“Do not open till Christmas” should never apply to beer. Each day until Dec. 25, we’re cracking open one of the season’s best holiday brews; follow along and feel the Christmas spirit in your veins.
Day 25: Affligem Noël 2008
This Christmas we asked Santa for just one thing: Please let our 2008 vintage of Noël be amazing. The verdict? We got just what we asked for. A satisfying pop sounded as we uncorked this bottle and poured it into our waiting glasses. Rich dark fruit scents are slathered in caramel sweetness while pepper adds a kick to the bouquet. This creamy beer’s simply tremendous to imbibe: Fig and caramel notes wash over the tongue, while black pepper gently jabs the taste buds, front to back. After time in cellar, a nice sherry quality has emerged to bump up the sweetness, but this beer’s active carbonation ensures the mouth is dry with each sip. Tremendous to say the least, Noël is joy in a glass.
Day 24: Dundee Festive Ale
With Christmas Eve upon us, there’s no better time than now to delve into a traditional winter warmer. Brewed with nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and orange peel, this beer is the perfect accompaniment to those cookies you’re laying out for Santa tonight. Just as the beer’s ingredients suggest, a spicy aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg fills the air. Sweet and toasty malts lay down a bed for mildly spicy cinnamon and nutmeg to dance over. Bright, sharp citrus notes surface mid-sip, merging with the spicy flavors to tingle the tongue. After bitterness sweeps in, light nutmeg and cinnamon remain, giving the impression of a baked holiday treat.
Day 23: Abita Christmas Ale
This season’s often about surprises, and Abita joins in with its annual Christmas Ale. Billed as a brown ale, this beer is wonderfully hopped—a surprise we always enjoy. Up from this dark orange beer floats a hop-heavy aroma of bright citrus and pine scents backed by clean bready malts. Toasted notes spread out on the tongue, while hop flavors ornament the profile: Piney, floral flavors and a dash of pithy citrus create a lively blend in the mouth. Caramel sweetness emerges mid-sip, but this beer’s all about the hops, finishing with drying bitterness that leaves you wanting more.
Day 22: Lazy Boy Mistletoe Bliss
Whether you’re a mistletoe strategist or just too shy to stand under the smooch-inspiring plant, you’re guaranteed some kind of bliss with this festive seasonal. Breathe in toasty malt scents, brightened by sweet caramel and a spritz of apricot. Savor the caramel-chocolate combo that washes over the tongue, while grassy hops and a hint of orange add balance in the back. This beer doesn’t wow you with spices, but the robust profile and 7.8% ABV keep you content on a cold December evening. After a few, you might just work up the courage to stand under that mistletoe.
Day 21: Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale
With snow and rain pouring down all over the country, today seems like an appropriate time to pop open Winter Welcome Ale, even if you’re not that welcoming of the cold. This hazy orange brew’s aroma fills the air with rich caramel and toast scents, sweetened by wafts of pear and dark fruit. Toffee notes splash against the tongue and wash back with nutty threads emerging mid-sip. A gentle toasty character rises in the back alongside earthy hops and apple hints, while bitterness scrubs the tongue clean. You may have to welcome the winter whether you like it or not, but at least this beer gives you a pretty good reason to stay indoors and crank up the heat.
Day 20: Widmer Barrel Aged Brrrbon
Widmer’s Brrr is a seasonal favorite of ours, so imagine our enthusiasm when this barrel-aged version arrived at the office. Toasted bread scents mingle with sweet caramel, while smooth oak notes and sweet bourbon fill out the bouquet. Toast and toffee notes splash against the tongue as a mild bourbon flavor expands in the back. Hints of piney, citrusy hops sink into the bourbon notes, enriching the flavor before moderate bitterness pushes back against the growing sweetness. Brrrbon’s not only an amped-up version of a great beer, it’s dangerously drinkable at 9.4% ABV.
Day 19: Full Sail Wassail 2009
We returned to our cellar for today’s Christmas beer, a 2009 vintage of Full Sail Wassail. Wassail is a seasonal favorite here, and this year-old version doesn’t disappoint. Because of the aging, the hop presence has diminished, although you can still sniff hints of piney hops, which poke out from behind dark fruit scents and a hefty dose of toasted malts. Like the aroma, toasted notes dominate, fanning out across the tongue and receding into the back of the mouth. Figs blend with brown sugar in the middle, adding a dose of sweetness to the beer before sweeping bitterness leaves the mouth watering for another sip.
