Food & Drink

The Best Beers to Warm Your Belly This Winter

Winter Beer
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

The holidays are over. The Christmas tree has been haphazardly tossed to the curb. The bowl of Hershey Kisses is full of balled up foil and untouched Cherry Cordial leftovers. But it's still cold as hell. And between the sweater weather and shorter days, it's the perfect time to stock up on the best winter beers. So we hit the beer stores to come up with some of our favorite brews that make this time of year so great, including some that aren’t specific to winter (because some beers just work well all year round). Winter just got a little warmer.

Great Lakes Brewing Co. Christmas Ale

Winter warmer, 7.5%
Cleveland, Ohio
The Buckeye State, proud birthplace of aviation, eight US presidents, and The Best Damn Band in the Land, truly cemented its place in the history books when it bestowed this deliciously spiced Cleveland original unto the world back in 1992. Since then, the innovative ginger-scented brew has racked up six gold and silver medals from the World Beer Championships, and its annual November release continues to be a cause célèbre for beer nerds throughout the Midwest. Potent yet silky smooth with a rounded, honeyed body jazzed up with cinnamon and piney Cascade hops, this one set the seasonal sipper standard at a time when most of today’s big name brewers were still sitting on Santa's lap. -MH

Sierra Nevada Resilience Butte County Proud IPA

IPA, 6.8%
Chico, California (and 1,400 other participating breweries)
In early November, Sierra Nevada’s headquarters announced they were temporarily suspending brewing due to the spreading wildfires in the foothills surrounding their facilities. By the time it had been contained weeks later, the historically devastating Camp Fire had burned more than 153,000 acres, killed at least 85 people, and destroyed more than 13,000 homes, resulting in an estimated $10 billion in damages. With hundreds of thousands in the state left reeling and displaced, Sierra Nevada’s response was to reply with Resilience IPA. Even in an industry where coming to the aid of others is a central philosophy, the results are unprecedented: 1,400 breweries have agreed to donate their time and labor, suppliers have donated ingredients and materials, and wholesalers and retailers agreed to donate every dollar received so that a full 100% of the sales of this beer will go to the Camp Fire Relief Fund. The brewery hopes that this unprecedented communal act within the brewing community can raise over $10 million to help rebuild. You can find it across the country on draft and in retail starting now. -ZM

Telegraph Brewing Winter Ale

Winter warmer, 6.5%
Santa Barbara, California
Any beer that was inspired by Mexican hot chocolate will always attract our attention, but when the end result tastes this good it deserves special attention. The darker notes of cinnamon and allspice work incredibly well with the ancho chili heat that kicks in more and more with each sip. As the brewers themselves suggest, try taking this beer out of the fridge and letting it sit at room temp for about 15 minutes before you drink it to really bring those flavors out. -ZM

Butterfly Flashmob Solemn Oath Brewery
Butterfly Flashmob | Solemn Oath Brewery

Solemn Oath Butterfly Flashmob

Belgian IPA, 7%
Naperville, Illinois 
If ever there were a style of beer for anyone looking to step away from the darker releases that dominate the season, it would be a solidly made Belgian IPA -- and this beer just happens to be among the best of them. All of the fruit forward, clovey notes you’ve come to love from Belgian yeast play up against a bubbly American hop profile, with flavors of tropical fruit and citrus zest and a thoroughly dry finish. This beer will warm your bones in a very different way than that 12% stout you had last night -- and you’ll be happy about that. -ZM

Hardywood Gingerbread Stout

Stout, 9%
Richmond, Virginia
Sure, Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout is one of the best beers you can bust out at a holiday party. That’s why it made our list of must-have stouts. But hold your judgment over the name, because there’s nothing over-the-top about it: Soulful, roasty flavors and baking spices are achieved with the help of ginger and honey sourced from local farmers. It’s smooth and dry on the finish, but here’s the real shocker: It tastes like a piece of damn gingerbread. In the end, just like a Frank Ocean song, it’s balanced yet bold enough to be comforting. -ZM

Reformation Brewery Jude

Belgian tripel, 9.2%
Woodstock, Georgia
We’re not exactly sure why dwindling daylight hours and dropping temperatures make few styles more appealing than rich Belgians, but we’re not going to protest it. Besides, being able to find a solid tripel in a convenient single-serving size such as a 12oz can like Jude is not something you should pass up. Bright citrusy notes of lemon and orange peel come through on the nose before rich layers of stewed plums, fruit cake, banana bread, and clove wash over the palate. As with all well-made tripels, the higher alcohol content is masked behind a smooth body, barely noticeable even on the long finish. -ZM

Resident Culture Ghost Particle Saison

Saison, 5%
Charlotte, North Carolina
With Asheville perched high atop the mountain of praise for North Carolina’s skyrocketing beer scene, it can be easy to forget that there is no shortage of great breweries in other parts of the state as well. Case in point: Charlotte’s Resident Culture, whose impressively diverse program boasts everything from juicy IPAs to complex sours to barrel-aged blended farmhouse ales. Ghost Particle, which falls under the latter category, uses blended saison that’s been aged in red wine barrels for a year. Swap this out for champagne at any party and you won’t be disappointed. -ZM

Orono Tubular IPA

IPA, 7.2%
Orono, Maine
We’ve reached a point where it’s almost easier to discover new memorable IPAs from Maine than it is to find cheap lobster rolls. But even with all the noise, Orono has surpassed local expectations with one of their flagship offerings. It’s as hazy as its New England roots might suggest, bursting with tropical fruit and citrus while maintaining a clean balance over a medium body that sets it apart from others in the category. And with a steadily growing regional footprint, there’s an even better chance you’ll be able to score a few of these adorable throwback cans without having to brave a dive deep into the Bangor ‘burbs. -ZM

