This post comes courtesy of Williams-Sonoma associate and beer enthusiast Dennis Ayles.
Tired of always grabbing a bottle of wine and struggling to decide if you want to waste your money on a wine bag before you head to your next holiday party? Put that bottle down! During November and December most breweries will offer a holiday or winter seasonal beer. Most of the time it’s an offshoot of one their flagship beers, but several of them get very creative, providing a once in a year treat.
This year was much more adventurous for me than in years past, since I have recently moved to the east coast. Due to the regional distribution there were a few beers and breweries that I had never tried. I started with about 22 beers, but since I don’t want to bore you with 22 reviews, here are a few of my top choices that are worth seeking out.
Brouwerij Huyghe, 10% ABV
Like with most Belgian beers, pour slowly. The beer starts with a sweet taste, and as the spices roll over your tongue a subtle, tart fruitiness takes over and finishes with a nice, crisp, bitterness. There are as many surprises and flavors as you would find in the days of advent. This was by far the most complex and enjoyable one I’ve had so far.
Bell’s Brewing, 5.5% ABV
Bell’s premise in making this beer was to create a session beer using all locally grown malt as well as some hops. I would have to say they were very successful; this beer poured with a great fluffy, airy head and nice amber red color. I tasted subtle roasted toffee with a hint of nuts — it definitely would be a great session beer for any holiday party.
|Yellow Snow IPA
Rogue Brewery, 6.2% ABV
This is my favorite of the two winter seasonal ales that Rogue offers. It’s a golden color with a vibrant head and great lacing, a very well balanced IPA, not an overpowering hops bomb. It began with a slight citrus flavor and ended with a crisp pine finish. As the brewery mentioned this is a great beer to enjoy after a nice run on the slopes, while playing in your curling league or just hanging out after a hockey game.
Southern Tier Brewing, 9.3% ABV
Do you think you’re on the naughty list? Per the label, Krampus is the one who delivers punishments to all on the naughty list while Santa delivers presents to all on the nice list. To warm Krampus’ heart and soften your punishment, make sure you leave a bottle for him on Christmas Eve. This beer keep you warm, with a floral nose at the start. As it rolls over the tongue sweet caramel and pineapple flavors take over, ending with a cognac-like finish.
|10 Degrees Below Ale
Scuttlebutt Brewery, 7.4% ABV
The pour on this brew was very dark, so I thought it would feel much heavier on the tongue. The aroma was definitely of chocolate, as well as the first taste — but it wasn’t overpowering. The beer mellowed out with every sip, with a nice crisp finish. It wasn’t too filling, but with a higher ABV it will definitely keep you warm during those cold winter days.
Bison Brewing, 6.0% ABV
I had a hard time putting this one down. Roasted malts blend well with the nutmeg and cinnamon spices in this brew, and the aroma took me right to a cold winter night (with fireplace and all). This is a great beer to enjoy all through the holiday season.
|Warmer Winter Winter Warmer
Cigar City Brewing, 11% ABV
Wow…this beer is all alcohol, a very high octane sipper — raising my internal temperature with every sip. Want to sit on the porch and smoke a cigar and watch the snowfall? You most likely will not need a jacket if you pick this one to pair with it. It also became more complex as it warmed up.
|4 Calling Birds
The Bruery, 11% ABV
This is the fourth and highly anticipated offering by The Bruery of their 12 Days/Years of Christmas series. It’s definitely one that will keep you warm as you watch the snow fall this winter, matching the darkness in its color. The beer starts with slight sweetness and banana undertones; as it continues you begin to taste fermented fruits finishing with the flavor of raisins. With every sip I tasted more breadiness and by the end I felt like I was drinking a Christmas cookie.
Boston Beer Company, 5.9% ABV
This one is part of the Winter Variety Pack offered by Boston Beer Company. It’s probably my favorite Samuel Adams beer, with the most balance and great character. Roasted and chocolate malts give it a nice weight on the tongue, and hints of caramel and toffee emerge as you sip. On the finish is a nice blend of spices, ginger and orange peel.
Boston Beer Company, 5.8% ABV
This is also one of the beers offered in the Winter Variety Pack, pouring an opaque brown and providing great lacing down the glass. It starts with a chocolate undertone that lightens as the roasted caramel flavors take over. The porter offers a great full bodied flavor that’s not too filling, allowing you to nibble on just a few more Christmas cookies.
Sierra Nevada Brewing, 6.8% ABV
I always know Christmas is just around the corner when I see this beer in stores. Just slightly over 1% more ABV than Sierra’s flagship pale ale, this one comes in at 6.8%, which will help keep you warm on those winter nights. Unlike most of the winter ales, this one has no spices added. The beer is dry-hopped, which gives it a great aroma that translates to your tongue with a bitter finish.
|Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Special Ale
Anchor Brewing, 5.5% ABV
Since 1975 Anchor has offered a special holiday ale, changing the recipe just a bit every year. This year’s offering began with a great nose of cinnamon, brown sugar and all the other spices associated with holiday cooking. The color was also great, with a nice airy light brown head. The taste took me a bit by surprise, as it was different from the nose; I was overpowered with a burnt malt taste that continued throughout. Slowly, a sweet fruitiness and hint of juniper came through. It wasn’t my favorite Anchor special ale, but I’ll return to it since the recipe changes every year.
About the author: Dennis Ayles, from Inventory Management, is our resident beer expert here at Williams-Sonoma. He keeps everyone up to speed on the latest trends, his favorite brews and what we should be drinking.