Day 18: Stevens Point St. Benedict’s Winter Ale
St. Benedict was known for his humility, but there’s nothing too subtle about this winter warmer. A sweet caramel, nutty malt aroma lifts up to the nose, while hints of dark fruit and spicy hops heighten the bouquet. Brown sugar and toasty, toffee-flavored malts glide over the tongue, giving this beer a very sweet start. Clean bready notes emerge in the middle adding a bit of malt muscle to the swallow before spicy, peppery hops inject a bit of an edge. With lingering sweetness in the finish, this beer’s an easy one to enjoy.
Day 17: Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale
You may remember Fezziwig from “A Christmas Carol,” or maybe you just remember it from seeing the name on this beer’s label. Regardless, you’re in for a treat. An aromatic blend of cinnamon, ginger and orange are sweetened by toffee scents and a dash of toast. Toasted malts spread out on the tongue as sharp ginger perks up the taste buds. Cinnamon, orange and nutty notes blend in the middle with toffee sweetness for a holiday-inspired profile that lasts long into the finish. Taste along with our beer editor as he gives the beer a try here.
Day 16: Starr Hill The Gift
Straight from Virginia, The Gift is a helles bock that keeps on giving with each sip. This hazy orange brew wears a foamy white head that lasts, and sends an enticing, delicate aroma into the air. Doughy malt scents float up from the glass alongside red apple sweetness and a hint of grassy hops. Honey-dipped bread spreads out on the tongue, before ripened apple takes over mid-sip. The Gift maintains a decent hop presence from start to finish, as hints of citrusy, grassy flavors poke out from behind the malts. With lingering sweet malts and apple notes, this creamy beer just lasts.
Day 15: St. Feuillien Cuvée de Noël 2009
We’ve waited over a year to sample this beer, and considering the rich aroma floating up from this beer’s thick tan head, it was worth the wait. Milk chocolate scents intertwine with dark, ripened fruit while sweet bread injects more vigor to the bouquet. A caramel-chocolate combo splashes onto the tongue first, before prune and fig notes emerge mid-sip and take over. Slight candied sugar notes greet the fruit in the back, lightening up their heavy presence while a nice toasted note rides over the tongue. No doubt, this beer has matured. If you’ve got a bottle from 2009, ‘tis the season to open it.
Day 14: Odell Isolation Ale
Odell’s annual winter warmer is a classic take on a traditional style: The beer’s rich malts and solid alcohol presence simply makes you want to isolate yourself by a roaring fire. A sweet bready malt aroma doused in caramel and spiked with nutty accents rises up to the nose alongside some bright orange hop scents. On the tongue, toasted malts and citrusy hops ride side-by-side through the swallow. As the beer washes back, caramel sweetness pools in the middle of the tongue while earthy bitterness digs into the back of the mouth. Although it’s not overt, gentle alcohol warmth grows in the chest with each sip, making this a very comforting winter warmer.
Start this work week with a different spin on an imperial IPA: Coming to us all the way from Anchorage, this hefty beer packs a robust malt bill, three hop varieties, brown sugar, honey and juniper berries into the bottle. Up from the glass, dank, resinous piney hop scents fill the air with threads of bright orange and toasty, toffee-sweetened malts. Brown sugar blends with toffee sweetness for a luscious start to the swallow. As the sweetness spreads out, piney hops, pithy grapefruit and herbal juniper flavors rise in the back, coating the tongue before stiff bitterness takes hold. This beer could probably pass as a barleywine or an imperial IPA, but with the added boost from brown sugar and juniper, it sits in a category all its own.
Day 12: Laurelwood Vinter Varmer
With its bold hop presence (for winter warmers, at least) Laurelwood’s seasonal showcases a dynamic balance between malts and hops, and it’s pretty easy to put back. A sweet, doughy malt aroma works its way up to the nose: Caramel, dark fruits and piney, citrusy hops enliven the bouquet. Toasty, nutty malts wash down the tongue as fresh orange and pine notes blossom. Sweet caramel spreads out before a wave of bitterness leaves the tongue tingling. Vinter Varmer’s definitely a malt-forward beer, but the countering fresh hop flavors makes it a must-try for hopheads drinking through this season’s offerings.
