Life

The Best Winter Beers To Chase Down This Holiday Season

Winter beer season has arrived! Winter ales, Belgian dark ales, German eisbocks, spiced lagers, and IPAs are all being stocked on beer shelves right now. The time for celebration is at hand and that means it’s time to drink some powerful (and very flavorful) brews as the snow falls and the Christmas lights go up.

So, what is a “winter” beer exactly? Well, it’s no one thing. The beers we’re featuring here are often referred to as “winter warmers” but even that covers a lot of different styles. Speaking generally, winter beers tend to be spicy, sweet, dark, malty, and high ABV. These can be classic ales or lagers and everything in between (for the most part). Candied fruits, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and sweet cracker malts are usually present but not always. As with almost all beer definitions, there will always be exceptions to any rule.

The ten bottles below offer a mix of domestic and international classics. Most of these beers should be fairly accessible across the nation, but some may lean more West Coast or East Coast in distribution. Still, now’s the time to start stocking up for the holidays with some great winter beer. There are a lot of family dinners, parties, holiday travel, and snowy days ahead and you’ll need a good beer in hand to get through it all.

SCHNEIDER WEISSE AVENTINUS EISBOCK

Story:

Germany is all about winter holiday festivities. The Christmas markets across the country are some of the best in the world. To go along with that tradition of properly decking the halls, the Germans make some damn fine winter beers. In this case, an eisbock is a quintessential winter warmer. An eisbock is a beer wherein the water is frozen and removed from the beer, leaving behind the alcohol and sugars with a hardcore concentration of flavors.

Tasting Notes:

Schneider Weisse’s Aventinus Eisbock is a highwater mark of the style that packs a serious punch. This beer has a 12 percent ABV, which is basically the same as a bottle of wine. Spiced plums, notes of banana, and sharp clove greet you. Hazelnut and rich marzipan mingle with the fatty fruit, spices, and molasses. There’s a wisp of leather on the end as a rich maltiness brings a warming finish.

PRAIRIE ARTISAN ALES CHRISTMAS BOMB!

Story:

Prairie Artisan Ales are some of the most sought after American craft beers. Their Christmas Bomb! is a well-aged stout the mellows with espresso beans, vanilla beans, chocolate, and ancho chile peppers as it barrel ages. These adjuncts add a deep flavor profile to the beer that amps up the spiciness and gives the stout a very wintry feel.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear presence of cacao, coffee beans, and vanilla alongside a spice matrix of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and chili. The heavy-cake malts create a nice foundation for all those spices, bitter chocolate, coffee notes, and oaky vanilla to shine. This is a spicy Christmas cake in a bottle.

Be warned, this beer has a 13 percent ABV, making this a beer to share like a fine wine.

ACHOUFFE BREWERY N’ICE CHOUFFE

Story:

This Belgian strong dark ale from Brasserie d’Achouffe is another must-have bottle this time of year. The dark ale is brewed with a touch of wheat, smoothing out the rougher edges of the high ABV (ten percent). This a beer that’s almost too easy to fall in love with. You’ll find yourself thinking about it even in the heat of the summer, wishing you had saved just one bottle.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a nice, mild hoppiness at play that sets this one apart from the maltier winter warmers from Europe on this list. Notes of fresh sprigs of thyme align with orange liqueur alcohol hints. The caramelized malts are bold but never overly sweet. Winter spices carry the orange essence to a full-bodied and slightly dry finish.

ALASKAN WINTER ALE

Story:

This English Old Ale from Alaskan is a mellow and malty favorite. This beer also registers at a very quaffable 6.4 percent ABV, meaning you can have a whole one to yourself without falling into a Christmas tree. That’s a win. The beer is brewed with Alaskan glacial water and spiked with wild spruce tips from the Alaskan hinterland.

Tasting Notes:

The beer opens with a distinct note of ripe blackberries next to the spruce resin. The malts kick in with a sweet and spiced cake base for the spruce and sparse hops to play with. There’s a clear baking spice background leading to a crisp finish.

