Winter beers deck the halls of South Florida breweries

It's a craft-beer ritual: South Florida grapples with arctic 65-degree weather, pumpkin ales fall out of favor and darker stouts and porters assume the drinking throne.

On Saturday, Nov. 5, the first wave of winter brews arrives with Concrete Beach Brewery's Deck the Walls, a spicy imperial porter that's the centerpiece of an afternoon block party at its taproom in Wynwood. A chocolate-heavy concoction punched with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom, Deck the Walls smells like Christmas cookies and tastes like "sleigh bells" (whatever that means), says Marco Reyna, Concrete Beach's head brewer.

"I want people to have nostalgic thoughts of the holidays, like opening presents, sitting around the fire, gingerbread, and all the spices used in those holiday treats," Reyna says.

During the block party, the brewery will shut down Northwest 24th Street between Northwest Second and Fifth Avenues in Wynwood, where drinkers can try Deck the Walls. Miami acts Electric Kif and Afrobeta will perform, and food trucks Ms. Cheezious, Lola the Baker, Wynwood Parlor and King of Racks will be on hand.

This onslaught of winter beers, usually with holiday-sounding names, are two ale styles heavy in chocolate and roasted malt notes. Between now and January, Reyna says, breweries like Concrete Beach plan to beef up their tap rooms with more stouts and porters and phase out fall and pumpkin-spiced beers.

"When you're sweating your butt off in the sun, that's when you want a colder [India Pale Ale]," Reyna says. "But in the wintertime, when you want to snuggle up, you want something rich and warm. That's where stouts and porters come in."

This weekend, 200 cases of canned Deck the Walls four-packs will arrive in stores from Miami to Palm Beach, including Total Wine, Whole Foods and Publix, while the rest – about 90 kegs – will ship out to local bars and taprooms.

Reyna says the timing of Deck the Walls' release, several weeks before the holidays, is practical. Department stores are already bulking up holiday inventory to capitalize on the season, and he prefers not to see extra supply sitting on clearance tables come January.

"We're expecting a high demand for this beer, but you don't want to end up with so much they wind up on the discount rack," Reyna says.

The Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park knows all about getting a jump on the holidays. Its Sweet Potato Casserole Strong Ale, a spicy, Thanksgiving-inspired beer flavored with sweet potatoes, marshmallow and vanilla, was released in early September. Tap room and store sales remain strong two months later, and Sweet Potato should be gone by Thanksgiving, says John Linn, the Buddha's brand director.

The brewery is also doubling down on darker beers this season. In late November, they'll release Nib Smuggler, a chocolate-milk porter infused with imported Brazilian cocoa nibs; and Last Buffalo in the Park, an imperial coconut and coffee porter.

"We don't have winters in South Florida, so we have to go with our gut," Linn says. "We make dark beers all year round, even though it's hotter than the surface of Hades around here, but this is the time of year for darker, richer, bolder, spicier ales."

On Saturday, Nov. 19, the weekend before Thanksgiving, Biscayne Bay Brewing Company plans to release a pair of holiday beers: the Merry Berry Tart, a sour ale aged in bourbon barrels and mixed with raspberry puree; and a Biscayne Spiced Saison, which co-owner Jose Mallea describes as less a holiday beer than a "perfect" beer-and-holiday-dinner pairing, such as a lechon (roasted pig) dish for Nochebuena, the Latin American version of Christmas Eve.

"The saison's cirtrusy, spicy kick compliments the lechon that you would experience at Nochebuena," Mallea says.

The holiday-beer season will climax on Dec. 3 with the Palm Beach Winter Beer Fest at the South Florida Fairgrounds, a day of food trucks and limited-release beer samples from local breweries, such as Due South, Saltwater, Barrel of Monks and others.

The Deck the Walls Block Party runs 1-6 p.m. Sautrday, Nov. 5, at Concrete Beach Brewery, 325 NE 24th St., in Miami. Admission is free. Call 305-796-2727, or go to ConcreteBeachBrewery.com.

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