Day 11: Deschutes Jubelale
This annual winter warmer is a classic go-to beer for the holiday season. Pouring a burgundy hue with a creamy tan head, Jubelale fills the air with a luscious malt aroma. Toasty, caramel malt scents rise to the nose with cherry accents and a dash of piney hops. This beer’s equally toasty and sweet on the tongue: Creamy malts ride through the swallow, with dark fruits emerging mid-sip, while citrusy hops inject brightness that shines long into the finish. This wonderfully balanced beer clocks in at 6.7% ABV, but with a presence so subtle, you could easily put back a few of these on a cold winter night.
Day 10: Alaskan Winter
Accented by fresh spruce tips, Alaskan Winter is easily one of the most interesting end-of-the-year beers. This beer’s understated aroma’s stifled in the cold, so let it breathe before diving in. Clean, slightly sweet bready malts rise up to the nose, accentuated by sweet peach scents and a dash of herbal spruce. Toasty malts hit the tongue first, followed by a sweet variety of fruity flavors: Blueberry, candy orange and peach swirl in the middle. Orange peel flavors rise in the back, along with some earthy spruce notes, before a nice dose of bitterness cleans the mouth. This isn’t your typical winter warmer, but if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, don’t pass up on this beer. Drink along with our beer editor as he gives the beer a try here.
Day 9: The Great Northern Brewing Snow Ghost Winter Lager
Who doesn’t like a little Halloween with their Christmas? Although brewed in celebration of the snow ghosts who haunt the mountains in Montana, this beer’s nothing to fear. Sweet, toasted malt scents blend with spicy hops for a robust aroma that’s balanced and aggressive. On the tongue, malts transition from toasted to crackerlike as the beer washes back, with hints of chocolate popping up along the way. Hops show some muscle throughout the swallow, lending a rustic flavor while a rush of bitterness scrapes the tongue clean. Snow Ghost clocks in at only 5.9%-ABV, but its hefty presence leaves you feeling a little warm inside. With so many ales on the shelves this time of year, this dark lager is a nice change of pace.
Day 8: Shmaltz Jewbelation
Hanukkah comes to an end tomorrow, so what better time to tip back a few selections from Shmaltz brewing? Today we’ve got its annual Jewbelation—this year’s 14—and Vertical Jewbelation, a barrel-aged blend of year’s past. Keeping with tradition, this year’s Jewbelation combines 14 malt and hop varieties for an ultra-thick, potent drink. A rich, dark fruit aroma overpowers roast and caramel scents: Raisin, cherry and plum notes sink deep into the nose. With this many ingredients, expect a rush of flavors to storm the tongue. Caramel, brown sugar and a dash of roasted malts flow back, while orange and pine hop notes jump out mid-sip. There’s a decent bitter push that cuts through the malts, and with the help of some drying alcohol, the mouth isn’t overrun with thick, sweet malt flavors. Overall, this is a creamy, robust and complex American strong ale worth checking out. Vertical Jewbelation takes the experience to another level. While the aroma’s subdued, it’s not hard to pick out the rye whiskey threads, backed by woody oak, chocolate and a hint of roasted malts. Swirl the beer and you’ll unlock some of the dark fruit scents. Smooth vanilla and oak notes flow down the tongue, with sweet caramel and whiskey emerging mid-sip. A hint of grape appears just before woodsy bitterness swells in the back. This is an incredibly smooth, well-rounded beer, and dangerously drinkable at 10.5%-ABV. By far, it’s the best Jewbelation beer released to date.
Day 7: 21st Amendment Fireside Chat
Fireside Chat continues the new look of 21st Amendment with another fantastically drawn scene, depicting Franklin Roosevelt having one of his famous fireside chats—with an elf. Just like the design, the beer has a lot to consider. A sweet-sour aroma lifts up from the beer: Light toffee notes are shrouded in cinnamon, clove and a sour apple twang. A mix of cinnamon and ginger wash over the tongue above sweet malts before meeting perfumey, resinous hops in the back. A hefty dose of bitterness cuts through the flavors, leaving the mouth ready for another sip.
