Basking in Lancaster's Warmth

Lancaster? Warm? This time of year? No, not the actual city, I assure you that it’s quite cold and snow-covered there. However, the great craft brewery in that the city smack dab in the middle of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country is currently sharing a bit of warmth with all willing to imbibe in this great English style Old Ale.

First, a short lesson in beer. What is an Old Ale? wikipedia defines Old Ale as:

Old ale is a term commonly applied to dark, malty beers in England, usually above 5% abv, often also called Winter Warmers; also to dark ales of any strength in Australia. Sometimes associated with stock ale or, archaically, keeping ale, in which the beer is held at the brewery. American brewed old ales will tend to be of a barley wine strength.

Beer Advocate expands on this:

Rich dark amber in color to a very dark brown; near black. Tamed aromatics. Although bittering levels can greatly vary, expect common fruity, vinous, intense malts and sharp alcohol characteristics. The often racy but mellow attitude of the beer may also include acidic notes, raisins and black currants. Vintage varieties may have a low level of oxidation. Stronger versions may have similarities to a port wine. Brewers may also inoculate a portion of the batch with Brettanomyces lambicus and age for an extended period of time to achieve an old-school acidic character.

In layman’s terms, an Old Ale is a dark, malty, English style strong ale, usually in the 5-8% alcohol range. It’s usaully heavy and strong. A Winter Warmer is an associated style, Beer Advocate says:

These malty sweet offerings tend to be a favorite winter seasonal. Big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon.

Many English versions contain no spices, though some brewers of spiced winter seasonal ales will slap “Winter Warmer” on the label. Those that are spiced, tend to follow the “wassail” tradition of blending robust ales with mixed spices, before hops became the chief “spice” in beer. American varieties many have a larger presences of hops both in bitterness and flavor.

Now that you are in the know, I present to you Lancaster Brewing Company’s Winter Warmer


Dark, though not quite black (just a little bit of light sneaks through, but not much). Pours with a foamy head. Slightly oily, leaving some residue on side of pint glass.


I read someone’s review of this beer when they stated that there wasn’t much aroma. I scoff at that. The aroma is big and beautiful. There is no real trace of hops, as the malt is the big player here. Chocolate malt jumps up into your nose, followed by hints of spice and a faint alcohol odor. Big and beautiful, as I said.


Like the aroma, the flavor is big. The first sip hits you upside the head with a bittersweet dark chocolate-like flavor, paired with a nice touch of body warming alcohol. In terms that the nerd in me can relate to, the dark chocolate flavor is the Batman here and the alcohol kick is the Robin. There is not a lot of sweetness here, as the flavor is akin to that of a heavy dry wine. As noted by Beer Advocate, the stronger Old Ales can have many similarities to a port wine.


This beer is chewy, but not as heavy as one may first assume. It’s dry throughout, with a very dry finish. Overall, this ale feels very English in your mouth (if that makes sense to anyone other than me). Think of it, as far as mouthfeel goes, like a dry barleywine.


Not a session ale by any means, but if you want a pint to warm you up on a cold night, this is it! Heavy in all the right ways, but not too heavy that it is sickening or hard to finish (like some heavy imperial stouts can be).


~ by thepaintedman on December 23, 2009.

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