Holiday beers. Christmas beers. Winter beers. Whatever name they’re given by their makers, these bigger-than-usual, once-a-year ales and lagers are tasty examples of the brewer’s high art. It’s an age-old tradition for European brewers to make big, bold, special beers at the end of the year, both for the holidays themselves and the cold winter months that follow them. With the coming of hundreds of new, small craft breweries in the US, this tradition has passed to the New World.
Holiday beers follow no set rule or pattern. They may be either top-fermenting ales or bottom-fermenting lagers. They may be normal in alcoholic strength, although the norm is for holiday beers to be audacious versions of the brewery’s flagship product. Such beers incorporate mountains of malt, which (of course) results in a comparably more alcoholic and fuller-bodied beer. Increased amounts of malt also create holiday beers that are on the sweet side, and many brewers of holiday beers carry the theme of oversized beers over into producing brews that are deeper in color and richer in aroma than their workaday companions. Holiday beers are the perfect item to warm one’s soul while sitting before a hot, toasty fire on a cold winter’s night. They are the host’s special gift to friends and guests in keeping with the magnanimity of the holiday season.
Bad Elf (6%), Very Bad Elf (7.5%) and Seriously Bad Elf (9%) are just that—bad English elves, whatever that means. Santa’s Butt Holiday Porter (6%) and Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout (8%) also cause some to comment on the meaning of the holidays.
Corsendonk Christmas Ale (8.5%) from northern Belgium is a rich, dark beer with an aroma of chocolate malt and spices. The flavor is malty, smoky, spicy and citrusy.
In Lacrosse, WI, where the winters can become quite cold, City Winter Porter (5.3%) is an ebony beauty brewed with a blend of roasted, caramel and pale malts for a rich, satiny mouthfeel. The variety pack includes bottles of City Lager (5.0%), City Pale Ale (5.5%), City Festbier (marzenstyle 5.7%) and City Winter Porter.
Southampton Publick House
Far out on the tip of Long Island, in the tony town of Southampton, the season is celebrated with Southampton Christmas Ale (6.6%), a rich, earthy Belgian-style Bière de Garde.
Pivovar Herold Breznice
A lager from the land that brought us the first golden lager, Herold Bohemian Bronze Lager (5.8%) is a crisp beer from Bohemia in the Czech Republic.
Saranac Season’s Best (5.4%) is a sweet, slightly roasty nut-brown lager from Utica, NY. The 12 Beers of Winter 12-Pack contains this beer along with the newly-released Oatmeal Stout and Belgian Ale, plus Winter Wassail, Pale Ale, Black Forest, Black & Tan, IPA, Chocolate Amber, Traditional Lager, Adirondack Lager and Carmel Porter.
A brand new recipe debuts this season for Stoudt’s Winter Ale, a smooth malty beer hopped with German hops from the pioneering brewery in Adamstown, PA.
Harpoon Winter Warmer (5.5%), returns, evoking memories of cold New England winters by Boston’s Massachusetts Bay. Winter Warmer is a full-bodied, rich ale flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg.
The holiday celebration beer in Pittsburgh is St. Nikolaus Bock Bier (7.5%), a dark Munich-style bock beer brewed with Munich and roasted malts for a malty, toasty, rich flavor.
Brewed with Wisconsin-produced apples, honey and cinnamon in Chippewa Falls, WI, Apple Spice (4.9%) is a Wisconsin delight. So is Big Butt Dopplebock (5.8%)- no butts about it. The Gold Medal Variety (24-Pack) contains Honey Weiss, Red Lager, Creamy Dark and Amber Light.
Brewed to coincide with the annual Chinook hops harvest, Nutcracker Ale (6.1%) is a Kansas City, MO, beer with an amber hue, a hint of molasses, and full flavor.
Winter Skal (5.4%) is an amber lager with full malt flavor from Capital Brewery in Middleton, WI. Capital also brews a strong Dark Doppelbock (7.0%) each winter that’s huge, rich, smooth and complex.
High Falls Brewing
A strong malty ale brewed with spices in Rochester, NY, JW Dundee’s Festive Ale (6.3%) is also found in Dundee’s Craft Pack (12-pack), along with JW Dundee’s Pale Ale, Amber Lager and Honey Brown Lager.
