By: Zach Mack
If you're one of those people who "loves winter," congratulations! We're finally entering that magical time of year when the sun sets an hour and a half after lunch, the wind hurts your face, and most of your budget gets railroaded into parties, presents, and traveling to cater to both.
But it's also the time of year when some truly great beers are released, which seriously helps stymie that whole Scrooge thing. We've picked some of our favorite beers for winter drinking -- not just seasonals, since some beers deserve to be enjoyed all year-round (and since at least one brewer on the list only experiences one season anyway). Deck the halls! Mazel the tov! It's the holidays, and these beers give us every reason to celebrate.
Winter ale, 6.7%
If you're in an area where Deschutes is available, it's very likely that the release of Jubelale in October is the pot-bellied adult equivalent of waking up on Christmas morning. Fruity, sweet, spicy, hoppy, and deeply satisfying, it's basically what you'd expect from one of Oregon's best breweries.
Sly Fox Christmas Ale
Red ale, 5.5% (in cans) or 6.5% (in 750ml bottles)
Pottstown and Phoenixville, PA
Even when radio stations begin jamming playlists full of Nat King Cole and decorations start popping up before Halloween, there is something to be said for beers that are able to wear their festiveness on their sleeve as well as this beer can. With packaging that flat out looks like a candy cane, you shouldn't be surprised that this is made with all of the spices you find around the holidays, including clove, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. The bottled version packs a slightly bigger punch, but it's perfect for sharing, if you're into that kind of thing.
Specialty grain beer, 12%
Kansas City, MO
The first time I tried this beer, I picked up my phone and called -- not texted, called! -- my friend to tell him to get his hands on a bottle right away. But then again, what would you expect from a rye American strong ale aged in Templeton rye barrels? It's rich, incredibly oaky, and full-bodied with bourbon, vanilla, oak, and spicy rye flavors with a long, warm finish. This is a perfect pairing beer for rich, heavy foods if there was one. It also pairs well with It's a Wonderful Life.
Pelican Bad Santa
Cascadian dark ale, 7.5%
Pacific City, OR
Pelican's an award-winning brewery that allows you to drink its beer while soaking up the sun right on the Pacific Ocean. Which is all good in the summer, before the Oregon coast turns into a rain-filled wind tunnel of misery. Which is to say, you can always trust brewers in such conditions to come up with a solid winter warmer. Bad Santa eschews the normally strong alcohol content of many of its brethren, allowing the mystery spices and malt to do the warming, resulting in a roasty, herbaceous pint that has earned anticipation level.
Maui Brewing CoCoNut PorTeR
Lahaina, Maui, HI
Subtlety is the name of the game with this beer, so hold off on the preconceived notions. Just because this has coconut in the title does not mean it tastes like sunscreen or dessert; brewers here use natural toasted coconut, not sugary syrups or flavoring, so you're actually left with a perfect balance for the roasted coffee and chocolate flavors. It's all brought together with a silky texture that feels only like winter on a remote tropical island can. Try it alongside roasted chestnuts (which are really a thing!) or bûche de Noël, which is also a thing.
Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas
Winter ale, 8.3%
For anyone looking to really take the plunge on festive beers, Thirsty Dog's winter seasonal is a top option. It falls just short of sweet, with the caramel malts and honey used in the recipe balanced out by cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg spiciness. This makes it a clear go-to pairing with all those holiday desserts, including cookies and cakes. I give props to brewers who are gutsy enough to use the word "Christmas" or "Holiday" on a label, since no one will touch the bottles from December 26th onward, but this is the type of beer you could sit on and sip months later after the spices begin to die down. Perfect excuse for a Christmas in July party!
Grassroots Arctic Saison
Greensboro Bend, VT
So, as far as we can tell on the interwebs, this collab between the mysterious Hill Farmstead and Anchorage doesn't actually exist... or at least hasn't since 2013. But we're pretty sure we didn't imagine this incredible saison, aged in oak tanks and with big Brett flavor. Mainly because we're looking at the bottle while we drink it, and it's amazing.
Firestone Walker Sucaba
Paso Robles, CA
You didn't think you were going to make it through this entire list of beers that are perfect for winter drinking without coming across a barleywine, did you? Good! Because this is an top-notch example of a divisive style that most people will only touch when it's snowing sideways outside. Expect oak, dark cherry, vanilla, and tobacco flavors all wound together in one incredibly complex bottle of beer. The public opinion is strongly in favor of this, and it's not hard to see why. It's a nice replacement for your after-dinner bourbon. Or as a complement to it.
Pipeworks Ninja vs. Unicorn
Double IPA, 9%
We're finally reaching a point in American brewing culture where double IPAs aren't simply an excuse to put out an unbalanced pine-tar bomb, and this is a very good thing. Hearing that Ninja vs. Unicorn is "brewed with over five pounds of hops per barrel" might have you thinking otherwise, but hot damn is this ever an easy drinker. Intense flavors of tangerine, papaya, and tropical fruit come through strongly with a slightly piney, dry finish that makes each sip easier than the first. If you're looking for something to impress your hophead relative when they come over for dinner, this is your beer.
Anchor Christmas Ale
Winter warmer, 5.5%
San Francisco, CA
Every year for the past 41, Anchor has changed the recipe for its Christmas Ale, which has an even more cultish following than Santa himself. Every year, beer fiends -- like snotty kids peeking in their parents' closets to see what's gonna end up underneath the tree -- try to figure it out. Is it juniper? Nuts? Frankincense and myrrh? Who gives a crap? While you're smacking your lips and taking notes, we're chilling under the mistletoe with one of our favorite holiday treats. Also, is that mistletoe we detect in the mix?
Southern Tier Old Man Winter
Winter ale, 7.2%
At this point, it's basically as if Southern Tier has seemingly developed its seasonal release schedule to integrate weather changes, social calendars, and the right combination of flavors. Maybe this is the right way to do things in an area where the weather changes quickly, because it makes the transition from pumpkin spice-heavy beers into wintery old ales feel like a treat. Like you might expect from an old ale, this beer has comforting malt-driven flavors of caramel, dark fruit, and hazelnut, with a hoppy finish, which is relatively rare for this style. This is always the first beer I open with my dad when I make it home over the winter, paired up with a huge hunk of strong cheese.
North Coast Old Rasputin Wheat Whiskey Barrel Aged Stout
Fort Bragg, CA
It almost feels like we're cheating by including this beer, as it's basically a take off on a widely beloved go-to favorite. But when you take a beer as terrific as Old Rasputin and add even more depth in complexity, with darker notes shrouded in silky whiskey and oak flavors, it must be shared. It's the ultimate warmer-upper beer, and sharing this with someone on a cold night isn't so much a cliche as it is just a perfect excuse to crack it open.
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