stouts, dark ales, and barley wines. And most winter beers are hearty, higher in alcohol, thick, and warming. Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, says winter ales “are often spiced beers that bring to mind a fruit cake or the like. And they tie very well into the season, including flavors that are in foods at that time of year.”
Kotis serves Cold Mountain Winter Ale, a spiced brown ale from Highland Brewing Co. in Asheville, North Carolina. He also pours Bell’s Christmas Ale
during these months, as well as Scotch ales and bourbon barrel–aged ales. He serves them from December through March on tap, and usually devotes three or four of his 20 taps to wintry beers. He also has eight to 10 bottled winter beers that are a mixture of local, national, and imported brands.