My press ticket for the Washington Brewers Guild's Winter Beer Festival, held Saturday in Seattle, allowed me one 3-ounce plastic cup and 10 tickets. Here's what I thought of the 30 ounces of ales, stouts and assorted winter warmers that I sampled:
Lakewood Ram's Big Bad John's Bourbon Brown. Medium bodied, 5% alcohol, aged four weeks in whiskey barrels. Effervescent vanilla notes up front, fleeting bourbon chaser at the end. Brewer Bill Smith said he's got four kegs left.
Lazy Boy's Mistletoe Bliss. 7.5%, a bigger brown ale. Orange and cinnamon hints. Astringent finish. First sip: Is that an IPA?
Tacoma Ram's Black Jack Winter Warmer. Pitch-black, 8.5% ABV. Rich malts big in the mouth. Apple pressings and cinnamon add to the thickness.
Diamond Knot's Industrial Ho! Ho! Woodsy and hoppy on the tongue. Thin, astringent finish. Didn't feel like 8.1% ABV.
Hale' Ales Wee Heavy. 7.2% ABV. Strong on nose and tongue. Warm and spicy on throat. Deep mahogany color and spicy, complex flavors.
Puyallup Ram's Sleigher. Bourbon-barrel aged strong ale only for festival only. 8.5% ABV. Undercurrent of whiskey sweetened, but didn't burn, the hops. Ram's in-house version of Sleigher contains a small amount of whiskey-aged ale.
Seattle Ram's Dawgsled. Slightly spicy, strong and malty. 7% ABV dark brown English strong ale. Complex and balanced.
Boundary Bay's Cabin Fever. Reddish strong ale. Rich and malty. Aged in oak four weeks. Big sweetness up front, subtle oaky finish.
Silver City's Imperial Stout. Big, black and complex, 9.5% ABV. Roasted malts strong, hops balanced.
Flyers's Sick Duck Imperial Stout. Aged four months. Big, dark beer. Tasted smaller than 10% ABV. Mellowed by oats in the malts.
I saved Sick Duck Imperial Stout for last and guessed right: It deliciously paired with fair-trade coconut curry chocolate, one of the flavored samples that Seattle chocolatier Theo Chocolate provided at its display table.