For the beer lover who rarely gets to drink, a snowed-in weekend day is the perfect excuse.

You don’t have work and you’re not driving anywhere. Why not crack open a bottle or two with a loved one, sit by a window and watch the snow pile up?

With winter comes some of the heaviest, strongest beers available. Brewers in the British and German traditions break out sweeter, maltier beers that go well with the heartier food served seasonally.

The No. 1 rule for a good winter beer?

“It’s got to be strong,” says Jay VanHerzeele, brewer at the Gritty McDuff’s Auburn pub. And it needs a good body to carry the extra alcohol without tasting boozy.

With all the British-inspired brewers in Maine, that means spicy winter warmers like Shipyard’s Prelude and big, malty Scottish-style ales like the one offered at Gritty’s.

Scottish brewers created several ale styles, but in America the term “Scottish ale” generally means a beer dominated by malted barley flavors. Sometimes the brewer uses malt that was toasted a bit before brewing, but more often they boil the liquor for two-to-three hours before fermentation to caramelize fermentable sugars and end with a sweeter beer. Hops are often hard to detect and are added only for preservation and to keep the malt sweetness from becoming cloying.

Gritty’s Scottish Ale is pretty balanced for the style, with less sweetness than many Scottish ales and a bit more hop presence. Very drinkable in a bottle or on tap. They’re one of the few breweries I know of to use German Munich malts in a Scottish ale, giving it a nutty complexity you don’t often find in the style.

Sunday River Brewing is offering a Scottish-style soon as well. Brewmaster Stewart Mason said he hand-toasted some of the malt in the brewery’s kitchen to add more unfermentable sugar to the brew. It should be available in about a week, Mason said. For Mason, winter beer means “deep, dark beers.” Mason ought to know: Brewing next to a ski resort means he sells most of his beer when it’s snowy out.

Great but harder to find is Shipyard’s Longfellow Winter Ale, a darker, stout-like Scottish ale.

But for my money, the best cold-weather beer is a German doppelbock. Strong and malty at around 7 percent alcohol by volume, it also has the best origin story in brewing. Paulander monks in Germany had to fast for the whole of Advent and Lent, meaning they couldn’t eat solid food for about 10 weeks of the year. Fortunately, these monks were brewers and found a way to get their nutrients for those long, hungry weeks.

Anyone who calls Guinness “a meal in a bottle” has never tried a doppelbock like Ayinger Celebrator. Every bottle is like drinking a loaf of fresh wheat bread. If that sounds filling, consider that it’s almost 7 percent alcohol by volume.

Its flavor is big enough to handle gamey foods like venison and even moose, so if you’re lucky enough to have some game in the freezer, a six-pack of doppelbock is a must-have.

Locally brewed doppelbocks are harder to come by. Marshall Wharf in Belfast has one on now, but they don’t bottle. The only way to get it is on tap or to bring it home in a growler.

In 2008, early-season skiers stopping into Sunday River brewery could try a Mason’s “Welcome Bock.” This year he started the season with stout instead.

Whatever winter style you chose, let it snow. There’s no better time to treat yourself to a hearty meal and a strong beer. But remember: If you wait until the next time the white stuff flies, it’ll already be too late to make a beer run. Stock up now, or call a taxi and let someone else drive you to the bar. You can worry about digging out your driveway on Monday morning.

Note: Most of the beers mentioned in this story can be found at better beer and liquor sellers, but beer is always fresher and tastier on tap.

Sure, strong beers are nice, but if you’ve just come in from shoveling or snowblowing the driveway, a cold beer — no matter how tasty and strong — probably isn’t the first thing on your mind.

Mulled hard cider, or even mulled beer, is amazing on a cold winter night. Spiced winter warmer beers like Shipyard Prelude or Samuel Smith Winter Welcome can be heated without much addition, but heating up a Scottish ale and adding cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg works, too.

I spoke to Daniel Tanguay, the “son” from Lewiston’s Tanguay and Son winery, who has a holiday recipe using his own cider that, he says, his guests rave about.

Tanguay & Son Mulled Cider:

1 bottle of Hard Frost Cider
2 ounces of good vodka (optional)
1 cinnamon stick or 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Blend all ingredients in a 2-quart pot, heat on medium-low stirring occasionally until it reaches 165 degrees. Strain through a coffee filter if desired or ladle into mugs and enjoy. Perfect for after digging out from a snow storm or as a nice treat to serve when entertaining guests on a cold Maine winter day.


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