Brew Review: Cisco's Winter Woods

By: Anne Vickman

Nantucket brewer Cisco’s newest beer is hitting store shelves and bars in a week, and we scored an early taste.

First, a little background: The Woods series (seven have been made so far) is crafted in French-oak wine barrels that come, conveniently, from Nantucket Vineyard next door. While modern brewing utilizes large stainless steel vats during the fermentation process, traditional old-world beers were made using wooden vessels — hence the series’ name. Oak barrels are prohibitively expensive, so when the vineyard’s winemaker turns out barrels that won’t be reused, head brewer Jeff Horner uses them for making beer with far more complexity than your usual ale or lager. “Wood, by nature, is very porous. Bacteria and wild yeast take up residence in the barrels and slowly ferment what’s available in the beer that traditional brewer’s yeast cannot, and the result is pretty complex,” he explains.

Winter Woods, the newest offering, is a blend of a four-year-old Flemish red and last winter’s seasonal, Santa’s Beered, which contains honey, malts smoked over cherry wood, and mulling spices. Horner also added whole sour cherries to 3 of the 14 casks used for the blend.

The resulting brew is a bright, coppery red when held up against light. The nose is slightly metallic, with a faint scent of those sour cherries. It tastes lighter than we expected — the smokiness is tactful, with just a touch of sour flavor right up front. It has a hint of breadiness, followed by a fantastic dry finish, making it delightfully easy to drink.

Most beers are best when consumed within three months of their bottling date. Winter Woods isn’t most beer, though. The new brew will age well, says Horner. “It’s a big beer; it’s 9 percent alcohol by volume. It’s only going to get better with age — up to 10, 15 years even. It will gain a sherrylike character.” If you’re looking for a good pairing, we recommend trying it with a tangy goat cheese like St. Maure Belgique, which brings out the sour flavor.

Where to try it: American Craft, Deep Ellum, the Independent, Lord Hobo, and Sunset Grill and Tap.
American Craft, 1700 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-487-4290,
Deep Ellum, 477 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-787-2337,
The Independent, 75 Union Sq., Somerville, 617-440-6022,
Lord Hobo, 92 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-250-8454,
Sunset Grill and Tap, 130 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-254-1331,

Where to buy it: Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont.
Cisco Brewers, 5 & 7 Bartlett Farm Rd., Nantucket, 508-325-5929,
Craft Beer Cellar, 51 Leonard St., Belmont, 617-932-1885,