The impression I get is that this is the 2 Below replacement, and that 2 Below is now a thing of the past (or possibly also the future, but at least not of the moment). What I’m saying is that I’ll be curious to know what 2 Below fans think of this beer.
Name: Snow Day Winter Ale
Origin: New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO
Style: Winter Ale/American Black Ale
I drank this: poured from bottle into glass while glaring at the television because I was stupid enough to have turned on the news. (Newsflash: the US Congress is kinda stupid.)
The first impression I had of this beer was a combination of “oooh, dark!” followed by “oooh, hops!” followed by “that combination can go dreadfully wrong.” That said, this isn’t my favorite hoppy dark ale – that honor typically belongs to whatever iteration of Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale I’m able to get my grubby mitts on at the time – but it isn’t an off-balance mess, either.
Smell-wise, there’s a bitter hop top note – like a really yellow grapefruit rind that’s been mushed together with some grass (really pungent, but nicer than I’m probably making it sound) – floating over a mix of caramel, chocolate, toasted malt, and something slightly nutty. It reminds me slightly of a citrusy, salty caramel.
This beer is medium-bodied, fairly low in carbonation and an odd-but-nice combination of soft and sharp in mouthfeel. The hoppiness partially comes across as really biting, hence the sharp; there’s also an almost blanket-like feeling to the malt backbone of the beer, hence the soft. The flavors fall into the same sort of pattern. The hops are exactly what I was expecting based on the smell, all sharp and brightly, pungently grassy, whereas the malts are softer, all nutty caramel, bitter chocolate and toffee notes. The hops dominate the malts for the most part, and linger on for a few moments in the aftertaste.
Overall, this is a totally drinkable, probably sessionable beer (pending you’re watching the alcohol content – this is admittedly a bit high for most session beers). Compared to something like the Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous, this is a fairly quiet beer – it’s not going to overwhelm you with anything, but it’s balanced and tasty.
As a replacement for 2 Below, I’ve mixed feelings. 2 Below was one of my holiday favorites for years, but I wasn’t as into it last year. I don’t know if it was the batch I had being a bit off, the draft lines being in need of a good cleaning (which was kind of what I was guessing), or if my palate had changed enough that I just flat wasn’t as into it. I have enough fond memories, however, to be sad to see it gone.
I can’t say I’m overwhelmed, but I’m not underwhelmed, either. Meaning, I suppose, that I’m whelmed. I have high expectations when it comes to New Belgium. They’ve met expectations. We’re good here. I’d love to know what you think if you’ve had one.