One great thing about winter seasonal beers is that they can differ quite drastically. Holiday beers are not just dark and roasty, but they also include IPA, sour beers, Belgian styles, barleywines, stouts, and spiced ales. There is truly something for everyone when it comes to holiday beers. Any craft beer lover should be able to find something on this list that they can enjoy this Winter.
Sierra Nevada Celebration is a classic holiday beer with a slightly different recipe every year. This is a fresh hopped IPA, which means the hops went into the beer as soon as they were harvested and without being dried first. The aroma has notes of pine, resin, dankness, a little candied orange peel, and brown bread. The flavor is slightly sweet and malty with a spicy bitterness.
Coronado calls this its “San Diego Winter IPA.” The aroma has characteristics of citrus, wood, minerals, tobacco, fresh cut grass, and old oranges. The flavor is bitter with a just enough vanilla-like malt sweetness to balance. This is a great beer because it is different than many IPAs but still celebrates the spirit of West Coast hoppy IPA.
This is an unfiltered IPA: slightly cloudy, but not quite as cloudy as the famed Northeast IPAs. What makes this beer interesting is that it smells like a Christmas tree. It has a strong bouquet of Douglas Fir tips coupled with resin, fresh sawdust, and some orange blossoms. The flavor has the typical Stone Brewing aggressive hop bitterness that comes off as spicy. It really is like a Christmas tree IPA.
Accumulation is a white IPA, a combination of a Belgian-style wheat beer and an IPA. The aroma has citrus, some pine, Meyer lemon, a hint of banana, and tropical notes. The appearance is cloudy like a wheat beer. The flavor has light but smooth, pithy bitterness that balances nicely against the wheat flavors. This is a refreshing, flavorful, and unique selection for a winter beer.
Winter Solstice has been one of my favorites for over a decade. The aroma has strong notes of vanilla, barley malt, and light brown sugar. The flavor is sweet, creamy, and has tons of vanilla flavor like a cream soda.
This seasonal beer, by Hitachino in Japan, is made with vanilla, coriander, orange peel, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Not only does this beer have a smell of sweet malt, toffee, vanilla, and roasted nuts but also it has hints of citrus and spices like nutmeg. The flavor is sweet with a citrus-pith-like bitterness. The spices are noticeable but not overwhelming. The flavor is actually quite similar to Winter Solstice but with more spices and slightly less sugar and vanilla.
Noel de Calabaza is a holiday sour beer that has been aged in oak barrels. It has a pleasant sour nose, like a white balsamic with lemon juice and a hint of pepper. The bouquet also has qualities of an aged sour beer like herbs, hay, barnyard, dark dried fruit, and prunes. The flavor is sour but not puckering, with dark cherry notes and just enough malt sweetness to balance the sourness. It’s great for both sour enthusiasts and beginners alike.
This dark beer has aromas of roasty espresso, malt, chocolate, vanilla, cream, and dried fruit. It is sweet with a roasty and chocolate flavor. This beer is full-bodied and has a creamy and velvety texture that gives it a porter beer quality.
When you pour this 10% ABV imperial stout into a glass, it is thick and viscous, but not quite like motor oil. It smells like rich bittersweet chocolate, espresso crema, with hints of raisins, caramel, and booze. The flavor is sweet and bitter, like baking chocolate. The high amount of alcohol in this beer makes it hot, but it is nicely balanced by its viscous mouthfeel.
The holiday offering from Montreal-based Dieu du Ciel is a rich barleywine. The bouquet has notes of fresh roasted coffee with a dash of chocolate, brown sugar, malt, toffee, caramel, dark fruit, and caramelized banana. The flavor is noticeably sweet, herbal, and has some alcohol heat and spiciness.
When you open this beer, the cork pops like Champagne. It even has some Champagne-like qualities in the initial aroma, but it is quickly overtaken with notes of herbs, spices, overripe banana, a dash of nutmeg and cloves, stale cinnamon, some caramelized banana, prunes, and other dark dried fruit. It’s almost like a delicious dark banana bread. The flavor is sweet but not cloying. It is balanced with a slight herbal bitterness quality. Its texture is creamy and effervescent. Quite a festive beer!
This Belgian Dubbel pours clear with a glowing amber color. The aroma has notes of spices including cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The aroma also includes characteristics of caramelized bananas, dark dried fruit, dates, and prunes. The flavor is sweet with some herbal characteristics and a subtle bitterness that balances out the sweetness.
Special thanks to The Jug Shop in San Francisco for their holiday beer tasting, which allowed me to try most of the beers on this list. Thanks also to Upslope Brewing for providing a sample of Christmas Ale.
For notes on the vintage beers that I tried the same evening as many of these beers, check out my article about the vintage holiday beer tasting.
Dave Jensen is based out of San Francisco and is the primary writer and photographer for Beer 47, a blog focused on craft beer, beer events, brewery tours, cooking with beer, and home brewing. By day, Dave continues his work in the beer world as a software developer and founder of BrewOps.