Something about this season has me in a beer mood. Maybe it’s because Rudolph is on tonight, or maybe it’s the Christmas lights I see driving home, or maybe I would really, really like to have a beer or twelve with the real Santa Claus. Whatever the reason, I’m in the mood for some winter beers.
Rob Kasper over at the Baltimore Sun posted the paper’s list of the best winter beers today, and I was pleasantly surprised to have tried quite a few of the ones he listed. So, in the spirit of the holidays, here are some of my favorite winter beers (with a heavy emphasis on some Christmas selections because, well, Rudolph is on tonight) that will always go down well after a day of skiing, or will combine with a book and a chair underneath the Christmas tree nicely.
Lump of Coal — Ridgeway Brewing Co. in South Stoke, England: The only time I will be happy to find a lump of coal in my stocking. A thick brew that clocks in around 8%, Lump of Coal is a hearty stout that isn’t afraid to let the alcoholic hints take the stage. Subtler and sweeter notes of chocolate and coffee give way to a welcome, warming taste of alcohol that is more drinkable than whiskey and won’t be pushing you to embarrass yourself at the office holiday party. Plus, with a name like Lump of Coal, how can you go wrong? Ridgeway Brewing makes a whole holiday line of beer with names like Pickled Santa, Reindeer’s Revolt, Santa’s Butt, and one of my other favorites…
Bad Elf — Ridgeway Brewing Co. in South Stoke, England: Another one of Ridgeway’s winter mainstays, Bad Elf is the lesser of the naughty elf beers (the others: Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf, and Insanely Bad Elf), but it gets huge points for drinkability. A well-built and hearty beer, Bad Elf is a sweeter IPA than most would prefer, but the drinkability of it is what makes this something everyone can enjoy. You can almost see the elves downing a bunch of these while putting together bicycles and toy trucks. It might even be perfect for you while you struggle with setting up the kids’ new bike, or the Lego set that needs to be done NOW. Embrace your inner bad elf and give it a try.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale — Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, CA: In my mind, this is Sierra Nevada at its finest. The Celebration Ale may not scream winter, this highly aromatic IPA is super hearty and always a good find. If you think you’ve tried all the IPAs out there, give the Celebration a taste and notice what an IPA made for winter can, and should, be. Slight fruity notes coupled with avalanches of hops make this a real thick desert treat or one to have a go with on a chilly night.
Bell’s Winter White — Bell’s Brewery Inc., Kalamazoo, MI: Though it’s not the strongest or most commanding beer for the winter season, Bell’s Winter White does offer a smoother and calmer take on the winter season, and something infinitely better than Sam Adams’s winter selection. Smelling of sweet citrus fruits and winter spices, Winter White is a great drinking beer for holiday gatherings, even for the pickiest beer drinker. Couple this one with a spiced cider and settle in with some friends and watch the snow fall lightly outside. Note the subtle hints of spice and yeast and you have yourself something for a calm winter’s night.
Dogfish Head Chicory Stout — Dogfish Craft Brewery, Milton, DE: Dogfish Head couldn’t make just a normal stout now, could they? And thank Santa they didn’t. This Chicory Stout adds a touch of burnt wood and an earthy-tone to the traditional stout. With notes of coffee and roasted malt, this beer is full of flavor, but won’t fill you up before you go out for some caroling. Couple this brew with some chocolates or some blander Christmas cookies and you’ll have a great take on the cookies and milk combo. Plus, leave it out for Santa and he’ll probably leave behind an 56″ LED television, a riding lawnmower, and an iMac or three.
Santa’s Private Reserve — Rogue Brewing Company, Newport, OR: It may not be what Santa would drink, but I could see him keeping a healthy batch of this for when the elves were being asses or if Mrs. Claus scratched the sleigh with her purse. Making up some of the best traits of Rogue, Santa’s Private Reserve balances a dry-hop finish with a good bitterness that is hard to find in red ales. The touch of pine adds enough taste to the season to make this a great compliment to any holiday dinner, or even a companion out for a night of ‘tubing.
Young’s Winter Warmer — Wells & Young’s Brewery, London, England: This guy is winter in a bottle. Think looking for a Christmas tree and accidentally eating one instead. A murky and cloudy beer that doesn’t pack the usual alcoholic punch, Winter Warmer is a smooth and calm beer with touches of citrus and caramel and molasses end notes. This won’t warm you like whiskey might, but if you’re seeking something that might remind you of childhood and opening presents and Dad swearing that the dog just ate one of the G.I. Joes you got, this might do it—it’s just that comforting.