It’s my favorite time of the year!! Christmas season for me is full of joy, giving and loved ones. Getting bundled up to go play outside in the snow (or shovel, let’s be real), drinking hot cocoa by the woodstove, reading by the glow of the Christmas tree, and gathering with family and friends for nights of endless laughs and fun. Growing up I always loved family and friend parties during the holiday season, but now they’re even better. Why, you ask? Because alcohol is involved and all of us “kids” are old enough to drink! Something changes when you take that simple game of Catch Phrase you’ve been playing together for years and add a few drinks. You’ve basically got a game of who can jump up and down the most and shout across the room the loudest while trying not to laugh hysterically, snort beer out of your nose or give away answers to the wrong team. At least that’s what happens in my experience. So if you’ve got parties lined up and good times to be had, here are a few beers to bring along with you.
Winter Warmers, Winter Sippers, whatever you call them, I call them delicious and boozy. These beauties range in color from reds, to browns, to almost pitch black, have low IBUs (International Bittering Units) due to their more malty than hoppy nature and ABVs that can be 6%-11% giving it a warm alcoholic finish. Hence the name, Winter Warmer. Originating in Britain, these beers were stronger, English Ales that were brewed early and kept until the colder months due to harvesting and manpower reasons. They are full bodied, malty, sweet creations with subtle dried fruit notes and little bitterness or hop flavor at all. The American style has been tweaked a bit to give it a slightly spicy finish but the British style sticks to its roots of malt and sugar flavors. Once again, Samuel Smith’s makes the cut with their Winter Welcome. At 6% ABV this winter warmer is malty with caramel and honey flavors and has a smooth, creamy finish of woodsy and lemon hops. Jubelale from Deschutes Brewery is a dark and malty brew with hints of coffee, chocolate, caramel and cinnamon. At 6.7% this smooth and bold balanced brew is easily one of the better American warmers. Right now my favorite warmer has got to be Anderson Valley’s Winter Solstice. At 6.9% this beer has all of the right amounts of caramel, toffee and vanilla flavors. It’s a little weak on the carbonation but I think it is better that way because it feels more full and creamy. It’s definitely a beer that will leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling on the inside!
Christmas and Holiday Ales are malt-forward and full of holiday spices and flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, orange peels and vanilla. It’s like Christmas in a glass! Also thought to have been modeled after British holiday brews, it was customary to make a concoction that would be served in a bowl at gatherings where a strong ale was the base, mixed with eggs, spices, sugar, spirits or whatever was preferred. Think of things like eggnog or spiked cider but with beer as the main ingredient. One such drink is known as a wassail. It can be made with ale, mulled cider or wine and is named after the medieval English salutation meaning “be you healthy.” It was traditionally drunk during wassailing which was a signing and drinking ritual held on Twelfth Night intended to bring about a good cider apple harvest for the next year. Sounds like my kind of night! Great Lakes’ Christmas Ale at 7.5% is one of the more spicy varieties on the shelves and claims to be a nod to the wassail. With hints of cinnamon, ginger and honey to balance, this ale hides its higher ABV in a well malted body. Sierra Nevada has always been known for their hop-forward beers, so if that’s up your alley then go for their Celebration. At 6.8% this piney, slightly caramel and roasted barley tasting IPA is good for a hop kick in the winter months. Spoetzl Brewery’s Shiner Holiday Cheer is definitely a favorite of mine since it’s a little different than most. This holiday Dunkelweizen is brewed with peaches, pecans and a whole lot of southern charm! At 5.4% it’s easy to see how this balanced, caramelized and smooth brew is loved by so many. If you’re looking for a seasonal beer to fall in love with time and again that has been around for 42 years but who’s recipe changes every year, then check out Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale. Each year the recipe changes, as does the tree on the label, however the tradition stays the same. This year it boasts of caramel malt, molasses, spiced chocolate and nutty flavors but don’t ask what malts or hops they use, it’s top secret! This is one that I will be looking to add to my fridge this year!
Although the south doesn’t usually see snow until after Christmas, I will be filling the season with fun, laughter, friends and beer until I am able to go home for the holidays and see some snow. Fingers crossed because we all know it’s been a few years since we’ve had a wondrous white Christmas in the Northeast. Whatever the weather, I’ve got Christmas music on, the tree is up and I’ll be drinking my way through the holidays! Responsibly of course, Uber is a life saver.