Christmas Beers Showcase
Christmas is a time of giving, and with all the family gatherings, parties, and get-togethers that come along with this feeling of giving comes a time to enjoy some amazing seasonal craft beers. Many breweries save some of their biggest and boldest beers for the cold winter months. Sometimes this is done to match with the seasonal hop harvest at the end of the fall, and more often than not it’s done to help get all of us through the coldest of months thanks to big amazing beers.
History of Christmas Beers
Before getting to some of the best Christmas beers around, it’s worthwhile to take a minute to see just where these beers came from, and why we enjoy these specific styles only in the winter months.
The tradition of brewing very special beers for the Christmas season has much deeper roots than what you may think. These types of beers most likely started in the Scandinavian countries with the Vikings. The Viking people traditionally enjoyed strong malty “beer” in the winter months to celebrate their Jul, or as we know it today, Yule.
The Vikings would offer some of their beer up to their gods, and no weak drink would do for Odin, Thor, and Frey, so big beers were the law of the land, so to speak. Even after converting to Christianity, the Scandinavian countries still kept their love of these drinks, even requiring a certain amount of beer per household for Christmas.
These traditions spread to other countries, most notably England, where modern brewing got its start. The British respected the idea of strong Christmas beers before the addition of the Scandinavian beliefs, but both seemed to work together to give a unique twist to both styles of beer.
While the beers of the Vikings and early British were very different than we enjoy today, the tradition of brewing very special beers to celebrate the season continues today with some of the best examples of the style. The British don’t make as many Christmas beers as they used to, leaving the best up to the US and the Belgians, and with a mix of both, your Christmas is bound to be a merry one indeed.
US Brewed Christmas Beers
While the tradition of brewing Christmas beers may have started overseas, some of the best versions of these beers are definitely brewed right here in the US. American craft beer has exploded with a variety of Christmas beers ranging from bitter and hoppy to sweet and spicy, all of which are more than welcome in the colder months.
While many of these beers fall into what is known as the Winter Warmer category, there are IPAs, red ales, and even new interpretations of age old beverages like Glogg. The variety of US craft Christmas beers is a testament to how craft brewing has taken hold of the US and is being driven by it, too.
Southern Tier 2XMAS – Inspired by a Swedish drink known as Glogg, 2XMAS is Southern Tier’s way of celebrating not only the Christmas beer traditions long past, but also the new ones respected today of strong flavorful beers with a spicy kick. 2XMAS comes in at 8% ABV and features tastes of figs, orange peels, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and ginger. Even though Glogg was traditionally served warm, this is definitely best served chilled.
Breckenridge Christmas Ale – Featuring flavors of caramel and chocolate, Christmas Ale from Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado is a great example of what a solid Christmas beer should be. With extra flavor and a little extra alcohol, coming in at 7.4% ABV, this seasonal beer really hits the spot on a cold night. Dubbed an American Strong Ale, this full-bodied beer features a medium hop character paired with tastes of caramel and chocolate.
Abita Christmas – While New Orleans, Louisiana isn’t the first place you may imagine when you think about Christmas, Abita Brewing’s Christmas Ale will definitely get you into the holiday spirit. Brewed as a special dark ale, the exact recipe changes every year so there’s always something different to try. Generally always with a toasty body and a nutty taste, the ABV varies and specific ingredients may change, but the one certainty is that this beer is always great.
Anchor Christmas – Speaking of beers that change from year to year, possibly the original Christmas beer in the US is definitely Christmas ale from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Anchor’s Christmas Ale, which means there have been 40 different Christmas beers along with 40 different trees on the label. The tree for 2014 is the Giant Sequoya, and the label is drawn by the same person who drew the first one in 1975. In fact, this label’s tree is as big as it would look if it were planted all the way back when the first Christmas Ale rolled off the bottling line.
Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve – Brewed as a red ale, Santa’s Private Reserve is a double-hopped beer that’s reddish in color with a roasty, malty flavor with a well-balanced spruce finish. This beer utilizes malts and hops grown on Rogue’s own farm as well as “free range coastal water” and Pacman yeast.
Belgian Christmas Beers
Us Americans don’t have the market cornered on Christmas beers, even though we make quite a few amazing ones. To get some truly unique Christmas beers you have to travel across the pond to the beer-laden country of Belgium. Here, beers have been crafted and perfected over hundreds of years until they’re just about perfect and once you try these, you’ll probably agree.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale – This is a dark seasonal beer brewed in the classic Quadrupel style of Belgium’s best Abbey Ales. This beer comes in at 10% ABV with a unique spicy characted that’s thanks to the St. Bernardus house yeast. Expect to taste slight hints of molasses, apricots, licorice, and marzipan that are balanced out by a slightly sweet undertone.
N’Ice Chouffe – N’Ice Chouffe is a strong brown ale that is warm, spicy, and overall a perfectly balanced beer. Traditionally left unfiltered, this beer pours a slightly hazy amber with a thick off-white head. Coming in at 10% ABV, this is one beer that will definitely keep you warm all winter.