Is there a better gift than a great bottle of beer? Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a bottle. It can be a special six-pack or a growler from your favorite local craft brewery. Sharing beer this time of year just feels festive, even in 2020 when most of our gatherings will be virtual.
While we always have plenty of opinions on which beers you should drink, we thought we’d pull in a crew of seasoned industry experts this time around. We asked beer writers, brewers, photographers, judges, and all-around aficionados to help us create a list of the “best beers to gift someone this holiday season.” Some of their picks were on our radar, others surprised us — which is sort of the whole point.
Before we dive in we should note that one beer was called out three times. We dropped the third call out (mine) and kept the other two, both because we believe in the beer and to give you a rare second opinion on the flavor profile. For the most part, the beers featured are fairly accessible from delivery services (just click the prices). In the few cases where they aren’t, we recommend looking for a local craft beer that matches the tasting notes of the beer getting shouted out.
Let’s dive in!
Sierra Nevada Celebration — Julie Roesser, Beer photographer Craftbeerdeer
If I need to gift someone beer around the holidays, I’ll grab a six-pack of the classic Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop IPA. This seasonal IPA pours clear and is dark amber in color with an off white head. Definitely keeps you toasty in the winter at 6.8 percent ABV.
It’s always tasty, festive, and satisfying.
It’s not your typical sweet winter beer with added spices or anything like that. It’s just a crisp, flavorful, and well-balanced IPA. It’s brewed with Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops and punches you in the face with citrus and pine aromas. The flavor is smooth, hoppy, and piney. It packs rich malty caramel notes with medium bitterness and a sweet finish.
Allagash Coolship Cerise — Alison Grasso, Beer influencer Grassowhat
A classy beer in a beautiful bottle, Coolship Cerise from Allagash also comes with an interesting story. Allagash uses the traditional, centuries-old Belgian technique of cooling the wort in a Coolship — a wide, shallow vat in a room with open windows — and allowing wild bacteria in the Maine night air to inoculate it. The beer is then aged on cherries for six months before being bottled. The addition of cherries produces a familiar and accessible flavor, making it perfect for those who are new to beer, while its spontaneously-fermented complexity will delight those with more advanced palates.
There are notes of tart cherry, oak, barnyard funk, and wine mingling throughout the beer.
Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait — Cristal Peck, Brewmaster and Malt Specialist at Boortmalt Innovation Center, Antwerp
2020 is a pretty bleak time to traverse Europe in the pursuit of beer. Exploring breweries and sampling the goods in taprooms is not really a thing these days. So you can imagine my glee when a reconnaissance trip to the countryside region of Lembeek in Belgium unearthed something pretty special: A temporary gift shop within a trailer at a brewery that has been a pioneering force behind Belgium’s rare lambic gems, Brewery Boon.
The trailer was compact yet brimming with vast arrays of spontaneously fermented treats of different blends, different foeders, different fruits. It was endless possibilities with each shelf containing lambics more complex and layered than the other.
Their stylish branding also featured on a handful of merch. I felt like a kid in a candy store. So I went ahead and packed myself a mixed box with a bit of everything. And hey, maybe even a few bottles to gift to those tricky people to buy for, including their Kriek Mariage Parfait!
Kriek Mariage Parfait is not “beer” as we know beer to be. It’s in a league of its own — utter brilliance from beginning to end and unlike anything else. Hectic fizz pulls out aromas of sour cherries augmented by tart wine and deep woody tannins. The distinct lambic funk is almost cheesy but difficult to pinpoint without sounding derogatory when it could not be further from that.
Deep ruby red with a solid and persevering pink foam, you taste the remnants of fresh wild cherries macerated through prolonged barrel-aging. It’s a feast for the microbes of the renowned Lembeek terroir.
Kriek Mariage Parfait drinks like a delicious cocktail of sour wine and sparkling bubbles, oaky cherries, and tart complexity against delicate vanilla. Like I said, utter brilliance from beginning to end. I feel thankful that this tradition is protected and celebrated and the next generation of Boon is ready to take the reins.
TIP: If the Kriek Mariage Parfait is not easy to find, Boon’s standard Kriek (their best-seller actually), or their glorious aged Kriek, their Oude Kriek, are very worthy substitutes.
Wellspent Mister Maraschino — Joe Stange, co-author CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide To Belgium and managing editor Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine
Beer is daily bread, a basic commodity, and good beer is easy to find these days. If you’re going to give it as a gift, it can’t be something they can find at any supermarket. It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, but it does have to be special. It needs a bit of that rare ingredient called unobtainium.
It also helps, I think, if it’s strong. If it comes from a tiny batch from a tiny brewery, even better. It definitely can be local (especially if the recipient ain’t from around here).
Most importantly, though: It has to be really good.
So I’m going with Wellspent Mister Maraschino, out of St. Louis. This big, viscous, bourbon-barrel-aged stout, matured on cacao nibs and Luxardo cherries, ticks all those boxes and more. The red-wax capping even gives it a gifty vibe. Notably, our blind tasting panel over at Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine gave this beer top marks of 99/100 earlier this year.
Nose like dark-chocolate cake batter, studded with cherries drowning in glistening chocolate goo. On the palate: weighty, thick, with dark chocolate coming on strong and getting darker pushes from roasted edges and moderate bitterness. Relatively restrained sweetness, all things considered—it’s warming, balanced, and doesn’t cloy. Bourbon is subtle and brown-sugary. A monster of a beer that works because all those big performers strum in harmony.
It’s one of the best beers I had all year. Good luck finding a bottle. I had one and gifted it to myself.
