15 of the Best Holiday Beers for Seasonal Sipping


(Photo Courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing)

When you think of holiday beers, you probably think of brews that include the same spices that are used in mulled wines and hot ciders (allspice, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon). While the best brewers use a light hand and produce balanced and pleasing winter warmers, there are more than a few spice bombs out there.

The best holiday beers on the market encompass a grab bag of styles ranging from pungent India Pale Ales to bold malty lagers to Belgian-inspired fruit beer. We also found a couple of righteously spicy takes that strike the right balance between beer and spice. Here are the best holiday ales out this year.

Related: The 100 Best Beers in the World

Fireside Chat


(Photo Courtesy of 21st Amendment Brewing)

Brewer: 21st Amendment Brewing

Style: Winter Warmer

Named after FDR’s evening radio addresses during the Depression, San Francisco’s 21st Amendment considers its beer to be similarly comforting and rousing. Fireside Chat is bigger than the traditional English winter warmers (a spiced strong ale) it’s based on, and hoppier as well. The beer is brewed with cocoa flavor-infusing dark malts along with cocoa nibs. The American hops are on par with a pale ale, and the beer is finished with a gentle — but not subtle — blend of spices.

Glazed Ham Porter


(Photo Courtesy of Flat 12 Brewing)

Brewer: Flat 12 Brewing

Style: American Porter

The black, smoky ale features the cloves of a classic holiday ham, but it’s light on overall spicing. This makes the chocolate brew more similar to Alaskan Smoked Porter than your typical winter seasonal that smells like a spice rack.

Related: The Best Christmas Beers

Isolation Ale


(Photo Courtesy of Odell Brewing)

Brewer: Odell Brewing

Style: Winter Warmer

Be warned: This isn’t your typical spice-heavy winter warmer. Rather, this Fort Collins, Colorado, outfit crafted a strong English pale ale with big, balanced barley and hops characteristics. It’s smoother than an American amber ale, and maltier than a pale ale, making it an ideal beer to drink in that cozy cabin depicted on the label.



(Photo Courtesy of Deschutes Brewing)

Brewer: Deschutes Brewing

Style: Winter Warmer

This complex brown ale matches dark, dried fruit and roasted flavors to citrus and earthy spices without any ingredients beyond Deschutes’s inventive barley and hops choices. Though deemed a winter seasonal by Deschutes, the availability runs through the fall, starting in September to give you a jump on the holidays. It fills that autumn need for a warming, spiced beer (despite the lack of spices) as good as any other you might crack open.

Related: The 7 Best Bourbons to Buy This Winter for Under $55

Old Jubilation


(Photo Courtesy of Avery Brewing)

Brewer: Avery Brewing

Style: Old Ale

This beefed up winter warmer is an ideal antidote for chilly nights, thanks to the 8.3-percent alcohol. The only spice you’ll find in Old Jubilation is the ample hops Avery added. The barley brings rich fruit and caramel flavors that get followed up by bitter citrus hops. This beer is also one to age, thanks to the strength. We’ve enjoyed bottles up to two years old, which offered more chocolate and subtle, herbal flavors.

Winter Cheers


(Photo Courtesy of Victory Brewing)

Brewer: Victory Brewing

Style: German Hefeweizen

Victory gets a lot of well deserved attention for its hop-laden Prima Pils, DirtWolf, Hop Devil IPA, but for years it’s also been brewing top-notch German wheat beers. The latest, Winter Cheers, is an amplified take on the style to help you fortify yourself against the cold. Clocking 6.7-percent alcohol, Victory added juicy American hops to complement to traditional banana and clove flavors of the style.

Related: 14 The Most Alcoholic Beers (You Can Actually Buy)

Abominable Winter Ale


(Photo Courtesy of Hopworks Urban Brewery)

Brewer: Hopworks Urban Brewery

Style: American IPA

We’re calling this gem a winter beer for folks who love dry, hop-heavy West Coast IPAs. The organic Abominable takes on an amber hue from caramel malts, but the big American-grown hops dominate this floral and citrus ale.

Snow and Tell


(Photo Courtesy of Boulevard Brewing)

Brewer: Boulevard Brewing

Style: Scotch Ale

New for 2015, Boulevard’s Snow and Tell takes the winter-friendly Scotch ale style and upgrades it with oak chips and a dash of smoked barley. It’s a perfect fireside brew, with roasted toffee and molasses in a smooth, comforting dark ale.

Related: The 10 Best New IPAs

Lovely, Dark, and Deep


(Photo Courtesy of Brewery Ommegang)

Brewer: Brewery Ommegang

Style: Oatmeal Stout

Upstate New York’s Belgian brew house has a new winter seasonal, and we’re thankful to see not-your-average winter ale. This chocolate-y stout leans on roasted barley as well as black wheat for a smooth and comforting beer with a roasted edge.

