‘Tis the season for winter beers. But which ones should you try?
Major and craft brewers around the world regularly release seasonal brews to entice drinkers. Every year they change recipes and release special beers to give customers’ taste buds a change. There are usually trends each winter that you can find among the beer brewers.
Winter beers are a great way to enjoy the winter months indoors. After shoveling snow after work or even just after a late-day snowball fight, these seasonal brews will add some cheer to the shorter days.
There are a lot of choices out there and you can try plenty throughout a long winter. In fact, some of the beers can be cellared and drunk later in the year, making winter a great time to buy and save everything you want to try.
If you’re still unsure about winter beers, here’s everything you need to know.
What Are Winter Beers?
Generally, winter beers are heavier and darker. They often include seasonal spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, cocoa, and even peppermint. They also have seasonally-appropriate names, like Port Brewing’s Santa’s Little Helper.
Traditionally, the style was known as old ale. These are darker and maltier than traditional ales found in England. There are also some that are classified as strong ales, implying that they’re higher in alcohol than traditional ales.
Today, we include Christmas brews in the mix. These are the beers that have more of the holiday spices that taste good on a cold evening. The spices will also give the beers a sweeter flavor.
Many American craft brewers release less traditional winter beers for the season. They save many of their imperial porters and stouts for this time of year when drinkers look for stronger beers to keep warm.
Beers for the winter are also usually higher in alcohol to give drinkers a warmer feeling. You may come across quite a few that are of the imperial variety. Some brewers also release barleywines for the winter season.
Considering the higher alcohol content of the beers and the spices that give them a pleasant aroma, you should serve most of these beers in a snifter or tulip glass.
You will now find a variety of flavored beers as well as stouts and porters mixed in with the seasonal beers for winter.
Top 10 Winter Beers
There are hundreds of winter beers to choose from. So, how do you know which ones to try?
Some of it depends on your personal taste. Not all types of beer are right for everyone. You need to know if you like beer with more winter spices, a heavier malt, or other flavors.
It is important to know your preferred flavor profile. If you find the traditional winter and Christmas ales to be too sweet or the spices to be overpowering, look at the alternatives with stouts and porters. There are even a few IPAs that brewers release each year for the season.
While all the beers on our list are specifically for the winter/Christmas season, there are many more beers released in the winter that aren’t categorized as winter beers.
Here are our picks for the top 10 winter beers to try this season.
1. Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale
This is one of America’s oldest Christmas beers as the San Francisco brewer has been making it annually since 1975. Anchor Christmas Ale is one of the lighter beers on the list at only 5.5% ABV for 2017. Anchor Brewing alters the recipe slightly each year and even changes the tree design on the label.
This year’s winter warmer offers flavors of cacao, toffee, and roasted nuts, as well as subtle hints of honey and herbal spice. There’s even a bit of coffee in this year’s recipe.
This is a dark, malty ale with a smooth and rich flavor profile. As it is one of the more popular beers for the season, it is available almost everywhere.
2. 21st Amendment Fireside Chat
21st Amendment Brewery out of San Leandro, California, offers one of the darker varieties of winter beers.
Fireside Chat is a dark, chocolaty strong ale with added seasonal spices for a festive feel. At 7.9% ABV, it is stronger than many winter beers, but not as strong as many of the Belgian-style Christmas ales.
This beer is available from October to December, making it an early-winter drink. However, with the slightly higher alcohol content, it is possible to save this one for later in the winter when you need something to keep warm.
3. Russian River Brewery Pliny the Younger
This brew from Santa Rosa, California’s Russian River Brewery is the top rated winter beer, according to Rate Beer. This is a triple IPA that comes with an ABV of 10.25% and is dry hopped four times. This beer has more hops than any other winter brew you’ll find.
This is a heavy, darker IPA than most people are used to. It is full bodied with a strong hop flavor profile.
This beer is also a limited release and can be difficult to find. Many beer aficionados search for a bottle of this every year. The 2017 brew will be released in February for only two weeks through select locations.
4. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is another beer from California that’s been on the market for a long time. This is not a typical Christmas beer, but more of a lightly hoppy beer released for the season. It’s a little lighter than other seasonal beers at 6.8% ABV.
This Sierra Nevada brew is another staple of the season as it debuted in 1981 when there were far fewer American seasonal beers. The brewery created a smooth yet hoppy beer for broader appeal. Much like the Anchor Christmas Ale, the Celebration Ale varies slightly from year to year.
While it is a hop-forward IPA, as it should be, it is well balanced with the malt that is a bit heavier than expected in a traditional IPA. It’s a blend of toasted bread and caramel in the malt with grassy, piney American hops.
This beer has a 4.15/5 rating on Beer Advocate and 97/100 on Rate Beer.
