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.
Hardywood 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Corsendonk 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).
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.
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.
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 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.