Holiday beers have been around since the Vikings. They drank to their Norse gods during their Jul celebrations (the Scandinavian Yuletide which was December 21st). Even after Christianity became the sanctioned religion of Norway, a law continued that financially penalized any household that failed to brew a Jul beer, as noted by ‘Serious Eats’ beer blogger Lisa Grimm. I was surprised to learn that even Stella Artois made it’s debut as a Christmas beer, it’s name paying homage to the biblical Christmas star.
In my unyielding (and frankly tipsy) quest for finding holiday beers that I would actually drink a whole glass of, I tried everything from strong ales to coffee porters to imperial milk stouts. And although I don’t wait around all year for the much anticipated (to many) release of holiday beers, I do find them a lot more enjoyable than all of those Pumpkin-spiced beers.
Christmas beers and winter warmers tend to be higher in alcohol content, (you know, to help make the holidays more bearable) darker in color, and a more pronounced malty backbone. Many are spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves to name just a few of the ingredients favored by brewers during this jolly beer season.
One Christmas beer that I do indulge in yearly is ‘Mad Elf’ by Troegs. It is brewed with honey and cherries and the color of the beer is a deep ruby red and it is consistently delicious year after year. ‘Mad Elf’ is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale with an alcohol content of 11%. Yowsers!
When I stumbled (not literally) upon the ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Imperial IPA’ I was excited to get my hands on a Christmas India Pale Ale. I quickly learned that if you brew a beer that does not sell well, stick a Christmas label on the bottle and it will sell itself. Yeah, I was that sucker. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation also offers a ‘Yule Crack Up Gingerbread Stout’, but after being duped with that XX IPA, I wasn’t going to fall for that trick, again. But do let me know if you’ve tried it.
Another classic Belgian Strong Ale is the ‘Corsendonk Christmas Ale’ from, you guessed it, Belgium. There are cocoa and caramel notes along with some of those favored spices I mentioned earlier. It offers a bit more of a tart taste in the finish thanks to that lovely Belgian yeast.
Breckenridge’s ‘Christmas Ale’ is a delightful American strong ale. It’s hue is copper and again it has some subtle chocolate and caramel flavors. A little over 7% on the alcohol richter scale and very drinkable.
The Bruery out of CA offers their series ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’. I obtained the 8th day of Christmas beer, ‘8 Maids a Milking’. For an Imperial Stout, it had a surprisingly thin mouth feel. There’s definitely a Belgian yeast thing going on here and it is far better to sip it at room temperature than cold, as the flavors really open up as it warms. The most rare of these 12 beers is a quad, ‘Partridge in a Pear Tree’ which has a lofty price tag of around $200. That said, if you cellar it correctly for a few years than you may be able to resell it for $600-$1000. Needless to say my expenses on Christmas beer research is limited….but if you feel compelled to contribute to the beer fund, I’ll oblige.
Even Shmaltz gets into the holiday beer season with their Chanukah in Kentucky (an ale aged in Heaven Hill and Jim Bean bourbon barrels). They also have a Hanukkah Chanukah Pass the Beer. And at 8%, their website, ‘He’Brew – The Chosen One’ states, “This Chanukah (or the next!), the candles won’t be the only thing getting lit”. Although Hanukkah is over, the beer is still alive and if you live in the right state, you can still get your hands on one of these.
The verdict? If you are gifting a Christmas beer to someone then just stick to what you know and what you like. Tie a bow on it and a holiday tag…..and, done! It is now a Christmas beer. Merry, Merry!
Right on advice Beerslinger….Definitely Mad Elf
Mad elf does rock! I have made some bad choices over the years but once in awhile I am surprised by a Christmas beer. I always have went with the chimay blue label during the holidaze. I am down with barleywine style and there is a lot to choose from this year. Loving the Santa vrs unicorn from pipeworks, also the old guardian by stone
Santa vs. Unicorn is definitely my new favorite barlewine. Hoppiness prevails!
my own recollection of holiday ales brings me and my heart back to Richie Stolarz of Beers International Fame. He first introduced me into the micro craft beer world and forever am I grateful.
I like to make my own Wassail.
Core four apples/pears and place them in a baking dish. Fill them with brown sugar and honey. Add a bottle of brown ale. Cook at 400 deg F for 20 minutes or so.
In a crock-pot, add five bottles of brown ale, half a bottle of Madeira, a sliced blood orange, and a spice pouch full of whole spices (allspice, Cinnamon, cloves, and crystallized ginger) and heat.
Add the four baked apples and the remaining liquid. Finish off with bitters.