Day 6: Samuel Adams Holiday Porter
You won’t find traditional spices in this dark brown beer, but with a little help from the Dickensian label—depicting a man hauling a keg of porter down a snowy London street—it’s hard not to get into the holiday spirit. Brewed with hearty caramel, Munich and chocolate malts, and “spiced” with English hops, Holiday Porter is a robust beer for the cold season. A malty sweet aroma with dark chocolate threads rises to the nose alongside earthy hop scents. This beer’s extremely creamy on the tongue: As it washes back, chocolate and roast notes emerge with a touch of brown sugar sweetness. Earthy English hops blossom in the back, pushing against the malts with a hefty dose of bitterness (by British measurements, of course). This beer rings in at 5.8% ABV, making it a quaffable winter beer you can enjoy a few at a time.
Day 5: Karl Strauss Parrot in a Palm Tree
Southern California may not get too entrenched in this holiday’s snowier side, but at least the brewers at San Diego’s Karl Strauss keep a sense of humor: i.e., this beer’s name. This robust Baltic porter spent two months inside Pasqual Tawny Port barrels, and you can tell when you open the bottle. The near-black brew emits a wonderful chocolate-espresso aroma with subdued, rounded dark fruits courtesy of the port. Robust milk chocolate flavors rush down the tongue, as black currant notes thread throughout. While there isn’t much bitterness to speak of, toasted notes prop up the deep flavors, blending together in a smooth mouthfeel that goes down easy. Just after a slight vinous character emerges in the swallow, a glowing warmth in the chest reminds you this beer clocks in at 8.5% ABV.
Day 4: Schlafly Christmas Ale
The team at the Saint Louis Brewery—a.k.a. Schlafly—takes a slightly different approach to their winter warmer: Cinnamon and nutmeg don’t make an appearance here, just an abundance of orange peel and clove. Pop this bottle open to reveal a spotless dark-orange brew and fleeting white head. Toasty, caramel wafts latch onto sharp orange peel and spicy hop scents while clove rounds out the bouquet. The toast covers the tongue just in time for pithy orange and earthy clove to bound over it; transitioning sweet as the beer washes back, its spicy hop bitterness and carbonation don’t quite clean the mouth, but with flavors this good, that’s OK.
Day 3: Sweetwater Festive Ale
Like most of its seasonals, Sweetwater hits it out of the park with this annual winter warmer. Rich toffee and chocolate scents rise up from the glass, as cinnamon and sharp mace dig into the nose. This creamy beer unfolds with more malt richness on the tongue: Toffee and dark chocolate swirl together as the beer flows back, and then the spices emerge. Festive Ale’s cinnamon-mace combo cuts through the malts, merging with a quick flash of orange right before the swallow. Just a dash of roasted malts appears in the end, culminating in a roasted cinnamon flavor that pairs nicely with lingering alcohol warmth in the chest. Drink along with our beer editor as he gives the beer a try here.
Day 2: Pyramid Snow Cap
This annual release is a West Coast interpretation of a classic British winter warmer. As you’d expect, Pyramid takes the traditional malt-forward style and adds a little hop muscle. This crystal clear, mahogany beer sports a foamy tan head that lasts. Nutty, toasty scents float up to the nose; threaded by sweet caramel and spicy hop notes. Snow Cap starts off malt-strong: Caramel flavors spread out over a bed of toasty malts. Mid-sip, however, the hops emerge. Spicy hops precede a prickly wave of bitterness that digs deep into the tongue, leaving the mouth incredibly clean and ready for another sip.
Day 1: Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper
Despite the long road ahead, we’re starting bold this year with Port’s annual release, Santa’s Little Helper. This 10%-ABV imperial stout packs quite the punch, so break out the snifter, put the car keys away and enjoy. This midnight-black beer pours with a thick, rocky brown head that clings to the sides of the glass. Heavy roast scents intertwine with dark chocolate and multi-grain bread notes, creating a bold malt aroma threaded with edgy, piney hops and alcohol warmth. Santa’s Little Helper storms the tongue and retreats with equal vigor. This creamy beer splashes down with initial toast notes, which surge to full-out roast flavors as it washes back. Coffee and chocolate bolster the intensity, while swirls of pine and cherry mid-sip add flavorful accents. Into the swallow, assertive alcohol offers a bit of spice before the heat dries out the tongue and sinks into the chest. If you’re looking to drink your way into the season, this is the best place to start.