Review Date 10/27/2000 Last Updated: 12/21/2016
to look a lot like Christmas. Here it is not even Halloween, and I spied
three winter seasonal beers at the liquor store yesterday. One of the three
was Harpoon Winter Warmer, and though it has arrived a little early, it just
wouldn’t be Christmas for me without this beer. It is one of the brewery’s
best selling varieties, and it has been a staple in my beer fridge for the
past ten Christmases. Indeed, the first year I sampled this brew was in 1990
(I still have the bottle with the year on the neck). At the time, it was
quite the novelty. A beer with spices added? What an odd notion (unless you
happen to live in Belgium, of course). This may very well be one of the
first, if not the first domestic spiced holiday ale.
Of course, I loved it right from the first sip. It’s a slice of pie in a glass, a cup of good cheer, a damned fine beer. The six-pack I purchased yesterday was bottled on October 18th! That means it went from brewery to distributor to retailer to Bruguru in less than 10 days! Amazing indeed, but given Harpoon’s incredible success perhaps it should not be.
Harpoon holds a Christmas party at the brewery each year, at which plenty of Winter Warmer is poured. Some of the proceeds from the event go to benefit local charity. This year, the event will be held December 1st and 2nd. Live bands will be featured and there will be food. If you live near Boston, this is a great event to attend.
The beer pours to a dark amber color with a thick, vibrant head formation and a wonderfully spicy nose. The palate is firm with malt, chewy and rich, slightly buttery like the crust of a pie. The spices soon take over and dominate however, cinnamon and nutmeg and lots of it. They carry the beer right into the finish where I don’t get much in the way of hops other than to balance the beer. I’m thinking liquid Christmas tree here.
But wait. There’s more. Though this beer is called a “Winter Warmer”, it is not one by the classic English definition of the term. A true winter warmer would approach a barleywine in strength and flavor. This beer surely does not. No, to paraphrase our good friend Ebenezer Scrooge, “There’s more wassail than winter warmer to you”. Wassail is ale served with a stick of cinnamon, nutmeg, perhaps some orange or other spices. It’s also served hot. That being the case, I microwaved a bit of my Harpoon Winter Warmer. The results? The spices, oddly enough, are a bit less apparent when the beer is served hot. The finish becomes rather salty to my taste. I think I prefer this beer cold, but if I had just come in from a raging snowstorm, the beer would be most welcome served this way.
Cold or hot, Harpoon Winter Warmer is a perfect match for pumpkin, mince or squash pie, fruitcake, or a Christmas Stollen.
Update December 15, 2001: This year Harpoon Winter Warmer is a bit more mince-pie like than in past years. A tad fruity, smooth and malty, form bodied, with a clean balanced finish and pronounced spice. I sipped this winter favorite in Georgia this year, but it's still as good as it ever was.
Update September 20, 2012: No, Harpoon Winter Warmer has not yet hit store shelves here in 2012. Instead, I'm sipping the last of my 2011 supply, and it's very tasty indeed. Priced about average these days, I should add, at $8.49 a six-pack. Since my last update I've enjoyed it in bottles and on tap at Taco Mac. Then as now, the beer is like a slice of mince pie in a glass, as wonderful as it ever was. Bursting with dark fruity raisin and spicy cinnamon and nutmeg with a hint of butter acting with the biscuity malt to form the crust. A true delight, and one I'll be looking for again this holiday season. Should the world end on December 21st, I'll have a glass of Harpoon Winter Warmer in hand when it does.
Update December 21, 2016: Harpoon Winter Warmer may have a new label, but the beer is still the same wonderful treat we've come to know and love. A tasty amber ale bursting with robust cinnamon and nutmeg notes, it's hard not to feel festive with a glass of this treat in hand. A steal at $8.99 for the six-pack I picked up this year.
From my bottle label:
A touch of cinnamon and nutmeg gives this full-bodied ale its festive flavor. Fitting for a season steeped in tradition, this classic winter ale is ready for revelry.
'Tis not the first snow that falls or the first holiday song. 'Tis that seasonal aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg drifting from the brewhouse that heralds this season of tradition, wonder, and the overuse of "'Tis".
We've been brewing Harpoon Winter Warmer since 1988.
This is our holiday tradition.
And indeed, I've been drinking this tradition since 1988 myself.
My bottle also tells me the beer has 23 IBUs and is best by 2/15/17, though I have as you can see from above have enjoyed over a year old and it was delicious. I've been drinking this since it was first brewed in 1988. One of my favorite beers in the world!
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.