5. Great Divide Hibernation Ale
One of the top brewers out of Colorado, known for its Yeti series, offers customers a great winter warmer. There are variations of the Hibernation Ale as well, with barrel-aged and Belgian-style varieties available. The original brew has a score of 97/100 on Rate Beer.
Great Divide Brewing introduced this winter beer in 1995. The beer itself is aged for three months before bottling. The brewer also raised the ABV to 8.7% in 2009.
This is a stronger version of the English-style old ale. It’s a dry-hopped brew with a heavy malt that gives it a robust flavor.
The brewer recommends pairing this beer with grilled beef tenderloin, Roomano (an aged Dutch cow’s milk cheese), and apple crisp with ginger ice cream.
6. Stone Brewing Xocoveza
Stone Brewing is best known for producing a wide variety of IPAs. But this beer is the brewer’s take on Mexican hot chocolate in beer form. This beer, which was first released in 2014, has a 4.3/5 rating on Beer Advocate and 99/100 on Rate Beer.
Evoking the nostalgia that comes with drinking a cup of hot chocolate when it’s snowing outside is part of the delight of drinking Stone Xocoveza. This beer is brewed with a blend of cocoa, coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.
While Xocoveza is listed at 8.1% ABV, the balance of flavors masks any indication that this is a high-alcohol beer. As this beer warms up toward room temperature, more of the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg become apparent.
7. Evil Twin Christmas Eve At A New York City Hotel Room
This seasonal beer from New York-based Evil Twin Brewing might go well if you plan to escape your relatives this holiday season. If you plan to drink this in an actual hotel room, you might want a wake-up call to ensure you don’t sleep past checkout, as this is a strong beer for the winter.
Christmas Eve At A New York City Hotel Room is a thick, dark, boozy beer intended for slow sipping. It’s slightly bitter up front, but evens out into a smooth and sweet beer that will warm you up at 10% ABV. Yes, you will taste the alcohol in this one.
This American imperial stout has hints of coffee, chocolate, raisin, and vanilla. It’s a combination of roasty and sweet to go along with a fireplace that the hotel room probably doesn’t have.
8. Affligem Noel
This Belgian Christmas brew is a popular choice around the US and is fairly easy to find in local stores. It is usually sold in bomber bottles.
This Belgian strong ale has a high ABV at 9% and sweet flavor profile. It’s a dark amber color with the aroma of dark fruits and spices.
This bold Belgian Christmas beer has a 4.08/5 rating on Beer Advocate and 94/100 on Rate Beer.
This brew is filled with traditional winter spices to go along with the heavy malt. Affligem No?l offers drinkers a more traditional European Christmas flavor than many of the American craft beers for the season.
9. Troegs The Mad Elf
What better way to celebrate the season than with a Christmas-themed beer from Pennsylvania’s Troegs Brewing Company. The brewery began selling The Mad Elf in 2002, and they have expanded the series with similar beers such as The Naked Elf and the Mad Elf Grand Cru, which is only available this year.
This sour cherry-flavored Belgian-style ale offers a variation on the traditional strong ale. It will still keep you warm through the dark winter nights at 11% ABV.
The Mad Elf is brewed with raw honey and cocoa with notes of cinnamon, clove and allspice.
10. Greenport Harbor Anti-Freeze Winter Ale
This New York brew is more of a take on the traditional English old ale. This dark amber winter brew is 6.9% ABV. It’s a bit lighter than most of our other selections, so you can enjoy it without getting too tipsy.
Anti-Freeze Winter Ale is a full-bodied, malty ale with caramel, Demerara sugar cane, and dried stone fruit. Greenport Harbor omits the seasonal spices to give drinkers a smoother experience.
Drinkers will notice a lightly roasted malt aroma with hints of dried fruit. The hops used in brewing will even out the sweetness of from the sugarcane and fruit.
Where to Find Winter Beers
If you’re new to winter beers, we suggest heading to a craft beer bar that will allow you taste some. They may also offer flights so you can get a variety before choosing which you like.
Once you know which beer you want to try and you’re sure you’ll enjoy it, you can head to your local retailer to see what they have to offer. If your local store doesn’t have the beer you want, ask to see if they can special order some for you.
You may also get a group of friends together for a winter beer tasting. Everyone can bring a different beer to the party and you can all have a try. After that, you’ll have a better idea of which winter beers are your favorites.
Find More about Your Favorite Winter Beers
If you’re ready to try one of our recommended winter beers or any others that are available at your local retailer, let us know what you think of your choices.
Whether you choose a traditional English old ale, Belgian-style Christmas ale, or even a stout or porter from a local brewery, you can enjoy the taste of the season. You can even use the winter beers as part of a secret Santa gift exchange for added joy.
Whatever beer you choose this winter, please remember to drink responsibly and don’t drink and drive.