Brad Darnell's picture

Top 20 Christmas and Holiday Beers

As selected by Official Review judge Brad Darnell. (Issue 33)
Anchor Christmas Ale 20Anchor's annual Christmas Ale has become a mainstay of the holiday season.17
Anchor's annual Christmas Ale has become a mainstay of the holiday season.

Cool, crisp air ushers in a new season while the pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers of late summer and fall slowly give way their shelf space and tap handles to spiced Christmas and holiday offerings, many with a pleasant alcohol warmth to help you forget the frigid temperature outside. Fortunately for those of us who love changing seasons and the seasonal beers they bring, there are plenty of sippers to warm us during this festive time. Though there’s a mug presumably holding a warm beverage below, I like to think of this instead as a warming seasonal beer.

Seasonal beers abound with brewers pronouncing their seasonality with words like “Winter”, “Holiday”, “Christmas”, “Spiced” or variations of “Santa”, “Reindeer” or “Elf”. Despite the standard image all of these bring, your holiday may look and feel more temperate.

Climate aside, there are seasonal beers for all of us to enjoy. I offer the diverse list below as a guide to some of my seasonal favorites and hope they bring delight to your holiday season.


Number 1
Hardywood Gingerbread StoutHardywood Gingerbread Stout

This spiced Imperial Milk Stout pours dark brown and presents aroma of ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cookie and caramel malt, earthy hops, dates and prunes. The flavor is dark malt dominant, dark fruits, spicy alcohol, light hops and bitterness, chocolate and a sweet finish. The full body carries a light alcohol warmth and medium carbonation, a perfect Christmas beer.

Also seek out the companion Hardywood Bourbon Gingerbread Stout for even more complexity.


Number 2
Affligem Noël (Christmas Ale)

Pours sparkling tawny with a huge light brown foamy head which lasts. Aroma and flavor is heavy bready malt, light grassy and floral hops with notes of caramel and toasted grains. Full-bodied and a spicy texture, this seasonal Belgian Strong Ale is warm indeed, coming in at 9% ABV, and with "Christmas" in the name, you know it's a great holiday beer.


Number 3
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

Brewed as a Quadrupel, this Belgian ale pours deep, rich mahogany with a huge, frothy and rocky light brown head, mostly lasting with excellent lacing. Aroma and flavor is heavy bread, cookie and caramel malt with notes of plum, baked apples, and brown sugar. Full bodied, creamy and fizzy texture, lively carbonation, and a slightly spicy and bitter finish.


Number 4
Prairie Christmas Bomb!

This is Prairie’s seasonal stout spiced with cinnamon. It pours opaque black with a medium, creamy tan head, medium retention with good lacing. Aroma is heavy chocolate, roast and coffee malt, earthy hops, leather notes, prunes and figs. Flavor is sweet dark malt and chocolate, dark fruits, medium hops and bitterness with a sweet finish. Full body and medium carbonation.


Christmas Bomb~


Number 5
Gouden Carolus Christmas/Noël

This Belgian ale suffered a 35-year hiatus, but saw production again in 2002. Brewed in August, this strong ale pours mahogany with a frothy tan. Medium roasted caramel and nutty malt pair with faint perfumey hops and warm alcohol notes. A warm, spicy sweetness, medium to light bitterness, sugary, caramel, maple, bubblegum and port notes round out this sipper. Full and warm bodied.


Number 6
Corsendonk Christmas AleGreat Lakes Christmas Ale

Fortunately for us, Du Bocq resurrected the Priory of Corsendonk beers and provides this seasonal ale. It pours dark brown with tall tan head. Fruity with notes of raisins and rich chocolate malt. Slightly bitter citrus hops and then a little smoky. Truly contemplative, just as the monks that once brewed this (and just as many people are around during the holiday season).


Number 7
Great Lakes Christmas Ale

Pours clean coppery red with tiny fast rising bubbles and a small off-white head that dissipates to a film with some lined lacing. Fruity floral hops with medium malt notes and some cinnamon hints. Great Lakes Brewing Company suggests pairing this with roast duck, spiced desserts and ugly Christmas sweaters.


Number 8
Hoppin' Frog Frosted Frog Christmas Ale

Pours clear dark amber with an average, fizzy light beige head, medium-short retention. Heavy complex bread, cookie and caramel malt, light spicy hops with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, and plums. Medium-full body, medium warmth and carbonation.

Also available as Barrel Aged Frosted Frog Christmas Ale.


Number 9
Tröegs The Mad Elf Holiday Ale

This spiced holiday ale pours copper with a small off-white head and falling lined lacing. Grainy and meal malt with caramel notes, honey and ripe cherries with cinnamon, clove and allspice. Tröegs claims their inner Mad Elf takes over the brewery once per year to produce this wild Christmas beer.


Avery Old JubilationNumber 10
Avery Old Jubilation Ale

This English Strong Ale uses no spices but provides a pleasant warmth where none are required. Caramel mahogany hues with a medium frothy tan head. Caramel and brown sugar aromas with light roasted grains evident and a fruit hop nose. Caramel malt and acidic alcohol flavor with a fruit hop finish, and some vanilla faintly detectable. Medium bodied and warm spicy palate.


