The colder winter months not only bring us sparkly lights, spiced aromas, family gatherings and tryptophan-induced naps; they also bring us sanity-saving winter warmers and Christmas ales with malt, spices and fruit. Unlike gifts under the tree, these smile-makers can be opened and enjoyed before or after Christmas. (During Christmas is OK, of course, as well.) Here are some winter beers worth checking out:
Alaskan Winter English Olde Ale (Alaska, 6.4 percent alcohol by volume): Supposedly made with ingredients based on Captain Cook’s historical recipe, this holiday beer has clean, slightly sweet, bready malts, and is accented by fresh Sitka spruce tips. Citrus and fruity flavors like orange zest, blueberry and peach cream pack this beer with some serious holiday revelry. The ale, made with glacier-fed water from the Juneau Ice Field, is brewed in the old ale style, which means it’s a little heavier on the alcohol and the malt. The brewery suggests pairing it with roast goose, turkey, ham, lamb or apple pie. I suggest sipping it front of a roaring fire, even here in the not-so-chilly Coachella Valley.
Avery Old Jubilation Ale (Colorado, 8.3 percent ABV): This winter strong ale has flavors of plums, raisins, burnt sugar, vanilla and hazelnuts, and finishes with mocha and toffee. It is chocolaty goodness in a glass. It pairs with all manner of game birds, as well as roast duck, rack of lamb and prime rib.
Abita Christmas Ale (Louisiana, 5.5 percent ABV): Sweet caramel and slight pine scents blend with clove for a subtle, earthy aroma in this brown ale. The ale is lightly spiced, with hints of cinnamon and brown sugar; piney and floral hop flavors ornament the profile. This year’s edition is hoppier than most brown ales. The spicy character is excellent with holiday foods such as gingerbread or spiced nuts.
Brouwerij De Smedt Affligem Noël (Belgium, 9 percent ABV): Brewed by monks from an abbey that was founded in 1074, this bottle-conditioned strong ale has apple, brown sugar, nutmeg and molasses in the nose. Candy sugar, toffee, cherry and soft flavors of clove spice blend beautifully with a complexity of malt flavors and fruity yeast esters. The finish is full with substantial stickiness.
Brasserie Dubuisson Scaldis Noël (Belgium, 12 percent ABV): At 12 percent ABV, the little Scaldis Noël bottle packs a giant holiday punch. Caramel malts, plum, alcohol-soaked raisin and cracked pepper notes—with hints of anise—make this festive beer sweet and drinkable. The boozy heat of this Belgian strong dark ale will keep you warm on the cold winter nights. This beer has amazing complexity and balance. The high alcohol content makes it a good candidate for cellaring, so start a holiday tradition, and store a few away. Suggested food pairings include some cheeses and goose. Fun fact: This beer is sold in other countries as Bush de Noël. The Bush name hasn’t been trademarked in the U.S., so it is sold as “Scaldis” instead.
New Belgium Frambozen Raspberry Brown Ale (Colorado, 6.5 percent ABV): The aroma is sour raspberry candy, hibiscus flowers and woodsy roasted coffee. Berries from the Pacific Northwest are turned into a pure juice that is then added during fermentation. The resulting taste: fresh, tart raspberries backed by nut, chocolate and caramel malts. Pair with certain cheeses, seared duck and mushroom risotto—or chocolate-rich desserts.
Alesmith YuleSmith Winter Imperial Red Ale (California, 9.5 percent ABV): Sweet caramel, orange marmalade and woodsy pine resins make for an earthy and rich aroma. Significant sweet malts—like toffee and toasted bread—balance with hop grassiness, grapefruit and piney notes. This is an exceptional beer from the San Diego brewery, as proven at the World Beer Championships: It won gold in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
Deschutes Jubelale Festive Winter Ale (Oregon, 6.7 percent ABV): This is a classic annual winter warmer that also celebrates artists by showcasing them on the label. Pouring with a burgundy hue, Jubelale pleases the palate with piney hops, coffee bean hints, caramelized flavors, cherry notes and a bit of floral edge. Hops make their presence known in the end—a nice little surprise. Pair with short ribs and various cheeses.
Brasserie Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux Saison (Belgium, 9.5 percent ABV): The name translates as “With the best wishes of the brewery Dupont,” and this Christmas beer pours a clear golden color. Wonderful and complex aromas accompany a hint of spices, banana and even rising bread. The typical saison funk and mustiness is present, but not overpowering. This beer is fresh, with a hint of Belgian candy sugar, coriander and lemon peel. It’s a full-flavored beer with zing!
Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale (England, 6 percent ABV): Welcome this winter ale into your home, and you’ll enjoy toffee, caramel and toasty notes—as well as a full body, resulting from fermentation in “stone Yorkshire squares.” There’s a healthy amount of carbonation, bringing a lively feel. Bonus? The Winter Welcome Ale has a collectable label: The picture in the middle of the label changes every year.
Odell Isolation Ale (Colorado, 6.0 percent ABV): A sweet, bready malt aroma accompanies caramel and nutty accents in this winter ale. This winter warmer is brewed with English hops; the spices, malt and hops work in perfect harmony. A sturdy hoppiness, plum and citrus flavors, great drinkability, and hints of toasted grain and clove make this a world-class holiday beer.
Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper (California, 10 percent ABV): Pouring a jet-black color, this beer from San Marcos has a big, roasted malt character; hints of coffee and dark chocolate fill the air. The flavor is complex but still balanced, with cocoa and toffee overtones, burnt sugar, chicory and some barrel flavors. The assertive alcohol content offers a bit of spice blooms over the tongue. Buy a couple, and age this big guy to round out the flavors next winter.
The Bruery 6 Geese-A-Laying Belgian-Style Dark Ale (California, 11.5 percent ABV): This is the sixth beer in The Bruery’s “12 Days of Christmas” winter seasonal ale series. The classic Christmas verse has been honored with gooseberries, and gives off notes of plums and dark cherry. The sweet sugary malt balances with the tart berries, making for a voluptuous beer with holiday cheer. It’s perfect now, or age it for a year or two. Enjoy this with your holiday roast.
These festive releases are perfect matches for the cooler winter months. Enjoy!