Snowfall and subzero windchill call for thicker, darker beers. When the mercury drops, drinkers retreat to stouts, porters, and dark ales for the warming sensation they provide. On a chilly night, a high-gravity winter ale can feel like zipping-up a down parka.
This has been the conventional wisdom when it came to brewing winter seasonals, but a beer that drinks like insulation doesn't fit the model over at Nordeast brewery Bauhaus. For their second-ever winter "curiosity," they've taken the breadiness out of winter ales while still retaining some of the style's warmth. They call their lean-bodied creation Tallander, an homage to the beer's Scottish heritage.
Tallander — which is available in 16-ounce four-packs or by the pint in Bauhaus' taproom — is a take on both the Scottish ale and the wee heavy, but that's where it dispenses with tradition. In the style of all of Bauhaus' offerings, Tallander is crisp and clear, beginning and finishing with a light mouthfeel and a drinkability that urges you to crack another. Tallander is made for layering, not bundling up. While a more traditional winter seasonal might leave you feeling like Ralphie's little brother from A Christmas Story, Tallander fits like a flannel shirt.
"It's supposed to be the Scottish export style and the wee heavy," says Bauhaus co-owner and head brewer Matt Schwandt. "We wanted to do a beer that was still flavorful and for the winter months but still crisp and drinkable so it wasn't one and done. This is a 6 percent [ABV] beer, so it's warm and malty and nice and toasty, but it's not a heavy, high-alcohol beer at all."
Tallander follows in the footsteps of Winterloper (f.k.a. Jingle Fever), Bauhaus' previous 8 percent ABV. That beer was a Russian imperial stout/English porter hybrid that, unlike many of the brewery's offerings, came in 22-ounce bombers and poured an obsidian black. It was insanely popular — it sold out hastily after the rebrand last year — but it didn't quite have the tallboy feel of other curiosities like Schwantoberfest or Hairbanger. Tallander is indeed a progression for Bauhaus, but it's nothing outside the lines for the inventive young brewhouse.
"[Winterloper] sort of paved the way for Tallander, which is a little bit different for us stylistically," Schwandt says. "We tend to focus mostly on lagers, and this is a Scottish ale, but it definitely fits within the Bauhaus wheelhouse."
The name is a deliberate mis-translation of "Highlander," and like the Scottish pseudo-legend — in which the only Scotsman in the cast, Sean Connery, plays a Spaniard — Tallander plays loose with tradition. By classical standards, Scotch ales are malty and full-bodied, often having a sweet, caramel body. Wee heavies — their slightly more alcoholic cousins — can have oak or bourbon flavors from barrel aging. They'd be an odd fit in Bauhaus' portfolio, but they're still good beers. In fact, they're a favorite of co-founder and assistant brewmaster Howard Haines, Schwandt's father-in-law and former homebrew partner. Haines' palette flourishes after the December solstice.
"He loves English and Scottish style dark ales. Those are his beers," Schwandt says. He's been brewing iterations of Tallander for four or five years, but none of Bauhaus' recipes make it to the commercial level without a high degree of polishing. "He's always wanted us to do something like this, and I always wanted to do something like this, but I wanted to make sure it was us. What I mean by that is a balance between malt, hops, and mouthfeel that makes it a really harmonious drinking experience."
In perfect, Bauhausian irony, that means eschewing the operant rule of the Highlander franchise — there can be more than one.
"I wanted something where I could comfortably have two or three and not feel overserved, but still have a mouth-filling, malty beer," Schwandt says. "I like to drink our beer, and that means having more than one."