We’re in the prime holiday party season. The coming weekends will be full of office parties and catching up with friends as Christmas and New Year’s Eve draws near. That means you’ll likely be drinking a little tipple to loosen up and mingle… or just get through the night (we don’t judge). So it stands to reason that you’d need to stock up on great winter beers to serve guests or simply take along to a BYOB event.
What makes a great winter beer (sometimes called a winter warmer)? It’s a meeting of two major attributes. One, winter beers are generally high ABV. This is the time to let loose and winter beers always pack a punch. Expect ABVs to range from six to 12 or even 13 percent (that’s wine territory). Two, these beers are often cut with spices and fruit (especially rinds). This adds an extra layer of depth to the beer’s building blocks of yeast, grains, hops, and water.
Let’s dive into the best beers to have on hand for the next holiday party you find yourself at. Hopefully, we’ll find a beer that’ll have you smiling as 2020 dawns.
“THE WELCOME TO THE PARTY BEER” — SCHLAFLY CHRISTMAS ALE
Out in Missouri, Schlafly is putting out solid local craft brews. Their Christmas Ale has a roasted caramel malt base that’s amped up with honey to add ABVs (eight percent). Then orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom, and cloves are added to the beer before it mellows into a delicious winter warmer ale.
Notes of fresh ginger, cloves, and orange mingle with the caramel malts upfront. Rich fruit cake stuffed with candied fruits, nuts, and spices dominates the palate with a cut of tart berries and a whisper of vanilla.
This one will go down easy. It’s a great introduction to the style and is a great party-starter.
“THE PRE-DINNER BEER” — THIRSTY DOG 12 DOGS OF CHRISTMAS ALE
Ohio’s Thirsty Dog Brewing Company drops one of the best winter warmers this time of year. 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale has a base of caramel malts that are amped up with fresh honey, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg plus some “secret” ingredients. The eight percent ABV makes this one within the range of having a bottle to yourself without hitting too hard. Still, be on your toes, eight percent catches up fast.
Caramel malts spiked with powdered sugar covered fruit cake with plenty of dried fruits, nuts, and spices greet you. Figs, caramel, honey, Christmas spices, and malts dominate the taste with little to no hop bitterness. Nutmeg and raisins rise as the sip fades into all those spices and malts.
This beer is about the refinement of the style. It’s a good beer to compare and contrast with Schlafly.
“THE DINNER PAIRING BEER” — DESCHUTES JUBELALE
We’re drawing back a bit on this beer. First, Jubelale’s ABV is only 6.7 percent. That’s very accessible for mid-party, let’s-stuff-our-faces vibes. The winter ale amps up the malts and adds in a serious hop bitterness via four malt varietals and five hop varietals. Then those classic winter spices and fruits are added to bring about a subtly delicious brew.
This rich sip starts off with notes of toasted spices and bitter cocoa. Notes of roasted nuts mingle with rich and buttery toffee sweetness. The warm spices counterpoint the hop bitterness and keep it in check though you still get a very clear hint of pine resin.
This beer draws the ABV back a bit, allowing you to enjoy a little more than one bottle. It’s also complex enough to enjoy with a rich stew or chili.
“PARTY TIME BEER” — ALASKAN WINTER ALE
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Alaskan’s Winter Ale is a great palate cleanser. It’s also endlessly quaffable with a 6.4 percent ABV and a crisp taste. The English Olde Ale is made with water from the Juneau Ice Field, hops and malts from the Pacific Northwest and Europe, and Sitka spruce tips from the Alaskan wilderness.
The beer opens with notes of caramel malts, spruce tips, and an echo of fresh herbs. That herbal note leads towards a bright fruitiness with support from the sweet biscuit malts and crisp hops. The dry nature of the beer is supported by the piney feel from the spruce, adding a lightness to the brew.
It’s okay to drink a six-pack of this stuff and dance the night away. Again, we don’t judge.
“THE FAREWELL DRINK” — AVENTINUS EISBOCK
This is a powerhouse beer with a 12 percent ABV. The beer gets its name from actually freezing the beer to remove “unwanted” water, leaving behind more concentrated flavors and alcohol. Hence, “Eisbock” translates to “Ice bock.” That process creates a mug of suds that’s both the embodiment of winter and an ass-kicking ABV-wise.
This is a beautifully nuanced sip of beer. Plums stewed in Christmas spices, banana, and roasted almonds lead the way. That almond turns into full-on marzipan as the candied fruit shifts toward bitter dark chocolate, crepes covered in brandied cherries, creamy tiramisu, and a very distant whisper of a freshly cracked opened wheel of parmesan.
With an ABV this big, it might be best to serve this beer in wine glasses with small pours. This is going to get people lit while still providing enough depth to keep people talking about the beer long after their Ubers have arrived to whisk them into the wintry night.