Jessica Zimmer's picture

15 Winter Warmers for the Holidays

15 Winter Warmers for the Holidays

Winter warmers are sweet, strong brews meant to carry you through the dark months of the year. These beers are excellent complements to seasonal delicacies like holiday roasts, spiced cakes and caramelized root vegetables. While most winter warmers have an ABV between 5.5 and 8.9 percent, a few have an ABV of 10 percent or more. These beers range in color from dark red to deep black. They can be made with a wide variety of spices, including vanilla, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Malts are the key to creating a winter warmer. A winter warmer requires far fewer hops than an IPA. This type of beer also requires a good balance of malt and hops. Winter warmers are viscous, feature a full mouthfeel and have a medium body. They’re the opposite of crisp, bitter summer beers. The range of winter warmers varies considerably, but most are close in type to an English Strong Ale.

Winter warmers are not Christmas beers and wassail ales, but they are cousins. The winter warmer “relatives” began as wassail beer alcoholic punches in medieval England. With warm apples and ginger mixed in, they fortified holiday carolers traveling in groups on cold winter nights.

The category of winter warmers is not clearly defined. In addition, this group of beers do not make up a category judged at the Great American Beer Festival. The family of winter warmers brings together brews of many colors and backgrounds: seasonal winter beers, barrel-aged dark beers, imperial stouts, spiced dark ales, bocks, doppelbocks and quadrupels.

Here are 15 delicious Winter Warmers arranged by ABV, from lowest to highest.


Winter Warmer Harpoon Brewery

Winter Warmer
Harpoon
Brewery
This 5.9 percent ABV seasonal beer features cinnamon and nutmeg flavors. It has been a New England favorite since 1988, and has a sweet, mildly spicy finish.


Winter Ale Summit Brewing Co.

Winter Ale
Summit Brewing Co.

The 6.2 percent ABV beer is made with English and German hops balanced by roasted and pale malts. It tastes of toasted malt and has notes of caramel and black cherry.


                                      Jubelale Deschutes Brewery

Jubelale
Deschutes
Brewery
This 6.7 percent ABV beer is available October through December and tastes of toffee and “dusted cocoa.” Drinkers describe it as big and bold, with notes of cherry and banana.


Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale Anderson Valley Brewing Co.

Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale
Anderson Valley Brewing Co.

This smooth beer has notes of toffee, spice and caramel. It has an ABV of 6.9 percent and pairs well with pumpkin pie and aged cheddar. Winter Solstice is available October through January.


Malt Train Winter Warmer Market Garden Brewery

Malt Train Winter Warmer
Market Garden
Brewery
This 7.1 percent ABV brew is dark and strong, with “big malt flavors,” according to the brewery.


Jingle Bell Ale Ohio Brewing Co.

Jingle Bell Ale
Ohio Brewing
Co.
This 7.5 percent ABV fragrant winter seasonal features a bevy of aromas ranging from cocoa to coconut and the flavor backs it up. Pairs well with pie a la mode and stilton cheese.


Winterfish Seasonal Ale Fish Brewing Co.

Winterfish Seasonal Ale
Fish Brewing Co.

This deep orange brew clocks in with an ABV of 7.5 percent. It’s made with pale and honey malts. Winterfish draws on Yakima Chinook Hops for bittering, flavoring and aroma. Fish Brewing Co. adds fresh whole cones in the “hop-back.”


Fireside Chat 21st Amendment Brewery

Fireside Chat
21st Amendment
Brewery
This 7.9 percent ABV English-style ale is rich and dark with hints of cinnamon and brown sugar. It’s available in November and December.


Sweater Party Avery Brewing Co.

Sweater Party
Avery Brewing Co.

This is a spiced winter warmer with an ABV of 8.0 percent. Sweater Party is made with specialty malts and mulling spices, including cinnamon, orange peel, allspice, cloves and ginger.


Icelandic Winter Ale Einstök Beer Company

Icelandic Winter Ale
Einstök Beer
Company
This 8.0 percent ABV seasonal winter beer is made with hand-cut cured spruce tips. It has a smoky whiskey-like and piney flavor. The Icelandic Winter Ale complements dark chocolate and roast pork.


Winter Warmer Lancaster Brewing Co.

Winter Warmer
Lancaster Brewing Co.

Lancaster’s smooth winter warmer with a “monster malt bill” is cold-aged longer than usual. It has an ABV of 8.9 percent and is made with both British and American hop varietals.


Winter Warmer SanTan Brewing Company

Winter Warmer
SanTan Brewing
Company
This 9.5 percent ABV beer is based on a traditional English Old Ale recipe “spiced with 10 pounds of fresh ginger.” It has caramel and roasted malts. SanTan uses Arizona orange blossom honey to further develop the slightly sweet taste.


Friar’s Festivus Monkless Belgian Ales

Friar’s Festivus
Monkless Belgian
Ales
This is a strong Belgian-style winter ale. This Quadrupel has an ABV of 10.2 percent. Friar’s Festivus has aromas of lemon and dark fruit, with notes of caramel and clove.


Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer Rahr & Sons Brewing Company

Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer
Rahr & Sons Brewing Company

This English dark ale with an 11 percent ABV is aged in bourbon barrels. It uses dark malts and English hops. Although powerful, it has a “sweet, smooth vanilla and oak finish.”


Decoy Carton Brewing Co.

Decoy
Carton Brewing Co.

This is a strong, “gently-spiced” Belgian-style brew with an ABV of 12 percent. Its tones are reminiscent of a five-spice roast duck. You can make out a multitude of ingredients, from cumin and lavender flowers to Sichuan red peppercorns. Carton Brewing makes this creation carefully, pairing Special B malts and Belgian candi sugars with American ale yeast.


There you have it! These winter warmers are sure to warm your hearth during the holiday season, but don't stop with these. There are myriad winter warmers out there, so scoot over to your local bottle shop and find a hearty bomber of an interesting sounding wintery brew. Happy Holidays!