This past weekend, in the middle of another winter storm, I bumped into a reader at the grocery store and had a great discussion about winter beers. She pointed out that both she and her spouse drank their beer with an eye to the temperature outside. Nice and cold in the summer. Cellar temp in spring and fall. Room temperature or even warm in the dead of winter. Not a bad idea - and certainly nothing new. I sure don't keep my beer in the fridge at this time of year, but I also buy my beer thoughtfully and mindfully. Poor quality beer is probably going to taste pretty ...yuck ...if it's not chilled. She suggested I revisit the idea of mulling beer and ale, (specifically ale.) She was interested in a previous column because it had a recipe she had failed to snip out and save. This time of year offers a fine opportunity to whip out new and old recipes for such winter season goodies as mulled wine, mulled cider, and a wide range of spiced and more lively, zesty spirits. It is a wonderful time to try something a bit new when it comes to beer as well. Included in the lengthy list of beer types that are considered and judged in various competitions around the state, nation, and globe is a category called "Herbed\/Spiced Beer." According to Beer Advocate: "This style takes on a beer that is specially herbed and or spiced. This is anything from the common spiced Fall Pumpkin beer, to Christmas beers with nutmeg and cinnamon, to ginger beers to heather ales." Some brewers will throw just about anything into the brew kettle; hot peppers, hemp, ginseng or spruce needles - anything to seem creative. The more responsible brewers, however, are out there turning out some spectacular stuff especially in tune with the winter season. And then, there are things you can do on your own. There are some simple recipes for mulled, or spiced ale, and there are some that are waaaaaay more complicated. Let's stick with the simpler ideas. I tried the first recipe last winter using Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark - which actually isn't an ale, but rather a European style dark lager. It worked just as well as with an ale. You might prefer something like a Bellaire Brown, (by Shorts), or Indian Brown Ale, by Dogfish Head. Give it a try on a snappy winter eve, when the wind moans outside. MULLED ALE Ingredients 3 bottles brown ale 1 Cinnamon stick 1\/2 tsp Ground Cloves 1\/2 tsp Ground Nutmeg 1 Star Anise Pod (Optional, 'cause this can be hard to find. Try Russo's in GR.) 1 tsp Ground Dried Ginger 1 Orange Rind 1 tbsp Honey 2 tbsp Rum Directions In a medium saucepan, heat beer with the spices, orange rind, honey and rum on low to medium-low, keeping below boiling point. Pour into your favorite mug, serve and enjoy the warm spicy beery goodness. It's that simple. I think we took this recipe off a site called The Beer Chicks, which offers up some good reading. In the Old World, there was a long tradition of warmed beers including not only mulled beer or ale, but also flip which was a blend of beer, rum, and sugar. There was also wassail, which was a hot, mulled cider, (usually a hard cider), and others. It really is a great time for trying out something new with both lagers and ales. Don't be shy. Old Man Winter Ale Southern Tier Brewing Co. Lakewood, N.Y. Old Man, (as with some of us 'old men'), is dark, somewhat brooding, and ever so dignified. It pour a rich. crisp darker amber. Almost a Victorian mahogany in color. There was virtually no head at all, and I think what head did develop was more a result of overly enthusiastic pouring than natural formation. It is easy to sniff a dry malty aroma from the outset. There is a well-defined earthiness to this brew, with muted tones of spiciness (pepper?) and a background hint of the more herbal elements. There is just enough of a citrus\/orange smell, and just enough floral tones to keep this well balanced - and mildly exotic. I was a touch surprised that for being an Old Ale, this Southern Tier offering was quietly hops forward. That's OK by me, since the finish was certainly malty. The citrus scents felt early on translated to goodly sparks of hoppy goodness - enough hoppiness to keep a potentially stodgy ale fired up with a sense of adventure. The balance is wonderful. The flavor is whole-hearted and demonstrative. Old Man is just a touch heavy with just enough fizz. There is just a hint of boozy muscle. Old Man is a little stronger than many brews on the shelves, (7 percent ABV.) This is good stuff, explorers. Don't pass it up. It will tickle both IPA lovers, and more malty sippers as well. Wells Banana Bread Beer Wells & Young's Ltd. Bedford, UK This is a beer that is sure to have it's lovers and haters. There probably won't be a middle ground in this instance. Wells pours a surprisingly clear light amber color. (For whatever reason, I suspected it would be darker.) There is just a thin whisper of head and very little lacing. Right off the bat, there is a pretty obvious smell of banana. That's no surprise - not if you read the label! The aroma of banana and banana bread sweetness is very, very apparent. There also is an almost candy-like tone to this brew. At first sip, I was expecting simply a blast of banana taste - following the nose. It wasn't necessarily so. Wells is much more subtle than that. This brew leans more toward the banana bread flavor than that of a fresh ripe banana. Not overly sweet. Not too much banana. A touch of nutty goodness and spiciness. The star of the show, however, was much more muted than I would have expected. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I am not a huge fan of most fruity beer concoctions on the market. This brew had a good mouth feel; was relatively creamy; and was pretty easy drinking. I might not hurry out to purchase another Banana Bread Beer, but I likely wouldn't turn one down if offered.