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The Boston Globe

Food & dining

99 Bottles

Beers from Heavy Seas, Narragansett, and Idle Hands

Winter Storm Category 5.

Gary Dzen/Globe staff

Winter Storm Category 5.

Like open-source software, beer recipes today take on tweaks and variations depending on the hands they’re in. The London brewery Fuller Smith, & Turner closely guards the recipe for Fuller’s Extra Special Bitter (ESB), but over the years the style has exploded in popularity among American brewers. Pubs across this country are happy to serve you an ESB.

At least by today’s American standards, Extra Special Bitters are not particularly bitter. India Pale Ales — especially Americanized ones — set you up to expect a puckering, bitter brew. Many of us like these beers; they’re some of my go-tos. True ESBs, however, are largely malt-forward, though a measured combination of hops is a must.

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Fuller’s first brewed its ESB as a winter beer. Baltimore’s Heavy Seas Beer riffs on the style with their winter offering, an imperial (read: higher alcohol) ESB they call Winter Storm Category 5 Ale. The beer weighs in at 7.5 percent alcohol by volume, decidedly stronger than the version safeguarded across the pond.

Category 5 Ale pours into a tulip glass with a full ruby hue. I smell vanilla cookies not unlike the ones I picked up at Harrods in an overpriced tin for my grandmother at Christmas last year. Dark fruit notes mix with this sugary scent.

The first sip is nutty, biscuity. There’s an herbal quality to the hops, which finish with a firm bite. This beer gets better as it warms up. It’ll warm you up, too, but it’s not too heavy to drink more than one of. I enjoyed this one very much.

Narragansett’s Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout

Narragansett Beer announced this week the release of a limited-edition Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout, a collaboration between the two iconic Rhode Island companies. The beer is a blend of Narragansett’s bittersweet milk stout with dark Autocrat coffee. Lincoln’s Autocrat Coffee has been a staple in the Ocean State since the 1890s. Similar to chocolate milk but made with Autocrat coffee syrup, coffee milk is the official drink of the state of Rhode Island.

“I’ve been a big fan of Autocrat since my Little League days, so I’m especially excited to introduce this brew to the market,” says Mark Hellendrung, president of Narragansett Beer. “My Little League coach worked at Autocrat and drove one of the big delivery trucks — we would try to aim homers toward the truck.”

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Narragansett’s Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout will be available the week of Dec. 16 in six-packs of 16-ounce tallboy cans throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The beer is 5.3 percent alcohol by volume and 30 IBUs (international bitterness units). The beer retails between $8.49 and $8.99 per six-pack of tallboy cans.

A beer partnership

Idle Hands Craft Ales in Everett announced a business partnership Monday with Lowell’s Enlightenment Ales Inc. The collaboration will result in both the Idle Hands and Enlightenment brands continuing under the business license of Idle Hands, owned by Chris and Grace Tkach. Ben Howe, owner of Enlightenment, will join the Idle Hands team as head brewer and the company’s first full-time employee, joining two other part-time Idle Hands staffers.

Thanks to a recent expansion, Idle Hands will have the capacity to brew five times more beer than it did previously. While Howe surely helps there, he also brings his own highly regarded brand to Everett. Enlightenment’s flagship bière de champagne is a preferred food pairing at L’Espalier and other Boston restaurants. Each of his beers are labor intensive. Howe tells me he brewed just 50 barrels of his own beer last year but is already on track for much more. Idle Hands focuses on traditional German and Belgian styles. To this point, both brewers have self-distributed.

The goal of the partnership, according to a press release, is “for both Howe and Tkach to be able to focus on the work they each enjoy most, while continuing to grow two local brands with distinct followings.”

Gary Dzen can be reached at gary.dzen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeGaryDzen.

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