While coffee shops don’t turn to caffeine-fortified beans in the cooler months, part of the appeal of visiting your local brewery in winter is the more substantial beers. “They get stronger and heartier and fuller-tasting,” said Mark Burford, brewmaster and owner at Blue Point Brewing Company in Patchogue.
Consider the silky, thick Oatmeal Stout or the Winter Ale, an amber ale made with a touch of chocolate malt to help chase away the chill. Burford’s customers literally come in from the cold, as the outdoor section of the tasting room, open Thursday through Saturday, closes. The greater density of people partly explains the warm, fuzzy feeling. Another winter favorite, Old Howling Bastard, a malty, caramely barleywine named after an infamous local character, delivers a cavity-warming 10 percent alcohol content, nearly twice that of the average beer. “When people are hibernating, they seem to be happy with that,” said Burford. (Regulars enjoy Old Howling Bastard in a snifter or wineglass—and in moderation.)
At the Publick House Brewery in Southampton, this seasonal variation plays out in darker and spicier offerings. There’s the French Country Christmas Ale (a deceptively strong amber that one fan called “a fantastic party on the tongue”), the slightly sweet and almondy Nut Brown ale, the smooth, chocolaty Imperial Porter, and the Old Willy Winter Warmer, a classic British dark beer with a great bitter bite and higher than normal alcohol content. Both of these Island breweries counter the falloff of tourist flows with festivals and charitable events. Blue Point holds its annual Cask Ale Festival on January 27—in that apparently lonesome period between the N.F.L. playoffs and the superbowl. Attendees can try cask ales—impressively tasty, traditional ales that have little carbonation and are served closer to room temperature—from around the Northeast and even drink out of the world’s largest cask. In February, the Publick House hosts the 10th Annual Love Life Lingerie Fashion Show to benefit the South Fork Breast Health Coalition, as well as additional musical, sports, and theme dining offerings to keep the community, and customer base, interested. “Our building really lends itself to the off-season,” said Don Sullivan, owner of the Publick House. Originally an inn and speakeasy, the wooden house has two fireplaces and a collection of small, intimate rooms. “It’s a great place to see your neighbor, the person you bump into in the post office sort of thing.”