Holiday Beer Showcase
As the last remnants of summer finally make their grand exit, the reality of fall and winter seem to truly be here. The holiday season is a time of giving, and with family gatherings, parties, and get-togethers that come along with this feeling 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, giving credence to the phrase “most wonderful time of the year” for sure.
Sometimes this is done to coincide with the seasonal hop harvest at the end of 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 that range in flavor from hop-forward and bitter to spiced to all-out dessert worthy. Whatever your preference, you can take solace in the knowledge that there’s a beer for every taste when it comes to the holiday season.
History of Holiday & WInter Beers
Before getting to some of the best holiday and winter 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 holiday season has much deeper roots than you may think. These beers most likely started in the Scandinavian countries with the Vikings and their love of beer. The Viking people traditionally enjoyed strong malty “beer” in the winter months to celebrate their holiday 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 saw its start. The British respected the idea of strong holiday 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 different than we enjoy today, the tradition of brewing very special beers to celebrate the season continues with some of the best examples of the style. The British don’t make as many holiday beers as they once did, leaving the best up to the US, and with a selection like this, your holiday season is bound to be a festive one indeed.
Kicking off our alphabetical list is Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Founded in 1987, Anderson Valley has grown into a varied and respected brewery that produces everything from the tried and true styles to the wild and interesting Gose series. Continuing their annual tradition, this winter AVBC is again releasing Winter Solstice, their take on the classic winter warmer style. At 6.9% ABV, this beer pours a translucent copper with a thick and creamy head. Expect to taste sweet malt and caramel as well as some nutty tastes in the background.
Bell’s Brewery is no stranger to seasonal beers, and their ever-popular Winter White Ale is making a comeback once again this year. An odd entry into our list, this beer is a wheat ale fermented with Belgian yeast to give it subtle banana and clove flavors with absolutely no spices added, and at 5% ABV it’s very easy to drink and very refreshing.
Celebrating the season, Bell’s is once again releasing their Christmas Ale, a 5.5% Scottish ale that only uses specialty barley and a unique blend of hops to give this beer it’s unique taste, no spices added.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Hailing from Milton, Delaware is none other than Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Known for their weird and wild beers that always seem to work surprisingly well, their love of collaboration could be argued as second to none, too.
A great example of this love of collaboration paired with a penchant for experimentation is their Pennsylvania Tuxedo. This 8.5% ABV beer is a pale ale that’s brewed with Pennsylvania spruce tips, and is a homage to the flannel-suited hunters that fill the woods of north-central Pennsylvania. Brewed in partnership with Woolrich clothing company, the beer features a grassy citrus kick with undertones of spruce, the source of which were hand-picked by Dogfish Head themselves.
East End Brewing Company
In a bid to clear the snow and warm things up for everyone in Pittsburgh, Scott Smith from East End Brewing makes his Snow Melt Winter Ale each year, and even though this substantial 7% ABV beer helps, the snow still seems to stick. This mahogany red ale has a unique malt character and a bright hop flavor that has hints of pine. This beer will help keep you warm and while we all can’t wait for it to warm up, at least we have this to clear the snow for us.
Erie Brewing Company
While it’s typically good advice to steer clear of Johnny Law when drinking, Erie Brewing releases their Ol’ Red Cease & Desist each year, going against that advice. Ol’ Red is an up-front powerful ale that makes its own set of laws about what a winter beer should be. Coming in at 10.1% ABV, this beer has a balanced mix of oak, spices, dark fruits, and even a little caramel. While the alcohol and flavors are up-front about their intentions, this beer finishes smooth and easy to drink.
Lancaster Brewing Company
Located in…you guessed it…Lancaster, PA, Lancaster Brewing Company loves the winter season as much as might be possible, and they showcase that love with their Winter Warmer Ale. This 8.9% ABV beer skips the spices found in most winter beers to give you a full-bodied beer that features a monster of a malt bill along with British and American hops to give this beer a balance that’s not often found in a winter ale. Classified as an Old Ale, Winter Warmer will do as its name implies, and it’ll do it with style.
North Country Brewing Company
Originally brewed in 2005, Jack Frost Winter Warmer Ale from North Country Brewing is a great example of what a winter warmer should be. Coming in at 7.7% ABV, this malty beer focuses on the malt body, allowing only enough spice into the beer to hint at their presence.
You’ll find some hop flavor in Jack Frost, but not much of the bitterness you’d expect along with it. In short, this is one great malty beer that uses a touch of spice to give you a beer that’s perfect for a cold winter night, and best of all it’s available in cans!
Smuttynose Brewing Company
For those of us that love their Belgian-style beers, Smuttynose Brewing has long held their Winter Ale as the perfect beer for winter, and while they still feel this way, this 7.5% Belgian Dubbel has a new name Single Digit Dubbel for the beer we love with a few additional ABV that before, and it’s still brewed with a special Trappist ale yeast as it has always been. This beer features fruity aromas and flavors as well as a soft hop background. Mellow yet surprisingly complex. The perfect brew for the winter months when you’re looking for something different.
Stone Brewing Company
Why do stouts go so well with the cold winter months? Whether it’s a big hop-forward stout or a smooth and creamy milk stout, they seem to fit just right. Take for example Stone Brewing’s Coffee Milk Stout. This 5% ABV milk stout comes in at 40 IBUs and features coffee to pair perfectly with the roasted malt, and milk sugar to add just a touch of sweetness and creaminess, making this beer feel as good as it tastes while not being too strong.
Troegs Independent Brewing
It wouldn’t be a holiday season without the wild and wonderful Mad Elf from Troegs. Coming in at a surprising 11% ABV, Mad Elf uses pilsner, Munich, and chocolate malts paired with spicy Belgian yeast and cherries to make a rich and flavorful beer that might possibly drive you mad, too. Mad Elf is possibly the perfect beer for the holidays. Falling in line with Troegs’ new look, Mad Elf has a new label on a bottle filled with the same holiday beer we’ve all grown to love.
A beer making its return this year for the winter season from Troegs is their Blizzard of Hops winter IPA. This 6.4% ABV beer has notes of pine and citrus in it as well as a solid malt backbone. If you’re tired of spiced and flavored beers this holiday season, Blizzard of Hops is one beer you can’t miss.
Victory Brewing Company
Victory Brewing from Downingtown PA has quite the catalog of beers available throughout the year, but they wait until the winter months to release some of their absolute best. First up is Winter Cheers. This 6.7% ABV wheat beer uses Tettnang and Citra hops to make a hoppy wheat beer that’s ready to warm you up and give some winter cheer to spread.