BRASSERIE DUPONT AVEC LES BONS VOEUX

Story:

Bons Voeux started off as a special New Year’s celebration beer by the head brewer at Brasserie Dupont for friends and family. The beer was so beloved that they started making it for a wider and wider audience until it became an iconic winter release. The wintry Belgian Saison is a mix of the dailed-in aspects of a classic Belgian funky beer with clear winter elements adding depth (and alcohol — this one is 9.5 percent ABV).

Tasting Notes:

Rich malts open this brew up. Notes of lemon zest sit next to ripe banana and cloves with a hint of pepper. There’s a mild yeasty funk lurking in the background with a wisp of grassiness. The spices kick around with the malts and an echo of bitterness.

The finish is dry with a hint of fruity tartness.

ELYSIAN BREWING BIFROST

Story:

This winter pale ale from Seattle blends West Coast ale brewing with winter vibes. If you’re into the hoppier side of things but still want those winter warmer tastes, Bifrost will be your jam. The IBUs are amped up to the high 50s, giving this one a real hop push.

This is still a winter beer though. The ABV on this one sits at 8.3 percent, so tread lightly.

Tasting Notes:

Caramel apples, orange zest, and baking spices flow through your senses. The hops kick in with a clear citrus bent and an echo of resin dank that’s more earthy than piney. The rich malts counterbalance as the spice and fruit lead to a dry, refreshing finish.

SAMUEL SMITH’S WINTER WELCOME ALE

Story:

Hailing from the North of England, Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale is a classic winter warmer. The beer is fermented in unique and very local stone “Yorkshire Squares.” These are exactly what they sound like: huge square fermentation tanks made of stone that are heritage pieces of antique brewery equipment. Their winter beer uses the same yeast the brewery has been using since the 1800s to make this classic brew.

Tasting Notes:

This beer leans away from the spice and into the dried and candied fruits and maltiness. Hints of fatty nuts, caramel, and grassy hops dance through the sip. The herbal hops have a very, very distant note of pepperiness that helps keep the finish mild and effervescent.

SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION

Story:

Sierra Nevada’s Celebration is a classic West Coast IPA made with fresh hops to celebrate the autumn harvest and be drunk throughout the winter months. The beer leans into old-school West Coast craft tactics and shines as a great example of American Craft. Sierra Nevada dialed in this recipe back in 1981 and there’s been no need to change it since then. It’s that good.

Tasting Notes:

The beer starts off with rich wintry malt notes of dark caramel, rye bread, and buttery toffee. Then the hops arrive with a clear pine resin feel that’s cut by a slight citrus touch. Molasses covered bread swirls back in to help balance out the hop bitterness. The light carbonation brings a full-bodied finish to the beer that ties all the rich malts and bitter hops together.

At a mere 6.8 percent ABV, a single six-pack may not be enough.

DESCHUTES BREWERY JUBELALE

Story:

Out in Oregon, Deschutes has been killing the craft beer game since deep into the 1980s. Their winter warmer, Jubelale, is a stonecold American craft classic. The beer has a spectrum of five different malts alongside five types of hops. The hops are amped up, registering a hefty 65 IBUS but the ABV remains very accessible at 6.7 percent. Basically, if you dig spicy winter ales and hops, this is going to be the beer for you.

Tasting Notes:

Bitter cacao, fatty and sweet dried fruits, and buttery toffee lead the way. Spices kick in with cloves and allspice heading up the pack and a wisp of nutmeg coming in late. There’s a West Coast vibe to the earthy hops that’s more grassy than anything else. The finish is an interesting mix of those spices, a note of tart cranberry, and an ever-so distance whisper of pickle brine.

ANCHOR BREWING CHRISTMAS ALE

Story:

This San Francisco ale has been going strong since 1975. With every new release over the last 44 years, Anchor’s Christmas Ale has ebbed and flowed with the times. The dark ale has a clear baseline of winter warmer notes that’s amped with innovation, keeping this beer eternally fresh.

Tasting Notes:

The base malts in this beer lean into brûléed sugars and spicy banana bread with plenty of walnuts. Hints of bitter cacao sit next to pine resin-forward hops. The sweetness echoes a candied yam by way of a pine tree. All of this ties together on the velvet finish that leaves you wanting more. And, at 6.9 percent ABV, you can definitely have more than one.

×