Now that the season of revelry and celebrations has begun, holiday beers have started appearing in beer bars and on the shelves of the stores, each brew attempting to capture the spirit with flavor profiles featuring chocolate, honey, cloves, cinnamon and even winter fruits. Available in cozy styles like porters, strong ales and stouts, these brews are tailor-made for cooler weather and heartier meals.
In fact, they have become something of a long-standing holiday tradition. Once upon a time — and still to this day — Scandinavian countries would brew stronger and heavier beers to prepare for a December festival celebrating Odin (also known as Jolner), with the beers becoming known as Julöl. Eventually, this became “Yule Ale” when the English picked up the tradition. Nowadays, there are a wide range of styles represented as holiday or “winter” beers, from lagers to stouts and everywhere in between. They are only available for a few months out of the year, so get them now while you can.
Dunedin Brewing’s Blitzen has huge amounts of honey, big boozy sweetness, and creates a feeling of golden warmth inside when you swallow it. This deceptively smooth 8.6 percent winter warmer is dangerously good, brewed with cinnamon, orange peel and honey. It pours a beautiful golden color, and the aroma carries just the right amount of holiday cheer to the nose. Available on draft or in growlers from the brewery, the 2012 batch is the best one yet.
As someone of Scandinavian heritage, I could not pass up a beer named “Skål,” the traditional Norse toast to good health. And also having experienced the excellent seasonals from Capital Brewing before (Autumnal Fire is amazing!), I knew this winter brew would be worth having. I was not disappointed. Capital Brewing Winter Skål’s full-bodied beer (only 5.8 percent ABV) pours a lovely amber hue and gives off a delicious malty aroma. It’s mildly bittered, with a hop character that balances and rounds out the malt overtones.
Avery Brewing’s Old Jubilation from the Boulder, Colorado brewery is a traditional English Old Ale: dark and malty, high gravity, and no spices. It pours a dark, rich brown color and the aroma is mocha and toffee with a hint of hazelnut. This would be a great pairing with roast meats like lamb, prime rib, or duck. This is an 8.3 percent ABV beer, so a little goes a long way.
Sweetwater’s Festive Ale is dark and rich, with chocolate and coffee the dominating flavors. The aroma is all dark malt with some muted spice and dried dark fruit. It’s a heavier pour, thick and smooth on the palate, but not a lot of the up-front spices one would expect from a winter brew. This is an 8.6 percent beer, so the bomber bottle can be easily shared. It’s a delicious dark brew.
Southern Tier’s 2XMAS is a “double spiced ale brewed in the tradition of Swedish Glögg,” made with orange peels, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger root. I am quite partial to the Scandinavian influences and flavors, so the dark fruit notes and spices are particularly nice. The 8 percent ABV is noticeable, but not overwhelming, making this a great one for after dinner or on cold nights.
There are many more excellent winter and holiday brews available during these months. I encourage everyone to try something new this year — you might discover your new favorite holiday drink.
Cheers! Skål! Slainte! Gud Jul!
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