Burning Sky Cuvée — Matthew Curtis, co-founder/editor in chief of Pellicle Magazine
In our house, we have a saying: “Cuvée all-day”
We’re referring to the eponymously named beer from the stupendous Burning Sky Brewery, one of the U.K.’s best-kept secrets. As a producer — for me at least — they rank alongside luminaries such as Hill Farmstead, Casey, Tilquin, and The Rare Barrel. Their beers are often without parallel in England, so when I gift you a bottle, you know it means I genuinely like you.
Cuvée is a special beer among the sours and saisons that makes up this brewery’s range, poured in 750ml bottles. 70 percent of the blend is its house saison, barrel-matured in former Chardonnay barriques. The other 30 percent is a portion of lambic taken from their friends, Brouwerij Girardin in Belgium, also aged in oak at Burning Sky.
This blend (hence the beer’s name) shares a lively, spritzy acidity with a popular sparkling white wine from the north-east of France. This mingles with layered flavors of lemon zest, lime, and gooseberry, all leading to a delectably-dry finish. It’s the kind of beer that’s perfect to open on Christmas morning, and, trust me on this, makes a magical pairing with seafood.
Aecht Schlenkerla Urbock and Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche — Andreas Krennmair, award-winning home brewer and author of Vienna Lager
Schlenkerla is an odd one. This traditional brewery from Bamberg is one of only two to still brew traditional smoked beers. Their flagship beer, Märzen, presents itself very differently. When served straight from a wooden cask in the brewery taproom/restaurant, the beech smoke is soft and subtle, almost undetectable if you’re used to it. From the bottle, the smokey character is more dominant, often described as liquid bacon.
Of course, the conventional way of aging this beer takes time, some planning ahead, and restraint not to sample the beer too early. Fortunately, Schlenkerla itself uses their beer cellars in one of the hills of Bamberg to age the bottled beers under controlled conditions and sells them by vintage at ages of at least 4 years. The fact that Schlenkerla Urbock and Eiche are truly rare specialties and exceptionally unusual beers makes them the perfect gifts even for seasoned beer nerds.
Two particular seasonal winter specialties from this brewery are Urbock, a Bockbier with 6.5 percent ABV, and Eiche, a Doppelbock, with 8 percent ABV, which is brewed from oak-smoked malt. While they’re great beers on their own, they improve even more with age. When enjoyed fresh, they’re both quite smoke-forward, with Urbock being on the sweeter side, while Eiche is a bit drier and accentuated by oak smoke.
At a year’s age, they can take on a metallic taste. But, after a few more years, this fades away, leaving behind an even meatier-tasting strong beer than before. It’s probably the best smoked beer you’ll ever have.
Avec Les Bons Vœux — Breandán Kearney, founder & Editor-in-Chief of Belgian Smaak
Falling somewhere between a Belgian Tripel and a Belgian Saison, Avec Les Bons Vœux is often overlooked for its smaller sibling Saison Dupont.
This beer started life as a gift! Avec Les Bons Vœux — translating as “With Good Wishes” — was originally created in 1970 as a one-off gift to Brasserie Dupont’s most loyal customers. Its reception was so successful that it was moved into regular rotation and this strong copper blond ale has become a complex staple of the brewery’s portfolio ever since.
The famous open flame kettle at Dupont equips the Bon Vœux with hints of caramel and honey. But the characteristic yeast profile found in all of Dupont’s beers is the dominant element in its flavor make-up. With its highly attenuating fermentation capabilities, its tolerance to high temperatures, and the squat flat-bottomed fermenters in which it does its work, the Dupont yeast delivers stone fruit and citrus notes with some background pepper and clove.
It’s a rich and balanced beer, perfect as a gift for beer beginners or long-time geeks.
Sierra Nevada Celebration — Dave Carpenter, editor-in-chief of Zymurgy, Certified Cicerone®, and author of Lager: The Definitive Guide to Tasting and Brewing the World’s Most Popular Beer Styles
I’m consistently flabbergasted at how many beer lovers still haven’t tried Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Perhaps they’ve mistaken it for a holiday spice bomb and passed it by. The label, with its snowed-in cabin, certainly looks the part of a gingerbread ale, but what lies inside the bottle is a hop lover’s delight.
Celebration Ale makes a great holiday gift because it’s available just about everywhere. It’s reasonably priced. And it’s a true seasonal beer that’s released every year around Thanksgiving. Because it’s built on that year’s hop harvest, every vintage is a little different, making it a fleeting experience to be savored and remembered.
This is classic American IPA — the kind you can see through — is built on old-school Pacific Northwest hops (Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook) to the tune of more than 60 IBUs. Celebration’s flavor more than delivers on the aroma’s assertive promises of pine needles, grapefruit zest, and resin. The bracing bitterness and hop bouquet are supported by a malt foundation that suggests English toffee and biscuits. There’s enough sweetness to even out the bitterness, but Celebration manages to avoid an overly chewy malt character that would reduce drinkability.
So many American IPAs aspire to the deft balance of malt heft and hop brightness of Celebration Ale, but very few do it as well as Sierra Nevada. Give this one to the hop lover on your list. Veterans and newcomers alike are guaranteed to thank you.
3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze — Zach Johnston, Deputy Editor UPROXX Life, podcaster One More Road For The Beer
This was an “ah-ha” beer for me. I liked sours and lambic perfectly well before this beer. I loved them after. The beer is a blend of well-aged lambics that are married and then bottled and cellared for additional fermentation and aging. It’s kind of a masterclass in what great beer can be when you take your time making it, making it a great gift for anyone looking to expand their beer knowledge and palate.
The beer greets you with a slight, earthy funk next to mild grassiness, orchard ripe apples, and a hint of citrus tartness. The palate leans into the dry grass and tart fruits with a real sour underbelly next to a slight funk. The sourness, tartness, sweet fruits, and grass balance each other out while a dry nature takes you towards a Champagne-esque final note.