Holiday Beers Showcase
The holidays are 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 Holiday Beers
Before getting to some of the best holiday 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 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 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 very different than we enjoy today, the tradition of brewing very special beers to celebrate the holidays continues today with some of the best examples of the style. The British don’t make as many holiday beers as they used to, leaving the best up to the US and the Belgians, and with a mix of both, your holiday season is bound to be a merry one indeed.
US-Brewed Holiday Beers
While the tradition of brewing holiday 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 seasonal 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. The variety of US craft holiday beers is a testament to how craft brewing has taken hold of the US and is being driven by it, too.
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.
Sure, big, dark beers rule the field in the winter months, but that’s not the only game in town. Take Bell’s Brewery and their Bright White Wheat Ale. This 5% ABV beer is fermented with a Belgian ale yeast and a special blend of malted wheat to give you fruity aromas and hints of clove…all without adding a single spice to the mix.
Bright White is brewed to allow the beer to maintain its natural cloudy appearance to top the package off. This one is only available in the winter months, so pick it up while you still can.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
If you look halfway between 60 Minute and 90 Minute you can find a very unique beer in the form of 75 Minute IPA. This 7.5% ABV beer blends two of the most popular beers from Dogfish Head and adds in some maple syrup to naturally carbonate it. Dry-hopped with whole-leaf Cascade hops, 75 Minute is crisp and bitter while hanging on to a soft and velvety mouthfeel.
Think back to the last big holiday meal you had. Not the food part, but just after you finished eating and you settled into your favorite chair. That feeling that accompanied the “aahhhh” sound you made is a perfect representation of how Suddenly Comfy from Dogfish Head Brewery tastes.
This 6.3% ABV cream ale is a take on a freshly baked apple pie in a bottle. This imperial cream ale features apple cider, Saigon cinnamon, and Madagascar vanilla beans. Expect an aroma reminiscent of pie crust and tastes that will make you think you snuck in one last bite of pie.
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 definitely 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
Most of us usually steer clear of Johnny Law when drinking; Erie Brewing’s Ol’ Red Cease & Desist 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.
Tröegs Independent Brewing
It wouldn’t be a holiday season without the wild and wonderful Mad Elf from Tröegs. 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.
A new beer for the winter season from Tröegs 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 out of Downingtown PA has quite the catalog of beers available throughout the year, but they wait until the winter months to release some of their best beers. 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.
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!
Ellicottville Brewing Co.
True to its name, Chocolate Cherry Bomb is a big 8.2% ABV American imperial stout featuring English hops, chocolate malt, and Oregon sweet cherries. The result is a beer that is just about perfect for that very special day in February with someone extra special or a cold night under a warm blanket at home.
Voodoo Brewing Company
A beer that has become a standard in the ‘burgh for stouts is the one and only Big Black Voodoo Daddy from Voodoo Brewing Co. The roasted malt character is balanced out by the underlying oak notes and hints of vanilla. Coming in at a solid 12.5% ABV, BBVD is all about creamy espresso, caramel, and coffee beans that give this big beer it’s full body and flavor.