Ah, December. The holiday lights are up, the tree is trimmed and the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. It’s also cold outside, gets dark real early, and the roads are clogged with out-of-towners and determined shoppers. All these factors point to one universal truth: It’s the most wonderful time for a beer. Inside. In the warm, cozy, crowd-free comfort of your home.
Luckily, the season brings with it plenty of hearty winter and Christmas beers—perfect for hunkering down and getting you through the rest of the year. The characteristics of winter and holiday beers can vary greatly, so while the concept may make for a better marketing ploy than a defined beer style, it definitely means there’s guaranteed to be a little something for everyone, no matter your flavor preference.
The majority of Christmas or winter beers fall into three categories: Winter warmers, with their darker color, higher alcohol content and malty/sweet profile; American Christmas ales, spiced with ingredients like cinnamon, clove, ginger and spruce tips; and big, strong, bready Belgian Christmas ales.
While the above styles are the standard for many winter beer fans, there are a host of other options available as well. Hopheads, for example, can get into the Christmas spirit with Sierra Nevada’s annual Celebration Ale. And Stella Artois—widely known as a year-round staple— was actually originally released as a Christmas beer (it’s named after the Christmas Star). So if heavier beers aren’t your thing, feel free to make Stella your go-to for the holidays.
Cider makers are even getting into the holiday spirit. Portland Cider Company just released three seasonal ciders: Fruit and Spice, Imperial Santa’s Sauce and Sugar Plum Fairy.
Like we said, a little something for everyone!
It would be impossible to list all the fantastic seasonal beers that have hit the taps in the last few weeks, but there are a few annual offerings that are always worth looking for. First and foremost is Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale. Debuting in 1975, it was the first American Christmas beer to be brewed since prohibition. While its recipe (and its label) change every year, it never disappoints. Other standbys include:
- Deschutes' Jubelale
- Great Divide's Hibernation Ale
- Ninkasi's Sleigh’r
- Lagunitas' Brown Shugga
- Troegs' Mad Elf
- Great Lakes Brewing’s Christmas Ale
The popularity of winter and Christmas beers continues to grow, and craft brewers relish the chance to experiment and be creative. So, take your uKeg to your local brewery and see what special holiday beers they have on tap. Then head back home and raise a glass with friends. ‘Tis the season for sharing.