It gets dark early in the wintertime, so before you know it, it's time for a beer or two. Winter beers are generally defined by something dark, rich and warm — stouts, bocks, and porters are a natural fit here, but so are lighter beers brewed differently than they may be otherwise. Luckily, Pittsburgh breweries provide no shortage of options. The local beer scene has all kinds of seasonal specials this time of year, from classics with a twist to entirely new styles of beer.
Pittsburgh City Paper has five local and statewide options to try this winter.
Mad Elf Ale
Tröegs Independent Brewing
Listen, I’m cheating right off the bat. Tröegs is not a Pittsburgh brewery , instead operating out of Hershey, Pa. But ask anyone what they think of when it comes to winter beers, and there’s a good chance Mad Elf is one of the first that comes to mind.
This classic is winter beer. A strong ale in name and spirit, as it clocks in at 11% ABV, Mad Elf has everything you’d want for this season, with chocolate malt, local honey, and Belgian yeast. Five different kinds of cherries round out the beer, and give it the feel of a festive and boozy dessert around a warm fire.
Aslin Beer Company
A new addition to the Pittsburgh scene in 2023, Aslin made their name nationally in part due to their willingness to try creative recipes pushing the boundaries of craft beer. A winter beer is right up their alley, and Tyson’s Grandma delivers.
A 6.5% IPA doesn’t necessarily sound like a beer worthy of making the list, until you check the adjuncts and see the pecan, cinnamon, maple, and vanilla that also go into the mix. The result is a beer where you can still definitely taste the hops that make it an IPA, while also getting a blast of winter spices that make it feel like a kitchen around the holidays. It all rounds into a beer that tastes like really nothing else in Pittsburgh right now.
One More Sleep Imperial Gingerbread Stout
Cinderlands Beer Co.
Sometimes, the description of the beer tells you almost all you need to know. This is an 8% stout brewed with ginger, cinnamon, graham cracker, vanilla bean, and milk sugar — aka gingerbread.
Stouts are a natural fit for a winter beer list, their roasty, rich qualities providing a perfect antidote to the cold weather outside. But One More Sleep is a particularly natural choice. “Rich” would be the operative word here, the gingerbread taste not overwhelming the dark chocolate notes that come with a well-brewed stout. This is a sweet beer without being cloying, and makes for a great nightcap.
St. Nikolaus Bock
I need to acknowledge a classic of winter beer, Penn’s St. Nikolaus Bock. A style dating back to the 14th century, bocks are essentially dark lagers, brewed to be malty, toasty, and warm. When done right, they give off a caramel, chocolate feel without being dark like stouts and porters generally are.
And Penn’s version is done well. One of the most well-known iterations of the style in the U.S., the St. Nikolaus Bock is malted with chocolate and caramel to give it a specific taste. Only available November through January, this 6.5% bock is a perfect treat for this time of year because of its ability to be rich in flavor while still feeling light.
We’ve covered some of the more traditional beer styles here — stouts, ales, IPAs. But if you want to seek out something more unique this season, stop by Allegheny City for Winter Solstice, a Cascadian Dark ale done in collaboration with Fermata, an Ambridge-based brewery.
Otherwise known as a Black IPA, a Cascadian Dark is defined by the pine-y, resinous qualities of a West Coast IPA mixed with the rich, smoky textures of a much darker beer. With Winter Solstice, Allegheny and Fermata take it a step further with spruce tips added to both the kettle and the fermenter. The result is an earthy and beautifully scented beer that mixes the warmth of the season with the hoppy qualities of a great IPA.