The tradition of drinking a holiday beer goes all the way back to the Vikings, when mugs of Jul (or yule) ale were quaffed in December. Nowadays, few times of the year get a craft beer fan more twitterpated than the holidays. Even though some critics claim that many American craft holiday beers are a marketing ploy, there is no doubt a huge range of season-specific brews from which to pick. During the holidays, many breweries release their most coveted and rare beer. Maybe it's their highest alcohol content beer, or the craziest spiced beer, or a super hoppy beer, whatever the style, its release is highly anticipated. Below, some great beers to bring cheer throughout the holidays.
10 Awesome Holiday Beers
2015 Celebration Fresh Hop IPA
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, CA
Brewed each year since 1981, Sierra Nevada rings in the American craft beer holiday season with their annual release of Celebration Fresh Hop IPA. During a time of year known for highly alcoholic, sticky and malty sweet winter warmers, Celebration balances toasty nuttiness with beautiful notes of pine and citrus in its hoppy aromatics and bone dry finish. Drink this 6.7 percent ABV beer with a slow and low cooked holiday rib roast.
Delirium Noël Belgian Ale
The Huyghe Brewery, Belgium
This beer channels big notes of old world dark fruit, juicy pomegranates, and tart plums in the nose, followed by a bouncy, bubbly, frothy rush of fruitcake and port. Nice heat from the 10 percent ABV lingers in the chest to warm hearts on cold nights.
Gouden Carolus Noël Belgian Ale
Brewery Het Anker, Belgium
This strong 10.5 percent ABV dark ruby beer has been made for more than 35 years. It's traditionally brewed in August with "six different kinds of herbs and spices," per the bottle, and conditioned for months before its holiday release. The nose is full of spices like coriander, star anise and juniper berries. On the palate expect dried fruit and anise, with a surprisingly light and fluffy finish.
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, CA
This milk stout is brewed with cocoa, coffee, papilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, and was the winner of Stone’s 2014 home brewing competition. The beer was such a hit that it was remade this year as Stone’s holiday seasonal. One can definitely revel in the holiday cheer as soon as this 8.1 percent ABV warmer spills into the glass, bringing with it big aromatics of gingerbread and hot cocoa. The first taste is a big hit of vanilla, which stays through the exhaust. Delicious.
Sleigh’r Dark Doüble Alt Ale
Ninkasi Brewing Company, Eugene, OR
This beautiful 7.2 percent ABV auburn-colored beer has strong coffee and toffee on the nose. Malty, roasted characteristics are the primary flavor, but then warm sweet notes of maple and a waft of candied apple appear in the soft finish.
Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout
Port Brewing Company, San Marcos, CA
High octane and huge, this jet black imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels comes out of the corner swinging, with aromatics of whiskey and vanilla. Flavors of coconut, chocolate and molasses coat the palate and linger with every sip. If this 12 percent ABV beer is the kind of help Santa gets, it’s a wonder he finds his way down anyone’s chimney.
Fa La La La La Winter Ale
Double Mountain Brewery, Hood River, OR
This beer brings orange zest and cloves on the nose, plus flavors of caramel and rosemary that are cleaned up with a bracing cedar hoppy finish. Its effervescence balances the viscosity, lifting it off the tongue and masking its hefty 7.5 percent ABV.
Mission Brewery, San Diego, CA
Considering that this beer is a Belgian dark ale that packs 8.6 percent ABV, one would expect it to be a malty killer. But Holiday Ale is, instead, a chocolate brown beer that holds back a little in just the right way, followed by flavors of black licorice and spice. The finish runs dry with notes of raisin and figs.
Glazed Ham Porter
FLAT12 Bierwerks, Indianapolis, IN
Glazed Ham Porter is a dark and smoky 6.3 percent ABV American porter that tastes savory, sweet and spicy, just like the classic holiday ham. With secondary notes of brown sugar and maple plus mild clove and citrus, this chocolatey ale channels a coffee finish.
Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, PA
It's rare that one brews a seasonal winter beer in hefeweizen style, but Winter Cheers from Pennsylvania’s preeminent brewery, Victory, has done just that. And why not? This beer is a traditional and delicious 6.7 percent ABV German-style Bavarian hefe with quintessential aromatics of banana and clove. The finish brings notes of light and bright citrus, imparting cheer to all who imbibe it.