There’s no disputing the importance of alcohol during the holiday season. From cocktails to champagne and punches to beer, there’s always a time and place for booze come winter. While we enjoy cocktails and the like, today, we turn our attention to holiday brews. The season is perfectly suited for porters, stouts, barrel-aged beers, and Christmas ales.
Michelle Hamo, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia, chooses her holiday beers based on their ability to make her nostalgic for days spent baking with her mom.
“Gingerbread cookies, fudge, and, in particular, peanut butter balls dipped in dark chocolate,” she says. “With those sweets in mind, I’m always going to reach for a glass of Sweet Baby Jesus American Porter by DuClaw Brewing Company in Maryland. It’s creamy and full-bodied with dense opaque color. Its dark chocolate and peanut butter flavors leave me reminiscing of my favorite Christmas treats.”
But holiday beers stretch beyond just the malty, rich porter style. There are IPAs and ales and barrel-aged brews that fit the season, too! That’s why we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their favorite beers to sip on during the holidays.
Sierra Nevada Celebration
Taylor Scoma, manager of Stacked in Portland, Oregon
My go-to is always Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Fresh Hop Ale. I love how hoppy it is and how easy it is to drink. Celebration is a traditional holiday beer and a classic IPA at the same time, which pleases the Norcal gal in me. This beer evokes so much nostalgia with each sip and I think that’s what the holidays are all about.
Hardywood Gingerbread Stout
Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia
I love Hardywoods’ Gingerbread Stout. Hardywood is out of Richmond Virginia and the release of this beer always brings a big turnout. It’s also very much in line with all things associated with the season.
Chimay Grande Reserve
Cole Newton, bartender and owner at Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans
I don’t really think of the Christmas season as a religious holiday — it’s a cultural celebration for all of us, at this point. That said, there’s something charmingly on-brand with drinking a beer brewed by Christian monks this time of year. Chimay Grande Reserve is a great way to go: rich and strong, you can get big bottles with a champagne-style cork for celebratory popping, and it’s appropriately devout.
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC
One of my favorite Christmas beers is Great Lakes Christmas Ale. I love the balance of the baking spices in it. They’re not overpowering, making this a great festive beer.
Bell’s Christmas Ale
Lucas Siegel, bar manager at Von Elrod’s Beer Hall & Kitchen in Nashville
I’m going with Bell’s Christmas Ale. Some Christmas and holiday beers just add spice to one of their regular offerings or go super dark with a rich porter or a creamy stout. Here we have the oft-overlooked Scotch Ale. It’s darker than your average beer with notes of caramel and the obligatory spices to bring the pinewood and maple directly into your olfactory senses. You don’t have to be Scottish or celebrate Christmas to enjoy it, promise.
Left Hand Milk Stout
Slayde Martin, bar operations manager at Pescado in Rosemary Beach, Florida
I’ll be honest, I don’t drink a lot of beer and when I do, it’s mostly pilsners. However, I do enjoy Left Hand Milk Stout especially if it’s on Nitro. If available on nitro, it is silky and creamy. Hints of vanilla, milk, and coffee. It reminds me of drinking coffee on Christmas morning (there’s typically a bit of Bailey’s in mine).
Innis & Gunn Original
Jim Wrigley, beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire in The Cayman Islands
Innis & Gunn Original Scotch Whisky barrel-aged beer. Deceptively gluggable, this barrel-aged IPA is rested for 66 days in they’ll-never-tell-whose single malt Scotch whisky barrels (I reckon it’s Balvenie, shhh!).
The smooth malty toffee notes belie the 6.6% ABV helping raise the festive spirit. Responsibly, of course.
Boulevard Nutcracker Ale
Seth Weinberg, head bartender at Bourbon Steak in Nashville
Boulevard Brewing out of Kansas City makes a seasonal holiday beer called the “Nutcracker Ale”. It’s a beautiful amber ale that has a rich balance of molasses, alcohol, and bitterness. It’s one of those beers where every sip is perfectly balanced, and I can drink multiples in one sitting, whereas some holiday beers are too rich to drink more than one of in a row.
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. This thing is the best mix between a malty Irish Ale and a warm shot of bourbon. It packs a great ABV punch to keep you jolly through all the Holiday family activities.
Block 15 Figgy Pudding
Brandon Lockman, leader bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon
A good holiday beer I’ve had in the past was from Block 15, called Figgy Pudding. It had nutty, caramel notes with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, and it’s aged in brandy barrels for warming, boozy finish. Just the thing to warm you up during the winter.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
Zarko Stankovik, beverage manager of Time Out Market in Miami
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, made as Belgian Quadrupel, this rich and frothy ale is like Christmas in a bottle. It’s caramel malt aromas, baked apple and spice flavors would put a smile even on Scrooge’s face.
Triple C White Blaze Winter Ale
Christa Costa, owner and mixologist at The Artisan’s Palate in Charlotte, North Carolina
Triple C White Blaze Winter Ale because it’s local to Charlotte and it’s the perfect drinking beer. It has hints of cinnamon and clove and makes you feel warm on those cold days during the holidays.
Troegs Mad Elf
Rebecca Edwards, bar manager at Tavola in Charlottesville, Virginia
Mad Elf Ale from Troegs Brewing. With its light chocolate flavor and notes of cinnamon and clove, it simply tastes like Christmas–and it doesn’t hurt that it’s 11%, so starts the party and then keeps it going.
Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc
Jose Medina Camacho, lead bartender at Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, Alabama
When it comes to holiday beers, I prefer Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc. it’s simple, balanced, and has just enough acid to work with all foods or drink it on its own.