Beers of Winter

Each year, as fall stumbles drunkenly into winter, a slew of holiday seasonals start showing up in stores. These include winter warmers, spiced ales, and even a few twists on seemingly unrelated styles. In this article, you’ll find my top five picks for beers to amass in your holiday bunker. I attempted to judge each beer based not only on my personal enjoyment of it, but also on factors like availability — after all, my blog’s mission is to introduce people to new beers, not to consternate them by recommending a must-try beer that’s only available on a secluded jungle peninsula where it’s brewed by indigenous tribesmen who don’t take kindly to strangers and whose brewery is only reachable on llama-back. That said, you probably won’t find these at your local Wal-Mart (except maybe number five). Check out a big liquor chain or a small bottle store instead.

1. Hibernation Ale

Great Divide’s Hibernation Ale sleeps its way to the top by offering a taste of the unexpected. English-style old ales don’t always evoke chestnuts roasting over open fires, but this one sure does. A phenomenal cold-night sipper, this burgundy-hued beer imparts oak, hazelnut, and sweet, fresh bread — in other words, huge malt flavors balanced by moderate hops and subtle alcohol warmth. I could down a few of these and hibernate happily for months.

2. Samichlaus

Ah, Samichlaus: the Christmas beer originally brewed by Hürlimann’s whose name actually means Santa Claus in Swiss German. This doppelbock is brewed once a year in December and aged for 10 months before bottling. It’s also a whopping 14% ABV. But I haven’t even mentioned the beer’s flavors: Get ready for rich caramel and dark, sweet cherries followed by a smooth alcohol kick and a slightly bitter finish that moderates the syrupy sweetness. This, my friends, is Christmas in a bottle.

3. Nøgne Ø Winter Ale (God Jul)

This year’s God Jul was my first, so I nearly flinched when this winter ale (which I’d assumed meant winter warmer) poured black and smelled like a porter. Turns out, it is a porter! Creamy milk chocolate, roasted malts, coffee, and hints of toasted wood dominate this brew. These subtle flavors accent the ultra-smooth, oh-so-creamy body. God Jul would make a fine fireside companion on a cold winter’s eve. You wouldn’t even need a book! Well, at 8.5% ABV, you’ll probably lose the ability to read after a pint or two of this dark holiday treat, but by that point, who cares?

4. Anchor Our Special Ale 2009

Anchor’s OSA recipe was born almost a decade before I was, so I haven’t tried a ton of them. Out of the iterations I have tried, however, 2009’s wasn’t quite my favorite. But it still ranks fourth in my top five, which I think says something about Anchor’s recipe and brewing skills. The beer pours dark brown with a creamy, sticky head that smells like winter spices and gingerbread. The flavors strike a remarkable balance between cinnamon, nutmeg, and the piney hops typical of winter warmers. But “winter warmer” seems a misnomer; this is more like a big, dark, complex spiced ale.

5. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Many beers could have landed in this last spot (see: honorable mentions), but I picked the Celebration Ale for three reasons, each of which relates to the mission I mentioned in the first paragraph. Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale is 1) consistently tasty, 2) widely available, and 3) a pleasant, balanced introduction not only to winter seasonals, but also to IPAs, a notoriously difficult style for most newcomers. This year’s Celebration Ale rounds out its piney, citric hop bitterness (Sierra Nevada loves them hops!) with caramely malts and silky smooth carbonation. A wonderful holiday treat for hop heads and newbies alike.

Honorable Mentions

  • Deschutes Jubelale
  • Sierra Nevada Bigfoot
  • Avery Old Jubilation
  • Full Sail Wassail
  • Sam Adams Winter Lager/Old Fezziwig
8 Responses to “Beers of Winter”
  1. I really want to try these. I’ll have to look for them Monday when I hit up the beer store again. Samichlaus sounds really intriguing.

  2. Ben says:

    i had a pretty warm samichlaus earlier this year and it was a bit rough. definitely let it see some chilling before serving.


  3. Kris says:

    perhaps we’ll get some Hibernation this weekend – and hibernate with some cards or a fun movie

  4. Ben says:

    holy moses, jubilale? i am going to have to hunt that down sometime.

  5. Ben says:

    had that anchor steam special ale and holy moses, that stuff is tasty.
    also enjoyed jubilale on wednesday night as well.

    i <3 good seasonals.

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