The Best Limited-Release Holiday Season Beers
Baby, it’s cold outside, and few things are better at beating back the winter chill than a delicious seasonal brew. Following in the footsteps of European beer-makers who, since the Middle Ages, have cooked up special beers to celebrate the start of winter and the holiday season, craft beer-makers across America sell limited-release offerings infused with holiday-season spices like cinnamon and clove. Sometimes called “winter warmers,” these beers also tend to be malty and rich, as well as alcohol-heavy—all the better to warm your insides. Whether you’re outside building snowmen or relaxing with friends by a fire, the beers on this list are guaranteed to make your season merry and bright.
Hibernation Ale by Great Divide Brewing Co.
Christmas Ale by Anchor Brewing
San Francisco-based Anchor is among the oldest and most-revered brewers in the country. And every year since 1975, they’re released a Christmas ale—alternatively referred to as “Our Special Ale”—to celebrate the holiday. Aromas of cinnamon and smoke waft out of this dark-brown beer, which features piney hops, caramel, clove, and raisin
B-Bomb by Fremont Brewing
This imperial winter ale—formerly called “Bourbon Abominable”—from Seattle’s Fremont is a compilation of brews aged in 12-year-old American oak bourbon barrels. The requisite caramel, dark chocolate, and spiced fruits are all here. But as the name implies, it’s the bourbon overtones in B-Bomb that lend this beer its personality. There are plenty of bourbon-barrel-aged beers on the market this time of year. Few are this balanced and—even at 13% ABV—utterly drinkable.
The Mad Elf by Tröegs Brewing Co.
This Belgian-style dark ale from Pennsylvania-based Tröegs is sweet and yeasty, and a nice change of pace from the bitter ales many of us drink during the warmer months. Mad Elf pours ruby red, and while there’s some mild tart cherry going on here, it’s mixed in with banana and plum, along with some delicious toffee notes. At 11% ABV, it’s dangerously boozy—and dangerously drinkable.
Christmas Ale by St. Bernardus Watou
Belgian beers could easily comprise this entire list. But if forced to pick one, Christmas Ale from St. Bernardus is it. A classic, bold quadrupel, the aroma of this beer is all spiced holiday fruit and malty goodness. Light caramel, banana, honey, and fig notes are up front. But this is a complex beer with layers of flavor. It’s also nicely carbonated to help cleanse your palate for the next sip.
Celebration by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
No list of great winter-season releases would be complete (or reputable) without mention of this all-time great IPA from California’s Sierra Nevada. Featuring a harmonious blend of sweet, chewy malt and bitter citrus hops, this red-hued brew doesn’t pack a lot of the spice (or alcohol) that typifies winter brews. But it’s a perfectly balanced stunner, and not to be missed.
Utopias by Samuel Adams (Boston Beer Company)
While beer geeks often begrudge Sam Adams its “craft” designation due to its size and market share, there’s little disagreement over the greatness of Utopias. At 28% ABV, this American strong ale is a blend of barrel-aged batches—some more than two decades old—that has an unmatched intensity of flavor. Smooth, un-carbonated, and redolent of sun-wizened fruits, molasses, vanilla, and cigar smoke, Utopias is unlike any other beer—and it’s an absolute stunner.
Great Lakes Christmas Ale by Great Lakes Brewing
Cold Mountain Winter Ale by Highland Brewing Company
This gently hopped ale from North Carolina’s Highland Brewing clocks in at just 5.8% ABV, making it among the most sessionable winter warmers on the market. It’s also one of the most delectable. Toasted bread, caramel, and spice are present and balanced on the nose, while brown sugar, vanilla, and subtle orange-y citrus take hold on the palate.