Sunday, November 8, 2009

AC Golden Winterfest review

AC Golden WinterfestI recently had the opportunity to taste some beer that was provided to me in a promotional pack. The brewers over at the AC Golden Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado wanted me to try one of their winter seasonal beers. In this case it was a beer that I hadn't seen in a long time but is now coming out again only from a slightly different brewery. I'm talking about AC Golden's Winterfest. For those of you who live in Colorado, you may be saying, "Winterfest? Isn't that the old Coors brew?". The answer is both Yes and No.

Yes, it is the same name as the old Coors Winterfest that used to grace the shelves of our liquor stores in years past. I have some distant memories of having family gatherings in the winter drinking this beer. And No, it's not your father's Winterfest. The recipe itself has been passed down from Coors to the AC Golden Brewing Company but as they told me, the recipe tended to change each year that they made this beer. Now, it's in the hands of AC Golden Brewing Company and it's brewer: Steve Fletcher and president Glenn Knippenberg.

For those of you not familiar with AC Golden Brewing, they are a recent spin off from MillerCoors. According to Wikipedia: "AC Golden Brewing Company is a subsidiary of MillerCoors, a joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Company. Its purpose is to serve as a specialty brewing arm of MillerCoors, in the words of president Glenn Knippenberg, "Our mission for AC Golden is to be a brand incubator for what is now MillerCoors". The AC Golden Brewery operates in the former pilot brewery of the Coors Brewery, the world's largest single site brewery. It debuted its first beer, Herman Joseph's Private Reserve, in 2008."

Colorado only

OK, with that said, Winterfest is a beer only being sold in Colorado and was produced in a very limited run. So limited, that they hand numbered each bottle. There were apparently 85248 of the 12oz bottles produced. As you can see from my picture above, I got bottle 24346.

So here I sit, a die-hard craft beer drinker, faced with the task of trying to give an honest opinion of a beer from an offspring of a big macro beer company. I'll give it a go and try to toss out my preconceptions as I do it.

AC Golden's Winterfest is a lager based on the original Coors recipe only now refined a bit. It weighs in at 5.5% ABV and comes in at 175 calories. (I had to ask about the calories as it's not on the label). The beer was brewed in September 2009 and will be hitting the shelves in Colorado only in time for the holidays. There is an expiration date of March 01, 2010 on the bottle so you know it has a limited shelf life. The bottle itself is a twist-off, so you homebrewers are out of luck re-using this for your own brew.

Winterfest poured a reddish mahogany color that was clear, not hazy and with no apparent sediment. I put this brew into a globe glass etched for nucleation. The resulting light tan head built up to nearly 3 fingers tall and maintained itself for several minutes. When swirled, Winterfest left a very nice lacing on the glass.

Winterfest was made with Moravian 2-row barley, some caramel malt and a small amount of dark roasted malt. There were no spices added to this beer. What spiciness to be had from this beer came from the German Hallertau region hops that were added to this lager.

My beer was served cold, around 45 degrees or so. Why say this? Because later on it will have an impact on how it smelled and tasted. Served cold as it was, it was hard to pick out a lot of characteristics in the aroma. Winterfest had the smell of a typical lager at first. Not much spice from the hops and I couldn't pick up on the darker malts in the nose. This would change significantly as the beer warmed up.

Later on in my tasting session, the beer suddenly picked up a more spicier note and a I could pick up a bit of fruit or sweetness in the aroma. But served cold, the only thing I could initially pick up was a bit of lager-like malt and a bit of floral component. I suggest you let this beer warm up to 50-55 degrees first before sampling.

Winterfest had a light bodied mouthfeel that slightly coated the tongue and left a bit of a drying effect. For a winter holiday beer, I was almost expecting to taste a lot of spices in this beer, but no. They clearly state there is no spices in this beer. It was modest in its bitterness and must have a fairly low IBU rating.

OK but how's it taste?
As for the taste, I had two different experiences. First, when it was cold, I only got a hint of a dark roast taste from the caramel and dark malts. I expected something a bit more sweet but did not find it. The dark malts were hidden by the cold. It left me with almost a typical lager taste, and only slightly heavier than a pilsner.

If it wasn't labeled as a winter holiday beer I'd swear that if I wasn't looking at it that I was drinking a typical macro lager. This beer seems modestly sessionable and I could have no problem drinking 2 or 3 of these in a setting.

However, as the beer warmed up a bit, I was very surprised to find that the taste started changing a bit for the better. It took a good 15-20 minutes in the glass before the sweetness of the malts started coming through. The aroma also shifted to reveal a bit more spice from the hop as well as a fruitier component.

If I had been like my old college days self, I may have drank this beer too quickly and would have missed out on the flavor that came out later. I supposed taking my time and writing down notes slowed my pace down quite a bit and its a good thing.

And the verdict?
I was ready to pass this beer off as just another darker colored lager but at the right temperature, the flavor finally showed itself. Word of warning though, there is a narrow temperature range that this beer really tastes good at. Several minutes later as the beer warmed up even further, it lost much of it's flavor.

Overall, I had a hard time grading this beer. Winterfest starts out average but ends up a bit above that. It did remind me of the old Coors Winterfest a bit but slightly different.

I believe that local restaurants will enjoy serving this beer as I feel it would go well with just about any American style food: burgers, pasta, pizza or an assortment of moderately sharp cheeses.

I have 5 more bottles left from the complimentary 6-pack that I was sent and will have no problem finishing them off the rest of this week. Please note, I am NOT being paid to review this beer but felt obligated to give this beer an honest review in exchange for the free sampling.

Winterfest isn't an outstanding beer but I think it was meant not to be the focal point of a winter evening but rather as a subtle compliment to holiday meals and gatherings. It would make a better choice than a macro lager for apr├Ęs-ski time.

Related articles:
- A sinfully delicious list of Colorado winter seasonals.
- November marks the return of Alaskan Smoked Porter.
- Widmer Brothers Brrr Seasonal Ale review.

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