 

Number 11
Deschutes Jubelale

Described as a Festive Winter Ale, this beer pours dark walnut brown with a foamy off-white head and creamy lacing. Hoppy citrus fruit, cocoa and toffee notes, rich malt and dried fruit. Medium bodied and offers a warming spice; this holiday beer would pair well with Christmas dinner -- or as a post-meal warming tipple.


Number 12
The Bruery Autumn Maple

While more of a late Fall than winter seasonal, I add this beer because it pairs so well with a juicy roast turkey, Christmas duck or glazed ham. The choices abound and this beer could serve as dessert on its own. It pours clear brown with a spare, off-white head. Heavy, rich cookie, caramel and toffee malt with notes of dates, apple, vanilla and maple syrup. Full body and moderate sweetness.


Number 13
Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale

Called a Winter Warmer, this seasonal ale pours clear mahogany with a large, fizzy light tan head, medium-short retention with good lacing. Vanilla, nutmeg, caramel and cookie malt with dates and figs provide a malt and spice balance and a dry finish. Medium body and carbonation.


Number 14
Anchor Christmas AleDark Horse 4 Elf

Perhaps the most famous Christmas beer, this ale has been brewed annually since 1975 and its recipe changes every year. It typically pours clear dark brown with a fizzy, light brown head. Heavy cookie, caramel and nutty malt with medium floral, herbal and spruce hops, notes of plum, licorice, and nutmeg. Medium bodied and carbonation with a sticky texture. If you have veteran craft beer drinkers in your family, see if they have any older renditions in their cellar for a rare vertical tasting of this holiday beer classic.


Number 15
Dark Horse 4 Elf Winter Ale

According to Dark Horse, this beer is holiday cheer in liquid form. The beer pours clear brown with a small, creamy beige head, medium-short retention with light lacing. Nutmeg, cloves, allspice blend with light pine and spruce hops, caramel, nutty, and toast malt with rich notes of dates and figs. Medium body and carbonation.


Number 16
Anderson Valley Winter Solstice

Remember the beach image? Well, this 6.9% “winter warmer” is better suited to warmer locales. Pours clear dark amber with a medium, frothy off-white head, short retention with good lacing. Aroma is vanilla, caramel and cookie malt, dates and figs with light earthy hops. Flavor is malt dominant, vanilla, dates, faint hops and bitterness with a sweet finish. Medium body and carbonation.


Number 17
Captain Lawrence Nor' Easter Winter Warmer

This seasonal beer boasts 12% ABV and is aged in Bourbon barrels, which warms me right up just thinking about drinking this during one of those nasty winter storms. Elderberries add a jammy elegance to this bold offering.


Ramstein Winter WheatNumber 18
Ramstein Winter Wheat

Stylistically, Weizenbocks get my vote for all-around holiday beer style. The rich and complex malt and dark fruits are certainly reminiscent of many holiday plates. This beer offers a bouquet of wheat malt, black current, clove, and apple. Deep full flavors of caramel and chocolate malt balance with hops for a smooth warming character. The finish is smooth and malty leading to a subtle alcohol and dark caramel finish.


Number 19
Fantôme Hiver (Winter)

The brewer changes the recipe every year in this winter offering. Past versions pour clear orange with a large, off-white head, lasting with good lacing. Heavy straw and bread malt, light grassy hops with notes of pepper, pear, and dust. Medium bodied and lively carbonation, and a chalky finish.


Number 20
Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper

Port Brewing says this is one seriously naughty but nice beer. It pours opaque with a small, frothy dark brown head, mostly diminishing. Heavy chocolate and coffee malt pairs with molasses, perfume hops and notes of alcohol and prunes. Full bodied, creamy texture and medium carbonation. Topping out at 9.9 percent ABV, this boozy Christmas beer might not help Santa out that much -- even though we all know Rudolph does most of the driving.

Also seek out the Port Brewing Bourbon Barrel-Aged Santa’s Little Helper.


Photos Courtesy Respective Breweries

Comments

gmuhlbauer80's picture
No Samichlaus? Really?
joel123's picture
When Samichlaus and Sam Smith Winter Welcome are not on the list I have to take pause
Mr. Pickles's picture
Great list! Winter beers are the best, and so many to mention. You hit many of my personal favorites- Corsendonk, Old Jubilation, SN Celebration, Jubelale, aged Anchor..... I'll be sure to try those listed that I haven't.
Ras Kafka's picture
Sitting in the cheese shop at France 44, drinking Todd the Aleman and reading this list. I will be going straight to the liquor side and hopefully find some Hoppin Frog BA Frosted Frog. Ge ge ge ge ge ge gaa

Comments

gmuhlbauer80's picture
No Samichlaus? Really?
joel123's picture
When Samichlaus and Sam Smith Winter Welcome are not on the list I have to take pause
Mr. Pickles's picture
Great list! Winter beers are the best, and so many to mention. You hit many of my personal favorites- Corsendonk, Old Jubilation, SN Celebration, Jubelale, aged Anchor..... I'll be sure to try those listed that I haven't.
Ras Kafka's picture
Sitting in the cheese shop at France 44, drinking Todd the Aleman and reading this list. I will be going straight to the liquor side and hopefully find some Hoppin Frog BA Frosted Frog. Ge ge ge ge ge ge gaa

Advertisement

Table of Contents