10 Barrel Cherry Cinnamon Crush

Specialty fruit beer/Berliner Weisse, 6.3%
Bend, Oregon
This aptly-named sour tipple begins its crushable life as a fizzy, lemony German-style kettle sour before being loaded up with Montmorency tart cherries and hit with a dash of nutty cinnamon to bring out the stone fruit’s natural earthiness (and your winter spirits). The result is an explosive, thirst-quenching flavor bomb that invigorates the senses and, with each sweet, tangy, tongue-tingling gulp, proves impossible to put down. -MH

Alaskan Brewing Smoked Porter
Alaskan Brewing Smoked Porter

Alaskan Brewing Smoked Porter

Rauchbier/Smoked beer, 6%
Anchorage, Alaska
Besides Die Hard, there are arguably few greater traditions born in the winter of 1988 than the release of Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter. Thirty-plus years and mountains of awards later, this beer has become the stuff of legends from Juneau to Jacksonville. Open any recently-released bottle and you’ll immediately pick up a smokiness akin to sitting next to a roaring campfire, with flavors of strong cold-brewed coffee, the darkest dark chocolate, and an underlying alcoholic warmth that could break through even the chilliest night in Talkeetna. -ZM

West Kill Dark Hollow Chocolate Porter

Porter, 6.2%
West Kill, New York
If you, like many others, take winter as an opportunity to ramp up your time in the kitchen, there’s a good chance you’re going to need more beers that will pair with the heavier dishes you’ll be cooking. That’s where Dark Hollow comes in, a pitch perfect winter beer from West Kills farm brewery in the heart of the Catskills. While this beer may have chocolate in its name and ingredient bill, it is *not* a pastry stout, playing more a part in the aroma than in the flavor of this well balanced beer. Medium bodied with roasty espresso flavors and a dry finish, it’s perfect alongside (or as an ingredient in) roasted meats, rich stews, or baked desserts. It’s also good on its own. -ZM

Breckenridge Brewery Nitro Winter Seasonal Chocolate Orange Stout

Nitro stout, 6%
Breckenridge, Colorado
Leave it to a couple of lovable Colorado ski bums to come up with a beverage that drinks exactly like sinking a fork into a gooey slice of warm chocolate cake while donning your coziest footie pajamas. Brewed with orange zest, spiked with cold-pressed cocoa beans and seductively citrusy Mandarina hops, and injected with a dose of velvety nitrogen, these picture-perfect tall boys go down insanely easy, especially at 9600 feet. Don’t forget to hydrate before shredding that gnar. -MH

3 Floyds Das Kleine Schwarz Einhorn

Schwarzbier, 5.5%
Munster, Indiana
Leave it up to the evil geniuses behind this legendary Hoosier institution to create a beer that’s both as approachable as a friendly puppy and unabashedly, wholeheartedly heavy metal. 3 Floyds brewer, distiller, and all around badass Abby Titcomb has craftily hidden this German-style dark lager’s bewitchingly toasty, jet black complexity and spirited carbonation beneath a crisp, feather-light exterior and refreshingly low booze quotient. Grab a sixer and settle in for a proper afternoon session -- after all, the darkest days of the year call for the darkest day-drinking brew. -MH

Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop IPA

IPA, 6.8%
Chico, California
Another crisp weather stalwart, Chico’s finest serves up that good old-fashioned West Coast hop dankness each year with this annual crowd-pleaser. Juicy grapefruit and spruce aromas dance above a captivating foam head, so creamy and pillowy that, when poured into a suitable glass, it lingers in frothy whisps until you down the very last drop. Beneath that gorgeous snowcap lurks a keenly-balanced, copper-hued sea of caramel malt and more woodsy, sticky hops, delivered to the palate on a soft, satiny wave that never seems to fully retract. If you could bottle the feeling of zipping through towering pine trees atop a cloud of fresh Tahoe powder, this would be it. -MH

Notch Brewing Černé Pivo

Czech black lager (Černé), 4.5%
Salem, Massachusetts
You may have heard your local beer merchants and brewers rambling on about how schwarzbiers are totally having a “moment” right now (or was that us?), and with Americans embracing darker beers as colder weather settles in, it’s no surprise to see the trend evolving to include other styles. Take Černé, for example, a Czech lager that is very similar to its German cousin, but with a slightly maltier, fuller-bodied, and heftier mouthfeel. While this style might not be the first to come to mind for even experienced beer fans, just one sip makes its appeal easy to understand, especially in the hands of a capable brewery like Notch. This year’s naturally carbonated edition boasts bready malt-driven flavors, Noble hop herbaceousness, an even-handed effervescence, and a broad, satisfying finish, all while maintaining the Massachusetts brewery’s (and style’s) trademark low AVB crushability. -ZM

Telegraph Brewery The Big Bad Baer

Double barrel-aged Imperial Stout, 13%
Santa Barbara, California 
Matured in a combination of spent bourbon and port barrels for maximum decadence, this monster of a beer packs a serious punch -- and we’re not just talking about the lights-out 13% ABV aspect. Bold booze calls for bold flavor and this California dreamer delivers with layers of freshly-roasted coffee, bittersweet cocoa, rich, perfumey orange peel, and a touch of plump raisin woven into a surprisingly dry finish. For a beer this brazen, its drinkability is truly off the charts. Consider yourself warned. -MH

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Meredith Heil is a former National Food & Drinks Staff Writer at Thrillist.
Zach Mack is Thrillist's contributing beer writer, the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. and Governors Island Beer Co. in NYC, a Certified Cicerone®, and absolutely nothing else. Follow him @zmack.