While beer is great to drink during any occasion over the holidays, brewers give us gifts of unique, wintery frosty mugs filled with creamy stouts, winter warmers, and other holiday flavors. To celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, we are tipping back the merry brews from some of our favorite breweries and a few new brew friends. In the spirit of giving, I present you with eight beers that keep us hopped up and happy from breweries that give back to their community during the Christmas season and all year long.
A Short History of Tall Holiday Beers
The first Christmas beers to be commercially brewed in the US were poured around the beginning of the 1900s, and Americans loved the spicy, sweet brews. Unfortunately, Prohibition quickly ended that holiday party and legally brewed holiday beers wouldn’t be seen again until Anchor Brewing in San Francisco came out with “Our Special Ale” in 1975. Every year since, Anchor Brewing has brewed “Our Special Ale” with a brand new recipe. So, much like a present from your Secret Santa, you’re never quite sure what you’re gonna get. However, unlike the present from your Secret Santa, you can be sure it’s going to be amazing.
Since that initial groovy American Christmas in 1975, breweries across the country started crafting dark, rich beers with notes of cinnamon, maple syrup, and molasses.
Globally though, the tradition of imbibing brews over the holidays actually goes back to Viking’s “Yule” celebrations of 900 AD. Thankfully, craft beer has come a long way since then, and now delicious holiday beers start to line the shelves of grocery stores and bottle shops long before the first snowflakes fall. This year, as I order my Christmas presents online by the crackling video of a fire, I’ll give myself the gift of some great holiday beers.
All I Want for Christmas is Brew
The first beer I’m cracking open this holiday season is an Ohio winter-warmer from Great Lakes Brewing Co. Their six-time medal-winning Christmas Ale should definitely be opened before Christmas. With holiday spices, fresh honey, and a potent 7.5% ABV, this ale is enough to make Eboneezer Scrooge smile. It pairs well with ugly Christmas sweaters, stockings full of coal, and a roaring fire. If you’re looking for a last-minute gift for a beer lover, consider the soap, bbq sauce, or mustard they make with the leftover brews of their “low fill beers.”
Fort Collins, Colorado
Next beer in my fridge lineup is the New Belgium Brewing’s Accumulation Winter Ale. A white IPA inspired by the Colorado snowfall, this beer packs a hoppy kick that’s uncommon to holiday beers. This golden color and the pillowy, white foam is perfect for those adult snow-days when the drifts pile up. New Belgium has a long tradition of brewing good and doing good, and this year is certainly no different, seeing as they brewed up the world’s first carbon-neutral beer.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Few breweries now know snow better than Utah’s favorite craft brewery Uinta Brewing, and their Yard Sale winter lager is the perfect beer after you’ve hit the slopes. A balanced lager made with rich caramel malts, honey, and earthy hops, this is the perfect pint after a few runs down the mountain. Whether you’re carving down a mountain or sitting in the lodge like me, you’ll appreciate the dedication to craft and sustainability Uinta brews in every beer.
Down in the bayou, Louisiana-based Abita is brewing enough of their brown Christmas Ale to satisfy all the carolers and alligators in New Orleans. This rich American ale is brewed with biscuit, caramel, and chocolate malts as well as dry-hopped for a bright, piney flavor. In Covington, Santa’s sleigh is pulled by gators instead of reindeer, so Abita does its best to protect the water source from which they earned their name. By filtering 95% of the water they use to brew themselves, they keep Abita Spring pure.
Up next is Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Christmas Pancakes. This American Imperial-style Stout is brewed with wild-honey, locally farmed ginger, and gallons of Virginia maple syrup. This beer is sweet, decadent, and is best served alongside a plate of eggs and bacon fresh from the farm. This seasonal beer is sure to sweeten the tooth of any beer enthusiast, but Hardywood is determined to brew with a purpose all year long. After I’ve finished this four-pack and my Christmas tree has lost its needles, they’ll still be supporting local farmers and brewing with 100% renewable power.
A lot more than just chocolate comes out of Hershey. Tröegs Independent Brewing is a family-owned brewery that brings some serious holiday cheer to the table with their Mad Elf holiday ale. This strong, Belgian-style Dark Ale is brewed with local honey, fresh cherries, and chocolate malts to deliver a festive flavor. A few pints of this ruby-red brew will put even the grinchiest family member in the giving spirit. The folks at Tröegs give back to their local community in so many ways, it’s hard to count. From donations to the hospitality industry and front line workers, all the way to ensuring backpacks and haircuts are available for kids, Tröegs knows it’s better to give than receive.
After a snowball fight, I’m planning to curl up by the fire with a Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Festive Winter Ale. Featuring notes of dark chocolate, rich malts, and thick, holiday spices, this Brew is the perfect beer to grab after throwing another log on the crackling fire, and it pairs perfectly with a roasted marshmallow of six. With a label featuring art from local Oregon artist Eric Nyffeler, this holiday ale is merry, bright, and dedicated to lifting the spirits of the communities in which it’s brewed all year long.
I’ve been saving one of the best for last. Prairie Artisan Ales’ Christmas Bomb! is an Imperial stout aged with espresso beans, holiday spices, vanilla beans, cacao nibs, and ancho chilis. This thick, decadent Oklahoma flavor bomb is over the top in the best way, and let’s just say I know what I’m not leaving beside the milk and cookies for Santa this year. The team at Prairie is giving back too this year by donating $10 from every beer delivery to Oklahoma hospitality workers. Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, you can give yourself a sack of beer and help some of the people who need it most this holiday season.