There are dozens of Christmas ales on the shelves these days. How do you know which one to grab? The short answer is: you don’t.
Every brewery has its own interpretation of a Christmas ale, and it’s difficult to say there’s a particular, prevailing flavor profile for the style.
But don't sweat it. If you're looking for something to get you and Santa through the night while y'all assemble a bicycle, or if you need something to pair with Christmas dinner, reach for one of these.
Abita Christmas Ale
Many of us (myself included) got our introduction to Christmas ales with Abita's version. The thing is Abita changes the recipe every year; so, the beer you drank last holiday season is different this year.
This winter, Abita brewed what amounts to a brown IPA. Caramel, chocolate and roasted malts are paired with Columbus, Cascade, Centennial and Amarillo hops for a hoppy brown ale. Notes of pine and citrus complement the roasty chocolate notes, making this a tasty holiday treat.
Anchor Christmas Ale
San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing has been producing a unique Christmas ale for the past 43 years. The recipe changes each year, as does the label artwork, featuring a different tree annually.
This year’s beer is a malty winter warmer, pouring nearly jet black. There are notes of chocolate, toffee and roasted nuts to go with some winter spices. This has been one of my favorite Christmas beers, and I enjoyed this year’s version especially since I found it in a 1.5-liter bottle. Talk about a Merry Christmas!
Bell’s Christmas Ale
Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery crafted a scotch ale as its Christmas beer this year. Rich and malty, this beer pairs perfectly with a cold winter’s day (or even a warm one in the case of south Louisiana).
Notes of caramel and a warming finish define this 7.5 percent alcohol by volume Christmas ale. Enjoy this one with your Christmas dinner. Or as your Christmas dinner.
Great Raft Awkward Uncle
Shreveport’s Great Raft Brewing has my favorite Christmas ale label. It has a grinning awkward uncle holding a moose glass and a Santa-costumed kitty in his lap. Does it get any better than that?
One sip of this beer says, "Yes."
This 8 percent ABV Belgian-style strong ale is loaded with cherries, as well as more cherries, and topped with cherries. Oh sure, there’s some cinnamon and ginger to give this beer some spice, but the cherry flavor is the star. There’s much holiday cheer to be had in this beer.
Prairie Christmas Bomb!
Prairie’s Bomb! is an imperial stout brewed with chocolate, vanilla and ancho chili peppers. Each winter, the Oklahoma brewery adds cinnamon and nutmeg to the base beer, releasing it as Christmas Bomb!
This 13 percent ABV stout is very much Santa’s little helper. An incredibly complex beer, this one is a sipper, best enjoyed after the children are nestled all snug in their beds.
Sierra Nevada Celebration
Sierra Nevada uses no spices in its Celebration ale. Instead, the brewery features freshly harvested Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops. This bold West Coast IPA is piney and citrusy, and is perfectly balanced with caramel malts.
Brewed since 1981, Celebration Ale will pair well with your roasted turkey, as well as most cheeses. Celebration ale is one I look forward to each year, and you will, too, once you give this one a try.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
Belgium’s St. Bernardus has long been regarded as a premier brewer of Belgian ales. The brewery's Abt 12 is an acclaimed strong dark ale (aka a quadruple). The brewery's Christmas Ale is also a strong dark ale, yet it is one of the most drinkable 10 percent ABV beers I’ve ever tasted. There are notes of dark fruit, apricots, brown sugar, molasses and licorice in this one. Enjoy this complex ale with your Christmas dinner, or by itself while you put together toys for the kids.