The holiday season is officially upon us. 2020 is nearly (finally!) over. The weather is getting crisper by the day and the halls are being decked. It’s time to drink some delicious and heavy-hitting craft beer as the year winds down.
This month’s list of craft beer releases leans wholly into winter warmers, Christmas and holiday beers, and fresh brews that suit quaffing right now. That translates to lots of spices and orange oils, with hefty ABVs and even heftier flavor notes. Next month, everyone will be bandying on about “sober January” and trying to start 2021 off with a bang, so now’s the time to sit back next to a fire and savor something decadent and local.
Hopefully, the eight beers we’re giving love to this month will pique your interest and inspire you to explore exciting brews made near you or sold at your closest bottle shop. These picks represent regional craft beer releases from breweries that we vouch for, along with seasonal bottles we’ve been looking forward to tasting again.
PACIFIC NORTHWEST DROP: Alaskan Limited Edition 2020 Smoked Porter
Style: Smoked Porter
While this beer is a “limited edition,” it is produced every year and dropped for the winter season. This classic beer from up in Juneau, Alaska, embraces the iconic “rauchbier” from Germany’s premier beer-brewing city, Bamberg. The alder smoked malts used in the initial fermentation are what give this beer its distinct smokiness. The rest is pure Alaskan water and Pacific Northwest hops.
There’s a subtle campfire smoke up top with a nod to a fatty smoked salmon or bacon (depending on the age of the brew). The bitterness is mild with an echo of hops lingering far in the background. There’s a hint of molasses sweetness in the smoky malts that has touches of a smoked gouda with an ashen edge.
This beer is always wonderful when it’s released. But it really shines if you lay it down in a cellar for a few years. All those flavor notes will dial-in and smooth out into something truly special.
SOUTHWEST DROP: Anchor Christmas Ale
Style: Winter Warmer
Every year for the last 45 years, San Francisco’s Anchor Steam has released a special winter warmer, Christmas Ale. This year’s release is the first from the new Brewmaster, Tom Riley. The beer is a little different every year. This has holiday spices folded into the brew and holds the highest yet ABV for any Anchor Christmas release.
The beer leans into fresh espresso laced with dark chocolate bitterness. Those notes lead towards a creamy nature closer to a choco-eggnog latte with plenty of that brown ale spice and depth. There’s a bit of a graham cracker maltiness underneath it all with a subtle sweetness to counterpoint that coffee/chocolate bitter bite.
A six-pack of this should be in your fridge this time of year. It makes for a great pre or post-meal sipper.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN DROP: Upslope Wild Christmas Ale With Citrus and Cinnamon
Style: Aged Sour Ale
Upslope’s yearly Lee Hill Series Christmas releases have become must-haves amongst beer-connoisseurs. This year’s release is a blend of American and French oak-aged sour ales that have been spiked with bergamot orange juice, orange zest, and Saigon cinnamon in the brew. The results are a uniquely delicious winter ale that won’t be seen again.
The orange really shines through with a candied edge. There’s a tartness that’s more fruity than funky that reminds you of cranberry sauce spiked with plenty of cinnamon. The finish is mildly dry, fruity-tart, and full of Christmas spices.
If you can get your hands on this, buy a couple. They’re tasty AF and suit this time of year to a tee.
SOUTHERN DROP: Saint Arnold Christmas Ale
Style: Old Ale
Texas’ Saint Arnold puts out quality seasonal brews that peaks with their Christmas Ale. The malts bring about a great depth in the brew but the nuance here is in the Pacific Northwest hops used to spice up the beer.
This really hits those “winter ale” notes on the head. There’s an alcohol-driven sweet caramel maltiness that provides a solid foundation for mildly floral and bitter hop notes. Those hops have a little bit of a bite as a subtle spice kicks around in the background.
This is a really sippable pour. It’s refreshing yet filling. It’s nuanced yet full of flavor.
MIDWEST DROP: Revolution Brewing Fistmas
Style: American Amber
This Chicago beer isn’t the lightest ABV beer on the list, but it’s the lightest drinking one. The red ale is spiked with fresh ginger and orange peels to add that “holiday” edge to the suds. The end results are a crushable beer with no rough edges.
Sweet caramel malts with an almost sourdough bread-energy mingle with that sharp orange on the greeting. The bready malts, fresh and spicy ginger, and orange oils combine with the malty sweetness to create a velvet sipper.
These go down very easily but they are not session beers … no matter how easy they are to smash.
NORTHEAST DROP: Samuel Adams Holiday Porter
Style: American Porter
This limited-edition beer from Samuel Adams hits the perfect wintry spot right now. The beer is a classic brew that utilizes English malts and German hops to create a well-crafted wintry treat in beer form.
There’s a decent depth to the beer, with plenty of bitter chocolate leading towards a nutty toffee malty sweetness. The bitterness zeroes in on an espresso bean sharpness as a very distant echo of bitter hops pop in the background. The end is a little spicy and, dare we say, comes with a hint of smoke.
The real shame of this beer is that it’s only sold in the Samuel Adams Winter Classics collection and not individually. Still, it’s worth grabbing for this and the Winter Lager this time of year (and it’s available nationwide).
WILD CARD DROP: Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop IPA
Style: American IPA
This is both a classic winter craft brew and a classic IPA. The beer is brewed with fresh hops from the beginning of the harvest to really amp up the West Coast dankness of the body while leaning into the wintry aspects of a winter ale. It’s a bit of magic in a bottle.
Toasted malts and dank pine-resin hops beckon you in. The malts become sweeter as the sip progresses and the hops bloom with citrus. The end is a matrix of dankness, citrus, and caramel malts with hints of spice that just works.
You don’t have to love IPAs to love this beer. It’s just so damn easy to drink, so bright, and so full of wintry vibes.
INT’L PICK OF THE MONTH: Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux
Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale
Brasserie Dupont is one of the most heralded Belgian breweries, full stop. Their Saison Dupont is beloved by beer aficionados the world over. This expression is a special holiday release that used to only go to family and friends of the brewery. It leaked out to the public and became so popular that it got a wide release and is now considered one of the best holiday beers there is.
The beer is richly aromatic from the moment it nears your nose with hints of clove, green banana, black pepper, and lemon curd. The malts are bold, sweet, and creamy as the grassy tart nature of the lemon mingles with a distant spiciness and fruitiness. The sip ends dry while still feeling full-bodied and very silky.
This is one of our all-time favorite beer of any season. It’s also available in the U.S. in most well-stocked bottle shops or online for as little as $8 for a 12-oz., corked bottle.