THE 12 BREWS OF CHRISTMAS

Oktoberfest has long passed us by, but never fear, the Holidays are right around the corner, and with them comes a time to switch from the amber hues of the proverbial autumn brew into the more rich, warming and flavorful options that this time of year offer us. I’ve tasted a lot of beer in my time, so I feel educated enough to propose the very best Christmas Ales out there to fortify your belly as the weather turns colder and the days turn shorter over the next month. I’ve picked out my 12 favorites, in order, one for each day of Christmas. To keep things fair, I have selected 6 American brewed winter seasonals and 6 from abroad, but that doesn’t mean that they received equal weight within the rankings. Scoop them up while you can, as these brews only come around once a year.

#12- ANCHOR OUR SPECIAL ALE- Spice/Herb/Vegetable, 5.5% ABV, $14.99 6 pack

This is certainly one of the most famous Holiday brews out there, as San Francisco staple Anchor changes the recipe slightly each year to insure that each vintage maintains a unique quality. While not my ideal holiday brew, it is a perfect example of its style, usually showing notes of cinnamon and brown sugar spice before devolving into a strong green bell pepper vegetal flavor. Just a bit heavy on the vegetable notes and light on the Holiday Spice to be the quintessential Holiday beer for me, and a bit light on the alcohol for its overall weight.

 

 

#11- THREE FLOYDS ALPHA KLAUS- Porter, 7.5% ABV, $8.99 22 Oz

Munster, Indiana’s Three Floyds has been one of my favorite American breweries for over a decade now, so there wasn’t any way I was leaving them off this list. This seasonal beer is actually somewhat of a blend between a Porter and a Spice/Herb/Vegetable, as lightly roasted malts combine with earthy spices over a light texture, finishing with a blast of hops that are in balance. The ABV % is right in my sweet spot.

 

 

 

#10- CORSENDONK CHRISTMAS ALE- Belgian Strong Ale, 8.5% ABV, $8.99 750 Ml

The first of many deserving Belgian beers on this list, the Corsendonk Christmas Ale is affordable and not overly heavy on alcohol for the style, and can be found at a very reasonable price point. The smooth and creamy body offers flavors of hazelnut to accompany a roaring fire, with subtle vegetable undertones and a moderate hop presence.

 

 

 

#9- GOOSE ISLAND CHRISTMAS ALE- Brown Ale, 6.2% ABV, $8.99 4 pack

Being a Chicago resident, there was no way that my favorite local brewery wasn’t getting a mention, despite my annoyance in recent years as they went from selling this beer in 6 packs to overpriced 22 oz bottles, and now back to a still overpriced, but more reasonable 4 pack format. It isn’t overly complex, but consistently offers rich, warming caramel malt flavors with a healthy dose of hops. At just over 6% ABV, it is highly sessionable, and an advisable choice while setting up the Christmas tree if you prefer to enjoy a beverage,  but don’t want to knock the tree over.

 

 

#8- GREAT LAKES CHRISTMAS ALE- Spice/Herb/ Vegetable, 7.5% ABV, $13.99 6 pack

Perhaps the most true Christmas Ale of all the American attempts at the style, the solid Cleveland brewery Great Lakes annually offers this intense ale that isn’t shy with the alcohol and delivers a dominant flavor profile of seasonal spices including cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. In fact, these elements dominate a body that doesn’t have much going for it in the way of malt complexity. This is evident almost immediately, as this brew pours much lighter than most of the other seasonals on this list. Still, if you are looking for flavors that communicate the season, you won’t find a much better American example. This brew lingers with a pleasant sweetness and clove spice that covers the ABV wonderfully.

 

 

#7- SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION ALE- India Pale Ale, 6.8% ABV, $8.99 6 pack

While technically not a Christmas Ale in the truest sense of the definition, hop crazy Sierra Nevada Brewery only releases this beer during the months of November, December and January, and it is well worth seeking out during the Holiday season. Still, this beer pours more of an amber hue than either their Pale Ale or Torpedo IPA does, and it boasts a spicy caramel malt with elements of baking spice that goes quite well with the cold weather and the flavors of the season.

 

#6- GOUDEN CAROLUS NOEL- Belgian Strong Ale, 10.5% ABV, $11.99 750 Ml

It’s been years since I’ve had this, but my notes recall a big, rich, chocolatey Belgian brew that is smooth and warming, finishing without any bitterness and coating the mouth with dark, port-like fruit notes. Sugary plum, date, licorice and fig flavors are backed with clove spice very typical of the season, and this will be one of the more filling brews recommended here.

 

 

 

#5- FANTOME DE NOEL- Saison, 10.0% ABV, $15.99 750 Ml

This Belgian brewery has picked up a bit of a cult following around their use of wild yeasts in producing innovative, well-crafted beers. Their winter offering is a Saison, complete with a sweet, rich malt body of burnt caramel, chocolate covered cherries, cinnamon spice and a finish of moderate hops holding it all together. The typical hint of sourness from the wild yeast provides additional character, balance and complexity.

 

 

 

#4- AVERY OLD JUBILATION- English Strong Ale, 8.3% ABV, $9.99 6 pack

This is currently my go-to 6 pack during the season, and is also my highest rated American offering on the list. For the quality/ABV/price ratio, you’ll be hard pressed to beat it anywhere on this list, if you can find it that is. It tastes like a wonderful marriage between a Barleywine and a Scotch Ale, with flavors of burnt caramel malt, toasty cocoa, roasted hazelnut and hops smoothed out through the long, creamy finish. It finishes with a warming note of black coffee, and is a rich mouthfull of Holiday yumminess–a can’t miss at this price point.

 

 

#3- DELIRIUM NOEL- Belgian Strong Ale, 10.0% ABV, $11.99 750 Ml

First, let’s address the giant pink elephant in the room–how can you not long to enjoy a bottle of Delirium simply due to its mascot, a pink elephant, which in this case happens to be wearing a Santa hat? That alone would be plenty to sell me, but luckily this brew is worth the price of admission independent of its adorable logo. It shows quite a bit more citrus than most of the beers on this list, with lots of dried peach and yeast complexity. It is still very dark and rich, with excellent balance and loads of delicious sweet spices including coriander and allspice.

 

 

#2- N’ICE CHOUFFE- Belgian Strong Ale, 10.0% ABV, $11.99 750 Ml

No other beer combines such a massive depth of flavor, with rich chocolate and toffee alongside plummy grapes and yeasty dried fruits that are an exercise in contrast. It finishes with a deep, malty sweetness that smooths out the heavy alcohol presence, lingering with just a hint of pepper. It demonstrates a softness unmatched by any other beer on the list, and is the perfect winter warmer. The only drawback I can find is that it doesn’t offer quite the seasonal spice as some of these do and therefore could be easily drinkable during the doldrums of the winter following the Holiday season.

 

 

#1- DE DOLLE STILLE NACHT- Belgian Strong Ale, 12.0% ABV, $6.99 11.2 Oz

The king of all winter brews.At 12.0% ABV, this is the most massive offering on this list, and also the most expensive, but it is still well worth seeking out this time of year. The sweet and spicy malt body communicates flavors of cinnamon escalloped apple, honey and candy sugar that gain complexity from additional citrus notes and hints of nutmeg spice. The slightest hint of sourness creeps in late to help cover the intimidating alcohol presence here, and this is a pure classic for the season, at once warming and exuding the spices associated with this most wonderful time of the year.

*** I still have yet to try the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, which I am sure is fantastic but have been unable to locate as of yet. That will be on my list of things to do this holiday season!

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