Way down south in Shiner, TX, Dunkelweizen (5.3%) is brewed as a Bavarian-style dunkelweizen–a dark wheat beer. A combination of malted wheat and barley produce a beer that is smooth and rich.
Redhook Ale Brewery
Brewed in both Woodinville, WA, and Portsmouth, NH, Winterhook (6%) is a ruby- colored ale that derives its roasty flavors from a combination of English caramel and Munich malts.
Great Divide Brewing
In Denver, CO, Hibernation Ale (8.1%) is cellared (or hibernates) through the summer and into the fall with extra hops in the casks. The end result is a complex, hoppy, warming strong ale that has been brewed since 1995.
New Belgium Brewing
Frambozen (7%) is a Belgian-style brown ale fermented with Northwest raspberries and brewed in Fort Collins, CO. Brewer Bill Hepp traveled to Oregon to oversee the selection and shipment of this year’s raspberries. He said, “Drinking Frambozen is like stomping on the gas of a vintage El Camino.”
Widmer Brothers Brewing
Snowplow Milk Stout (5.5%) is a new winter seasonal beer from the brewery in Portland, OR. Chocolate, coffee, and roasted malt aromas and flavors plow into your mouth with this black beer, a result of the Collaborator project between the Oregon Brew Crew (one of the oldest homebrewing clubs in the nation) and Widmer Brothers.
Pike Pub & Brewery
The little brewery in downtown Seattle brews the chocolate-colored Pike Stout XXXXX (6%) as a full-bodied beer with a smooth, velvety mouthfeel and a roasty flavor. You can never have too many Xs in a beer, especially at Xmas.
Summit Winter Ale (5.9%) is an English-style strong ale that is robust and full-bodied. It can be found in the St. Paul, MN, brewer’s Winter Sampler Pack (12-pack) along with Extra Pale Ale, IPA and Summit Grand.
Brasserie St. Feuillien
Brown, rich and full-bodied, Cuvée de Noël (9%) from southern Belgium is a tasty treat. Come in from the snowy forest and enjoy a glass.
Based in San Francisco, the seasonal He’Brew beer is Jewbelation 5766 (9%). Steeped in the mystical, indestructible, irrefutable number 9, after drinking this ale all one can possibly exclaim is, “L’Chaim!”
If you’re caught in a blizzard near Fort Collins, CO, Isolation Ale (6.1%) may bring you some warmth. This English-style strong ale is malty and rich.
Otter Creek Brewing
Brewed close to Vermont’s Green Mountains, Alpine Ale (5.9%) is a malty amber ale perfect for an après ski session. Double Decker Olde English Holiday Ale (7.5%) is new from the Otter Creek World Tour. This English-style ale embodies rich, roasty maltiness balanced with English hops.
Wolaver’s Certified Organic Ales
Wolaver’s Certified Organic Oatmeal Stout (5.9%) is a black beauty brewed in Middlebury, VT, with organic rolled oats, organic wheat and organic barley and hops.
Brouwerij Van Den Bossche
The snowflakes fall on Keerst Pater (9%), a strong, dark brown ale with aromas of dried fruit, spices, chocolate, coffee and plum from northern Belgium.
Sierra Nevada Brewing
Favorites each year from Chico, CA, are the super hoppy and full-bodied Celebration Ale (6.8%) and the even hoppier and stronger Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale (9.6%).
Southern Tier Brewing
Old Man Winter Ale (8%) helps keep Old Man Winter at bay in Lakewood, NY. This rich, malty ale also keeps the winter blues in check.
On the cold, windy shores of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, WI, Holiday Spice Lager Beer (9.5%) is a mighty strong beer brewed with cinnamon, orange zest, clove and two pounds of honey per pound of malt.
Full Sail Brewing
Wassail Winter Pale Ale (6.5%), is a “ridiculously tasty winter ale” brewed since 1988 in Hood River, OR. This mahogany-colored ale is brewed with four different malts and a blend of hops for a full, malty body and delightfully hoppy finish.
Each year the gnomes in southern Belgium concoct N’Ice Chouffe (10%). They brew it with special additions of thyme, vanilla, dried Curaçao orange peel and dark candy sugar.