8 Maids-a-Milking


(Photo Courtesy of The Bruery)

Brewer: The Bruery

Style: Imperial Stout

8 Maids-a-Milking is the Bruery’s annual entry in its 12 Beers of Christmas series (last year was 7 Swans-a-Swimming). The imperial milk stout is designed to be aged for up to four years and enjoyed upon the eventual release of the 12 Drummers Drumming. Holding an extra bottle until 2019 is a fine idea, but we recommend enjoying this dark, lovey beer during this season. The strong, 11-percent alcohol beer marries milk chocolate and spice flavors with rich, sweet dark-roasted barley.

Related: 18 Gift Ideas for Beer Lovers

He'Brew Hanukkah, Chanukah: Pass The Beer


(Photo Courtesy of Shmaltz Brewing)

Brewer: Shmaltz Brewing

Style: Winter Warmer

After 18 years in business, Shmaltz Brewing finally released its first beer to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Eight being a significant number in Jewish tradition beyond just the nights of Hanukkah, the upstate New York brewers used eight types of barley and hops in this 8-percent alcohol dark ale.



(Photo Courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing)

Brewer: Ninkasi Brewing

Style: German Altbier

You might expect that a brewery named after the ancient Sumerian goddess of brewing would take a more reverential approach to holiday tradition. Instead, the Eugene, Oregon–based Ninkasi features the big guy standing up in his sleigh and flashing devil horns. Sleigh'R is what the brewery calls a Dark Doüble Alt Ale. Alt translates to “old” in German, and the altbier style is brewed in what Germans consider the old way, with ale yeast instead of lager yeast. The beers are well-balanced with warm malt flavors and a punchy finishing bitterness.

Sleigh'R is deep brown with toasty, caramel aromas and flavors, a hefty 7.2-percent alcohol punch, and a bitter finish that’s just short of IPA levels. It’s refreshingly drinkable, and we’d give it a thumbs up, but under the circumstances, we’ll just flash the devil horns and order another pint.

Cold Front


(Photo Courtesy of Ithaca Beer Company)

Brewer: Ithaca Beer Company

Style: Belgian Dark Ale

In brewing its winter seasonal Cold Front, upstate New York’s Ithaca Beer Company made the unorthodox decision to use a Belgian farmhouse ale strain. The choice is unusual because the beers made with this strain are typically saisons, light and refreshing beers for the summer. Ithaca takes this yeast out of its typical setting and integrates it into an amber beer with caramel malt flavors more appropriate to the holiday season.

The advantage that the Ithaca brewers get from this choice is that the yeasts already produce many of the spicy and clove flavors that we associate with winter warmers. The decision not to root blindly through the spice rack yields a beer that integrates clove, nutmeg, and pepper notes much more gracefully. Cold Front pours with a light amber color and yields gentle caramel notes and a light herbal hoppy character along with the spices.

Celebration Ale


(Photo Courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing)

Brewer: Sierra Nevada Brewing

Style: American IPA

If you’re looking for a beer that will taste great while sitting by a Christmas tree, it’s hard to go wrong with the pine forest hop bouquet offered by a Sierra Nevada’s Celebration. First released in 1981, Celebration was one of the earliest examples of the style to be brewed by an American craft brewery.

While most breweries use pelletized hops that have been crushed in a hammer mill, Sierra Nevada uses only whole-flower hops across their entire lineup of beers. They insist that the whole flowers result in greater aroma than pellets. While other brewers might scoff at the practice, you’d be hard-pressed to find many that look down their noses at Celebration, which uses only the freshest dried hops from that year’s harvest. The result is a pungently hoppy IPA that helped spark a revolution in IPAs.



(Photo Courtesy of Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg)

Brewer: Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg

Style: German Doppelbock

The first time we drank a Samichlaus, we were thrown for a loop. For reasons we can’t understand, but suspect involve clueless government regulation, the beer is labelled a “malt liquor.” This carefully crafted Austrian import is a German-style dopplebock that will fill you with holiday cheer.

Known for their rich, malty flavors, dopplebocks are the strongest lagers in the German lager tradition, but even among the most powerful examples of the style, Samichlaus is something of a freak at 14 percent alcohol. Most stop well short of 10 percent. The style dates back to the Monks of St. Paula in Germany, who used it for sustenance during Lent.

Castle Brewery Eggenberg has monastic roots as well, but it’s now a commercial concern. They brew up Samichlaus just once a year, on December 7, Saint Nicholaus Day. The beer undergoes 10 months of cold storage or lagering before being bottled and put on the market. In keeping with its exceptional strength, it bears some resemblance to a remarkably well-aged barleywine.

By Chris Pagnotta

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