Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale is one of those beers that I’ve seen on the shelves year after year, but never got around to buying for some reason or another. Honestly, I think it was always the label. I know that sounds stupid, but the label scores high on my goofy-meter for some reason. Last year, I think they had a picture of Shakespeare in there someplace, while the 2010-2011 Winter Welcome features some English nerds on a toboggan.
So, knowing Samuel Smith is very capable of making great beers, (like the Taddy Porter and Oatmeal Stout) I put my critical eye away and bought the 550ML bottle to try as we close out 2010 and prepare to welcome 2011. It just can’t be a bad beer of its from Sam Smith! Can it?
This beer is considered a “Winter Warmer”, which is a style of beer that seems to be malty, sometimes spicy, and are typically enjoyed during the Winter months of the year. (Really?) Recently, I had the Samuel Adams ‘Old Fezziwig Ale’ which is an American version of the Winter Warmer, so I might bounce some comparisons between the two Sammy beers if it helps.
The Sam Smith Winter Welcome checks in at a respectable 6% ABV which would certainly help warm most bodies on colder Winter nights. As you can see from the picture, it pours an almost clear coppery color, just short of brown I think. The head is dense and holds some good retention as I’ve found with other Sam Smith beers.
The aroma is comparatively more subdued as compared to the American Old Fezziwig Ale. After letting the beer warm up a bit, I’m getting mostly a malty aroma, some sweetness like caramel, some bread action, and some very, very faint fruit. I’m going to say sour apple here. Its certainly not unpleasant, but I don’t find it all that interesting either. What I do find interesting is that both the Old Fezziwig Ale and the Winter Welcome from Sam Smith use Fuggle and Golding hops which I suppose makes sense, but the similarities seem to end there.
Getting on to the taste. I guess its easier to start where I left off with the aroma. The Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome is not an unpleasant-tasting beer, its just not that interesting either. Much like the aroma, this beer is mostly malty flavors, and sure I’m getting that bready taste and even the sour apple again – especially as it warms more. As I’m drinking it, I’m finding that some caramel sneaks in along with other light-fruity sweetness and even some nutty flavors. None of the flavors are over the top, and there’s just the right amount of bitterness to keep things balanced.
Like the other Sam Smith beers I’ve tired, this beer is supremely smooth and highly drinkable. Again, at 6% ABV, this beer is no booze slouch, but the alcohol flavors don’t take center stage in the taste at all. You certainly feel the warmth, but the alcohol flavors play nicely with the other good stuff.
So, what do I think of the 2010-2011 Winter Welcome Ale? I think its a very good beer, but not at the level of the other Sam Smith beers I’ve had, and not as good as the Sam Adams Old Fezziwig Ale either. That said, if it were to be judged in a vacuum, I’d say it was a highly enjoyable beer. Its not challenging really, and I don’t think anyone who enjoys beer would hate it – or love it. Its nice and smooth, and would do the trick on a cold night, especially with some friends.
Great beer? No. Good beer? Definitely. I’m glad put my aversion to the label aside and got to try it, but I don’t think Winter Welcome Ale will make it on to my ‘must have’ beer list for the Winter seasons.
What about you? Did you like the Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale? What’s your favorite Winter Warmer? Do tell!