Check out our top picks for delicious brews that are sure to help you celebrate/drink away your problems this holiday season.
Most of my Christmas memories are very pleasant. My dad upstairs watching ESPN, turning it up to drown out my mother’s Mannheim Steamroller records; my brother on the porch, smoking a cigarette to get his money’s worth on those fingerless hobo-gloves; my sister, silently weeping in the corner as she balances her checkbook. And fair Christopher (THAT’S ME) sitting by the fire, taking it all in, wondering about those gloves, and washing it all down with the greatest gift of all: holiday beer!
Here’s the Alton Brown run-down: when we think of holiday beer we probably think of a specific one we’ve had before. That beer was probably a bit stronger than your normal yellow fizzy in a frosty mug, and it may have been a bit darker. It may have even been spiced somehow. From all the brewing traditions across the world, the truth is there isn’t really one defining characteristic of holiday beer aside from the time of its release: typically between November and January. This might make it seem harder to put a finger on what holiday beer is, but that’s a good thing.
You can purchase some of these with a friend and do a flight of samples to keep costs down, and I’ve labeled each one by ABV (that’s alcohol by volume/ crunkometer rating) and price. We’ll start with the easiest to track down and end with the ones that might take some digging. For some of these you’ll probably have to go beyond Kroger and head over to Ellwood Thompson, Whole Foods, River City Cellars, or Once Upon A Vine.
Harpoon Winter Warmer — 5.5%, $
This beer is the one the beer nerds would be most likely to sneer at because of its availability and larger brewery size, but this treasure has a lot to offer. It has a nice spicy nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove flavor, along with some bigger notes of prunes and bruled sugar. And at 5.5%, you can have more than one. I’d have about six.
Bell’s Winter White – 4.5%, $
Again, some beer snobs might not be into this one as a winter beer, because it is a Belgian Wit (think of Celis White, Allagash White, or Hoegaarden.) Belgian Witbiers are typically consumed in warmer months because of how refreshing they are. They are refreshing because theyre usually brewed with orange peel and coriander, but these spices are also really quite Christmassy! This brew has soft notes of orange peel and sweet lemons.
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout — 10.6%, $
Hooooo boy. Here’s a little jump for ya. This is a Brooklyn’s take on a Russian Imperial Stout. Basically, back in the day, Russian royalty enjoyed English stouts so much that they had some shipped back to Russia. But over the course of shipment, fermentation continued and the stout became much stronger in alcohol than the English counterpart. With chocolate, molasses, and some espresso bite, this is a great beer to pair with a holiday chocolate dessert, or even to enjoy for breakfast on Boxing Day.
St. Bernardus Christmas – 10%, $$$
From the makers of the Abt 12, a beer oft-mentioned in the best-beer-in-the-world argument, this Christmas beer is absolutely awesome. Some great spiced bread flavors (bread is often a flavor imparted by Belgian yeast), dark spiced fruit, and sugary raisins and prunes—all nestled in with a brilliant sweet finish.
Scaldis Noel – 12%, $$$
Spicy clove and raisin flavors make this little jammyjam one of my favorites. It is slightly fruity, slightly sweet, and has a bit of that lingering Belgian bready taste. Many of the people I know through the “beer community” would consider this one of the best Christmas beers. The 12% alcohol does you alright too, yes? And as it comes in a 750ml bottle, be sure to park yourself for the night if you’re saving it all for yourself.
Blue Mountain Dark Hollow- 10%, $$
Settled in between all these big boys is a tiny little brewery from Afton, Virginia. This beer is made every December, and it’s a bourbon barrel stout. This year, they aged their stout for 100 days in 1792 Ridgemont Reserve barrels, and it comes out in the beer big-time. OH but it’s so easily drinkable! This might be my favorite Virginia beer of all time. A great way to give a gift to someone and keep the money local.
Regenbood t’Smisje Kerst- 11%, $$$
This beer has it all. This might be my favorite of the holiday beers. Plums! Cherries! Cinnamon! Spice! Carbonation makes it finish a bit dry, but this beer is like a dark-fruit Christmas bubbly.
De Dolle Stille Nacht-12%, $$
Colored a dark orange/brown, this beer is delightful. It’s a bit dry, a bit tart. You’ll taste some lighter/sweeter fruits, and get notes like pear, white grape, baked apple, and cloves. This brewery is in Belgium, run by one single dude who does everything from brewing to shipping to label design. They say he’s crazy, and I’d believe it. He even painted his mother on one label, a beer called ‘Dulle Teve.’ ‘Dulle Teve’ means “mad bitch.” Sounds like someone didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas.
Photo by: mccun934