Christmas Eve at a NYC Hotel Room
Brewer: Evil Twin •
Style: Imperial Stout
Finding the right Christmas beer can oftentimes be just as much about the host as it is for the guest. This one’s always fun to bring to a bash, large or small, because the name alone is a conversation starter (break the ice with the girl by the fridge — check); it sounds a little risqué (don’t be the most boring guy in the room — check); and it’s delicious (have good beer to fall back on — check). With the ice broken, the guy with the Harpoon is way more basic than you, and with a tasty brew that will only get better as it warms in your hand, you’re set for at least an hour. Some more facts about this beer, in case you do end up talking about it: Evil Twin, the beer’s brewer, is based in Brooklyn, originates in Denmark, and brews its beer at Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, Connecticut.
Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas
Brewer: Mikkeller • Style: IPA
For something on the lighter side, this “Christmas IPA,” brewed with ginger and pine needles, provides a revitalizing glimpse into the world of winter spiced ales. The hop bitterness and pale malt backbone are enough to keep you sitting upright (we can’t promise the same for those imperial milk stouts), but when you add in the deliciously good for you ginger addition and the refreshing powers of mint, this beer basically becomes a cure for anything from food coma to the bah humbugs. Just remember, it is still 7.8 percent ABV, so pace yourself there, Rudolf.
Brewer: Dogfish Head • Style: Pale Ale
Another beer of the forest that celebrates flannel, Pennsylvania Tuxedo pays homage to the bold folks of the north-central Pennsylvania backcountry by adding spruce tips picked right from the area (as well as from Georgetown, Delaware, near Dogfish’s home base) to a strong but dry pale ale. The beer is brewed in collaboration with Woolrich, an outdoor clothing company based in Woolrich, Pennsylvania, and is definitely a good winter-themed addition to any holly jolly occasion. It’s also surprisingly sessionable despite its 8.5 percent ABV, so watch out, and don’t get any ideas about doing any lumberjacking duties on your own. Unless you are actually a flannel-suited hunter from the Pennsylvania wilderness, in which case, we salute you.
Brewer: Anchor Brewing • Style: Winter Warmer
As in so many other areas, Anchor sets the standard for the craft brewing world when it comes to holiday ales. Marrying a profound respect for tradition with the restless spirit of experimentation and innovation, they’ve been producing their Christmas Ale (sometimes also labeled “Our Special Ale”) since 1975. Every year, the recipe of this winter warmer changes, but it’s always a dark brown ale with spices added.
Picking out the individual spices that find their way into each year’s batch has become a time-honored ritual. The spices dance over a toasty malt base with hints of chocolate.
Each year since its inception, illustrator James Stitt hand-draws a new label for the beer. What remains constant is that the label features a new tree along with the message “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”
Brewer: Troegs Brewing • Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
The elf on the label of Troegs’ Mad Elf leers knowingly at us with a sack of oversize cherries slung over one shoulder and a tulip glass held casually in his right hand. So it goes with the beer inside the bottle. The flavors are bright and welcoming, the beer is as crisp and easy drinking as anything you’ve ever tasted, but it packs a wallop that is as dangerous as it is unexpected.
The flavors of Mad Elf unfold like a three-act play: bright cherry bubble gum gives way to a bready center before finishing with a spectacular dryness. Troegs achieves this psychedelic Seussian effect by brewing what we can only deduce is a darker Belgian Tripel. The style is a crisp yet complex Belgian style made with the palest of grains along with a sugar that lends it a deceptively dry and drinkable finish. The genius is that they also fold in sweet and sour cherries along with honey.
Brewer: Southern Tier Brewing • Style: Imperial Pilsner
This imperial pale lager from Upstate New York’s Southern Tier is named after a creature from European Christmas lore that would steal naughty children — or at least hit them with sticks depending who you ask. This beer, despite its 9 percent strength, isn’t quite so scary. Southern Tier says the recipe is based on the German helles style, a golden, malt-dominated lager. Krampus, however, tastes more like a great imperial IPA, thanks to loads of herbal and citrus hops.
