Saturday, January 9, 2010


Changing a beer's recipe each year is an awful idea. Changing a beer's recipe each year is a great idea. Huh? Let me explain. There are a handful of breweries out there who like to take a seasonal offering and tweak it slightly, or in some cases more than slightly each year. One of those breweries is Stoudt's Brewing Company out of Adamston, PA. They use their Stoudts Winter Ale to throw you a curve ball every holiday season. Some years the changes seem subtle...sometimes it's a completely different style altogether.

The good? A new beer hits the market each season so the brewers get to experiment more and give drinkers something new to try. The bad? Year to year changes often mean a once-and-done life span for certain beers. For instance, the Stoudts Winter Ale from back in the 2006-07 range (I can't remember the exact year) was an incredible Porter-esque ale, with rugged malty notes, lots of chocolate/cocoa and a nutty vibe to it. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but of course when the next release was rolled out the beer had changed. Was this next release better than the previous year's? Well, that's kind of subjective. I could have personally loved the previous year's and hated the release from the current year, and someone else could have been the exact opposite. And therein lies the problem with the constant change. You'll never be able to please everyone. Granted, you'll never be able to please everyone anyway, but at least when you stick to the same beer/recipe, it is what it is. You either like it or you don't and you move forward from there. Changing things up intentionally just begs for criticism and complaints...yet it has to be admired at the same time as the brewery has certain recipes that are constantly evolving into something else. And so it goes...

So, on we move to the 2009-10 version of the Stoudts Winter Ale. This year they've given us what seems to be a slightly spiced Amber/Red/Winter Warmer type hybrid, and while I can't say that it was bad in any way, shape or form, my problem with it was twofold. First, it's not the beer I fell in love with a few years ago. Undeserving criticism for sure, but those are the pitfalls as discussed above. Second, it's just too run of the mill, which is surprising from Stoudt's. I sort of sometimes see them as an East Coast counterpart to Sierra Nevada. They don't take huge risks (most of the time..although that seems to be changing recently for Sierra), yet consistently produce solid, flavorful beers that are usually very much to style but very quaffable. This time around we've got a caramel, buttery, fairly sweet aroma and flavor to match that hits the mark for the style, but doesn't grab a hold of you. The dry, bread-like finish was nice indeed and what appears to be a subtle mix of spice in each sip gives this one a bit of an edge, but still, I just couldn't get into it. The thin mouth feel doesn't help as I'd prefer a heartier body for the winter months. This beer is just sort of there. You don't mind it, but it doesn't set itself apart from the rest of the options thrown at you each winter season.

Oh, well. I certainly won't try to sway you from this beer as again, there's nothing glaring that's wrong here, and many others may very much enjoy this one. It just wasn't for me.

Hopback, Beer, Stoudts, Winter Ale, Pennsylvania