Portland, OR’s new “rogue” winter beer is FestiveAle (6.2%), a Belgian-style saison brewed with grains of paradise, ginger root, sweet gale and Curaçao orange.
Magic Hat Brewing
Way up north in Burlington, VT (the West Coast of New England on the shores of Lake George), St. Goötz (5.8%) will keep you warm and toasty. This hazy brown German-style dark wheat beer (dunkel weizen) is dedicated “to a lifetime of devotion and a winter of warmth.” The Feast of Fools Winter Variety 12-Pack includes bottles of St Goötz, Fat Angel, #9 and Batch #372 (“a salute to the famed Scottish ales of yore”).
The Dodgers are long gone but the beer has returned to Brooklyn. Winter Ale (7.2%) is a spiced strong ale. In the Variety 12-Pack you can find Winter Ale along with 2005 Black Chocolate Stout (8%), 2005 Monster Ale (11%), East India Pale Ale (7%), Brown Ale (5.5%) and Lager (5.2%).
Down Under in Australia, winter can be spent either on the beach or in the bush with Coppers Best Extra Stout (6.3%) or Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale (7.1%).
If any place has a winter, it has to be Juneau, AK. Winter Ale (6.4%) nips the tips off the spruce trees and pops them into an English olde ale. And then there’s the annual vintage release of Alaskan Smoked Porter (6.5%). The malt for this dark beer is smoked over alder wood at a local fish smokery.
Firestone Walker Fine Ales
Batch 1000 (5%) is the first special release for the holiday season from the brewery in Paso Roble, CA. Brewed to commemorate the 1000th batch of Double Barrel Ale, Batch 1000 is an unfiltered version of Double Barrel Ale, in which the fermentation took place in the brewery’s patented Firestone Union, a series of American Oak Barrels.
Boston Beer Co.
The Winter Classics Pack from the Boston craft brewery include Samuel Adams Black Lager (4.9%), Boston Lager (4.9%), Winter Lager (5.8%) and three holiday beers only available in the winter pack: Cranberry Lambic (5.9%), Holiday Porter (5.8%) and Old Fezziwig Ale (5.9%).
Three winter beers from Portland, ME (on Casco Bay) include: Prelude Special Ale (6.7%; a deep amber English strong ale); Longfellow Winter Ale (5.8%; a cross between a porter and a Scottish ale) and Shipyard Winter Ale (5.3%; an American red ale.)
Flying Dog Brewery
The winter litter of beers from Denver include Wild Dog Weizenbock (8%), K9-Cruiser Winter Ale (6.4%) and Gonzo Imperial Porter (9.5%). K9-Cruiser is dark, sweet and malty. It is the beer with an attitude “that will pump you up and give you courage.”
Is there winter in Hawaii? Well, sort of, but not really. What kind of beer does one brew to celebrate a balmy winter? There’s Da Grind Buzz Kona Coffee Imperial Stout (8.3%), a black beer brewed with freshly roasted 100% Kona coffee. Enough said!
Jubelale (6.7%) is a strong, malty ale balanced with the perfect compliment of hops. Each year the label artwork is designed by a different artist. This season Andrew Sewall’s design depicts the vintage ski poster look of an après ski party. Mt. Bachelor is not far from the brewery’s home in Bend, OR. Also for the season is Mirror Mirror Barleywine (9.86%), brewed last February, conditioned in oak casks and blended with Mirror Mirror from the brewery’s bright beer tanks.
North Coast Brewing
A big beer that can be laid down for future winters, Old Stock Ale ’05 (11.4%) from the coastal town of Fort Bragg, CA, is rich, full-bodied and generously hopped.
The world’s largest brewery has stepped into the specialty beer world with holiday gift packs (12- and 18-packs) of Michelob specialty ales and lagers, including the new release, Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale (5.5%), and two limited-edition pilsner glasses. The packs also include a collection of recipes featuring Michelob beers as ingredients, beer mixer recipes and suggested food pairings and tips from Anheuser-Busch brewmasters.
Charles Wells Brewery
Why not celebrate with bananas? Peel back the covering and Banana Bread Beer (5.2%) from England is a British premium bitter brewed with Fair Trade Bananas, which seems fair enough.
Among other creative endeavors, Gregg Glaser is the News Editor at All About Beer.