In July, I wrote about the best summer beers from Cayuga County's breweries.
Light, refreshing and often fruit-forward, summer beers are the kind you want in your cooler when you're at a music festival or a backyard barbecue.
Winter beers really aren't any of those things. Dark, boozy and often dessert-like, they're the kind you want in your refrigerator in case you're snowed in.
Here are the best winter beers from Cayuga County's breweries:
Aurora Ale & Lager Co.
I've only had Mark Grimaldi and Joe Shelton's The STZA imperial stout once or twice, but it certainly fit the bill for a winter beer with its heavy body and roasty flavor. The King Ferry brewery is now pouring a version of The STZA that was aged in rye whiskey barrels, and the extra booze can only help warm you up. Speaking of which, Aurora Ale & Lager Co. also has on tap a rye whiskey barrel-aged version of its Chief Rocker, a Belgian quad, which typically has more raisin and brown sugar character than a stout. Either way, at 10-percent ABV each, Aurora has you covered this winter.
In 2007, there were just over 1,500 breweries in America. In 2017, that number passed 6,000.
The Good Shepherds Brewing Co.
Garrett Shepherd's Scotch ale, a sweet, boozy style that hits the high single digits in ABV, is another source of liquid warmth. It's also rare for the downtown Auburn brewery not to have some type of heavy-hitting stout or porter on tap: One of my favorites is Shepherd's Imperial Chocolate Stout, which more than delivers on the fudgy promise of its name.
Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Co.
The Weedsport brewery has been making its Peanut Butter Habañero Brown something of a flagship, and deservedly so. Its savory mixture of peppery heat and robust peanut butter makes the beer taste much bigger than its 5.5-percent ABV. For the spice-averse, brewers Derric and Kristen Slocum also have a non-habañero version of the brown ale, as well as Russian Not So Imperial Stout, which comes in at 6.5 percent ABV and will return to the brewery soon. A new milk stout that was on nitro returns to the taps this weekend, with 16-ounce cans available. And a winter pomegranate Berliner weisse is coming soon.
Prison City Pub & Brewery
Feb. 11, the downtown Auburn brewpub held its first bottle release. And the beer inside those first bottles was more than deserving of the honor: Wham Whams, an imperial stout aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels for six months and conditioned on toasted coconut and Madagascar vanilla beans. It basically tastes like a Mounds bar lightly soaked in bourbon, and it may be the best beer brewer Ben Maeso has ever made (which covers a lot of ground, surely). Also, as of Feb. 14, Dawn and Marc Schulz's brewpub is serving its buzzed-about brown ale brewed with 50 boxes of Cocoa Puffs, Puff Puff Shiv. The cereal flavor in the beer evokes snow day mornings — so if you feel a strange urge to go sledding after having a glass, that's why.
What's on tap
• Aurora is flying through it's New England IPA, Fresh to Death, "like wildfire," they said. They have a new beer in that style coming out this weekend, double dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc and Nelson Sauvin. That release follows three recent ones: Marvin Berry raspberry Berliner weisse with local raspberries and the two barrel-aged monsters mentioned above. On deck are a dry-hopped pilsner and two new IPAs, one a double dry-hopped imperial IPA and the other a reincarnated version of flagship The Ruckus. The King Ferry brewery also took part in a tap takeover at The Fish Friar in Syracuse Saturday alongside Prison City.
• Lunkenheimer released a blood orange Kölsch this weekend at the CNY Brewfest at the state fairgrounds, where it was "a huge hit" and kicked before the day was done. While supplies last, 16-ounce cans of the beer are available at the brewery. Another batch will be brewed shortly.
• Prison City's aforementioned bottle release of Wham Whams also included the brewpub's first 16-ounce can release: Bug Juice, a collaboration between Prison City and Oceanside-based Barrier Brewing. The IPA, which is double dry-hopped and includes lactose, was named by HopCulture as one of the best beers at Beer Advocate's Extreme Beer Fest in Boston earlier this month. The brewpub's flagship Mass Riot will return Feb. 24; 180 Crowlers will be released and there will be a two-per-person limit. On deck is the return of the award-winning Straight Outta LoCash porter (another fine winter beer) and Bleek Worden Belgian pale ale, as well as a new IPA made with hops from Chimney Bluffs Hoppery, of Wolcott. Beer lunches are scheduled for March 11 (Left Hand Brewing) and April 22 (Bissell Brothers), both from 2 to 4 p.m. (details to follow on Prison City's Facebook page). And in late March, Prison City will work with IronHeart Canning to release 16-ounce cans of Mass Riot and 4 Piece Pale Ale. "With our previous expansion we have been able to lift restrictions on Crowler sales and almost all of our beers are now available to go," co-owner Marc Schulz said. Meanwhile, he added, Prison City has identified several locations for its next expansion, but is still scouting more properties.