Brewer: Nogne O •
Style: Winter Warmer
Norway’s Nogne O brewery offers its take on holiday beers with God Jul (Norwegian for “Merry Christmas”). Darker than most winter warmers — the most common holiday style — the 8.5 percent alcohol God Jul is closer to a Baltic porter, a strong British style similar to an imperial stout. And instead of spicy fruit flavors, this beer features big chocolate, caramel, and toffee notes balanced by subtle citrus hops character.
Brewers: Two Roads Brewing • Style: Biere de Garde
The Biere de Noel moniker listed on the label means this is a holiday variation of northern France’s de Garde style that offers a bigger malt profile. It’s still a delicate farmhouse ale, and will likely remind you of a Belgian-style saison, such as Two Roads’ own delicious Worker’s Comp.
Brewers: De Dolle Brouwers • Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale
Flemish for “silent night,” this 12 percent Belgian ale is brewed with candy sugar and then American Nugget hops to balance the sweetness. The resulting beer ranges from earthy orange peel to fresh pastry. But to best appreciate this beer, buy a few bottles to age and discover how it develops over the years. In 2013, De Dolle tasted beers from as far back as 2000 and claimed that none of the vintages had showed signs of deteriorating.
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Brewers: Great Lakes Brewing • Style: Winter Warmer
Brewed with local honey, this spiced red ale is a favorite with fans of the winter warmer style. The caramel malts, cinnamon, honey, and ginger work in harmony for a perfect beer to sip while you’re trimming your Christmas tree.
Big Sky Biere
Brewers: Big Sky Brewing
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Montana’s Big Sky made its name on the smooth, roasty Moose Drool, but this dark Belgian shows off the brewers’ chops. If you tasted this rich, smooth 10 percent gem while blindfolded, you’d guess it came from Flanders, not Big Sky Country.
Brewers: 3 Floyds Brewing • Style: American Porter
The Indiana brewery calls this the winter cousin to its year-round Alpha King pale ale. And where the Alpha King is rich with hops, the Alpha Klaus is thick with cocoa malts and balanced by a hoppy finish.
Corsendonk Christmas Ale
Brewers: Brouwerij Corsendonk • Style: Belgian Dubbel
While the namesake abbey shut its doors in 1784 (about 200 years before the beer came along), the brewery has faithfully recreated Belgium’s classic styles developed by monks. The Christmas Ale is a strong Dubbel, similar to Ommegang’s Abbey Ale and Goose Island’s Pere Jacques. And thanks to a flavorful yeast strain, and brewers who know how to coax it for maximum flavor, no spices are added to this Christmas brew.
Mahr’s Christmas Bock
Brewers: Mahrs-Bräu • Style: German Bock
While most brewers are fortifying their Christmas beers, Mahr’s opted for a more easy-drinking lager that can support you for the duration of the holiday. That’s not to call this a light version of the regular Mahr’s Bock, the 6 percent Christmas brew is darker and hoppier with a dry finish.
Brewers: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery • Style: Imperial Stout
Hardywood Park’s strong Gingerbread Stout was already a favorite of ours, but we’re hard pressed to think of something we’d rather drink over Christmas morn’ than this coffee-conditioned version. At 9.2 percent alcohol, you may want to share. Then again, the pairing of a bold milk stout with Mexican Chiapas beans roasted down the road at Black Hand Coffee is something worth savoring by yourself.
Brewers: Fat Head’s Brewery • Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
This Ohio brewer gets more press for its Hop JuJu and Head Hunter IPAs (which you should also find), but this is a more appropriate ale to sip beside the Yule Log. A robust Belgian-style Christmas ale clocking in at 10.5 percent ABV, Fat Head’s brewers judiciously mix in secret spices and Belgian candi sugar to create the perfect beer with which to end your holiday.
Brewers: Pipeworks Brewing • Style: American Barleywine
Pipeworks has a thing for unicorns. Its Ninja Vs. Unicorn is a lust-worthy imperial IPA, and there are other variations where Uncle Sam, the Grim Reaper, and the Easter Bunny take on the mythical beast. This 10 percent bruiser uses a complex grist bill featuring rye, oats, and roasted wheat, along with a slew of rich hops to balance out the huge malts.