Most commonly these beers are a seasonal offering during the colder months. English versions contain no to moderate "winter" spices, while the American versions are often spiced with hops (although other spices can be added).
Color varies from reddish brown to black, and the malt flavors usually take center stage. In addition to the typical dark roasted flavors (chocolate, coffee, toffee) there is usually a slight sweetness. Alcohol can be moderate to high, in order to aid the warming sensation of the beer. Hop bitterness is generally low, but hop flavors are usually moderate.
Best served cool, 46-54 degrees, in a pint glass or stemmed tulip glass.