It’s hardly been 10 minutes since you finished your last pumpkin beer of the season and already people are busting out the tinsel and lawn decorations. As you slide from the dark, spicy beers of fall into the... even darker, spicier beers of winter, I have a few recommendations you should consider grabbing on the way back from buying your inflatable Rudolph.
Oskar Blues Ten FIDY
Imperial Stout, 10.5%
When the temperature drops and the sun starts setting at 4pm, sometimes the best thing you can do is reach for a full-bodied, high-ABV comfort beer like Ten FIDY. It’s packed with roasted coffee and dark chocolate flavors while still boasting an uncharacteristically hoppy backbone (98 IBUs), which is everything a winter-weary soul needs. The only thing that’s better than the can is finding it on nitro draft.
21st Amendment Fireside Chat
Winter Warmer, 7.9%
San Francisco, CA
This is the short-sleeved sweater of winter beers: full-bodied enough to warm you up, but not so over the top that you’ll be sweating after one. It has hints of cinnamon, coffee, and chocolate with an ample malt backbone and a lingering aftertaste that will have you swearing you just took a bite of fruitcake and Christmas cookies.
Sierra Nevada Celebration
American IPA, 6.8%
Leave it to the consummate pros at Sierra Nevada to create what’s arguably the most crowd-pleasing winter seasonal on the market. They’ve traded out cinnamon and cloves for good old-fashioned American hops. The resinous aromas of the hop-forward recipe will have you convinced there's a freshly chopped Christmas tree in the room with a nicely wrapped Sega CD console underneath.
Southern Tier 2XMAS
“Double Spiced Ale”, 8%
Ever the innovators when it comes to seasonal offerings, the team at Southern Tier based 2XMAS off of a traditional glögg recipe, which is a warm, boozy Swedish holiday beverage (think mulled wine mixed with a bunch of booze). They’ve brewed this one up with cardamom, figs, orange peels, cloves, and ginger root, all refreshingly balanced with a subtle spice that carries through nicely on the dry finish. It’s cozier than a cashmere Snuggie!
Bell’s Winter White Ale
If you need a break from the glut of dark seasonal beers, Bell’s has a solid answer with their Winter White Ale. The subtle clove, orange peel, and banana notes from the Belgian yeast and its dry finish make it familiar but refreshing in a dark sea of winter warmers. The seasonally low 5% ABV makes it a more sessionable option for holiday parties.
Pretty Things Babayaga
At first blush, it may seem like Massachusetts’ best gypsy brewers are just putting out a par-for-the-course winter stout, but they really aren’t messing around here: they smoked the malt with rosemary to highlight the dark espresso flavors and used a blend of Belgian and English yeast strains. The velvety mouthfeel and smoky finish make it a knockout comfort beer that pairs equally well with burgers as it does chocolate desserts.
Founders Backwoods Bastard
Scotch Ale, 10.2%
Grand Rapids, MI
If you’re a fan of an after-dinner Scotch, get excited for this one. Though American breweries tend to flounder when making Scotch Ales, this one is a true palate kicker with rich, roasted maltiness, oak, and a subtle hint of smoke. It pairs perfectly with stick-to-your-ribs meals, like pot roast or beef stew. Sip it slowly and enjoy the complexity.
Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza
Belgian Strong Ale, 9%
Tart, sour cherries, oak, and bourbon notes come together with subtle funky, earthy notes to make this a standout for anyone looking to depart from the standard glut of dark, spicy beers. This beer is practically begging to be paired with roasted duck. DON'T LET IT DOWN.
Maine Lil’ One
American Strong Ale, 9.1%
The brewers themselves even admit that this could be classified either as “a malty double IPA” or a “hoppy barley wine”, but the ambiguity doesn’t make it any less delicious. The fruity aromas give way to hoppy, caramel flavors that make for a truly unique beer from one of the best breweries in the Northeast.
Petaluma, CA; Chicago, IL
Sucks is proof that the laid-back Lagunitas crew isn’t above self-deprecation: they developed this beer when they found out they wouldn’t be able to brew enough of their popular Brown Shugga to meet demand. Bright hops and the diverse grains (barley, wheat, rye, and oats) make for a rare medium-bodied seasonal that’s bright and citrusy.
Dieu du Ciel Solstice d’Hiver
Barley Wine, 10.2%
St-Jérôme, Quebec, Canada
It finally feels as though barley wines are moving away from being niche, and fantastic breweries like Dieu du Ciel are part of the reason why. This rich, fruity beer has a thick mouthfeel and intense roasted caramel flavors that are balanced out by a dark, bitter finish.
Think of this as your late winter history lesson for your friends: doppelbocks were developed by monks in Germany who weren’t allowed to eat solid food for the entirety of Lent. To sustain themselves, they created this malty, rich, bready, sometimes plummy style. Paulaner is credited with the original batches, but Ayinger’s is simply the most complex representation of the style today. Plus, each of the bottles comes with a little goat necklace!
Anchor Christmas Ale 2014
Winter Warmer, ~5.5%
San Francisco, CA
Even though everything about Anchor’s Christmas Ale changes every year -- from the recipe down to the label -- I’ve yet to have one that disappoints. Popping the first one of the season is a little bit like being a kid opening a present on Christmas morning: even though the recipe is a secret, you can expect a festive, slightly spicy winter warmer that is less jarring to the palate than other beers in this style.
DuPont Avec Des Bon Vœux
Abbey Tripel, 9.5%
Tourpes, Leuze-en-Hainaut, Belgium
Originally brewed in very small batches as a gift for loyal customers, “With best wishes” has become a staple for beer geeks come wintertime. It’s a gloriously rich, fruit-forward, spicy, balanced beer. Bottle fermentation adds complexity, but also makes it age-worthy, so you can sit on it until next winter (if you can resist the temptation).
Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale
Naka, Ikabari Prefecture, Japan
Eisbocks are already a very full-bodied style, thanks to their definitive process where water is removed by freezing and concentrating the beer. This rich, flavorful seasonal takes the full-bodied Eisbock style even further, by brewing with five different grains, four types of hops, cinnamon, vanilla beans, orange peel, coriander, and nutmeg.
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