The 20 Best Christmas Beers, And the Perfect Occasion for Each
From fortified ales to porters and sours, every brewery in America seems to have its own take on a festive winter beer
Whether you’re celebrating with loved ones or trying to get yourself through a blue Christmas, you’ve probably got a reason to drink during the holidays. But it can’t always be eggnog or that fancy bottle of Scotch you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Sometimes — dare we say oftentimes — the situation calls for a beer.
Fortunately, you’ve got plenty of options, from winter warmers to boozy stouts, traditional spiced Christmas ales and even a holiday sour or two. Below, you’ll find our favorite beers for every possible Yuletide drinking scenario, which we’ve been rigorously testing at InsideHook HQ over the last fortnight. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.
Goose Island Christmas IPA
Perfect for: When you want to feel festive but don’t really want a Christmas beer
The skinny: This malt-forward IPA lacks a lot of the traditional Christmas spices and flavors, but that doesn’t mean you should skip it entirely. It’s perfect for when you want something seasonal without going all-in.
Avery Old Jubilation
Perfect for: Sipping in front of a cozy fireplace
The skinny: Like Goose Island’s Christmas IPA, Avery Old Jubilation eschews a lot of the traditional Christmas spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. It focuses instead on a rich malty flavor with hints of caramel. If you’re an old ale fan, this one’s for you.
Anderson Valley Winter Solstice
Perfect for: Making it through the shortest day of the year
The skinny: If you’re sick of it getting dark at 4 p.m., this winter warmer should help lift your spirits. It’s smooth with a creamy finish and hints of toffee, and it’s so drinkable you’ll almost forget it’s nearly 7% ABV.
Lagunitas Brown Shugga
Perfect for: Pairing with a handful of Christmas cookies
The skinny: Lagunitas’ winter seasonal is, as you may have guessed from the name, brewed with brown sugar. You get strong hints of that and maple on the nose, but its hoppiness cuts through the sweetness nicely.
Prairie Christmas Bomb
Perfect for: Savoring during dessert
The skinny: At 13%, Prairie’s Christmas Bomb isn’t the kind of beer you slam. It’s meant to be nursed and savored — again, it’s got the alcohol content of a glass of wine — and it tends to sit on your tongue. That’s a good thing, though, because its flavor is delicious: it’s an imperial stout with strong hints cinnamon.
Prairie Christmas Bomb (Barrel-Aged)
Perfect for: When you’re done wrapping presents and feel like giving yourself a gift
The skinny: The barrel-aged version of Christmas Bomb takes its source beer and somehow makes it even better. It’s slightly smoother, less carbonated, with vanilla and oak notes.
Harpoon Giving Gose
Perfect for: When you feel like giving back
The skinny: $1 from every four-pack of this cranberry gose goes to your local food bank, so this beer’s perfect for when you’re feeling charitable. It’s not particularly sour or salty, but it’s a good introduction to the style for someone who may not be sure they like it.
Perfect for: When you’re craving hot chocolate
The skinny: Stone’s Xocoveza is an insanely good take on Mexican hot chocolate — a mocha stout full of cocoa, coffee, heat from pasilla peppers and cinnamon. What more could you want from a winter beer?
Karbach Yule Shoot Your Eye Out
Perfect for: When you’re watching A Christmas Story
The skinny: This red ale takes its name from a beloved holiday classic, even featuring the movie’s infamous leg lamp on its label. It’s got a lot of familiar Christmas spices, but cardamom and orange peel make this one a little more unique.
Troegs Mad Elf
Perfect for: When you’re looking to get drunk fast
The skinny: At 11%, Mad Elf technically isn’t the booziest Christmas beer on this list, but it does taste the booziest. (Beyond that, you’ll get hints of cherry and honey.) It’s perfect for when the holidays have become too much and you’re desperate for a stiff drink.
Harpoon Winter Warmer
Perfect for: While you’re waiting for guests to arrive
The skinny: This classic winter warmer is perfect for when you’re feeling festive but not quite ready to do some serious drinking. At just 5.9%, it’s got a lower ABV than most beers in the style, which means you can throw a few back while waiting for company to arrive without worrying about getting embarrassing.
Ommegang Bourbon Barrel-Aged Adoration
Perfect for: When you’re snowed in
The skinny: What could be better when it’s freezing out and you know you’re not going anywhere than something boozy and barrel-aged? The bourbon notes really come through here, along with a pleasant vanilla flavor.
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Perfect for: When you’re sick of certain spices
The skinny: This popular holiday ale achieves that “Christmas” taste without relying on the usual suspects. If you find those spices to be cloying, you’ll probably find Great Lakes’ use of honey and ginger here to be a welcome relief.
Perfect for: When you feel like celebrating Oktoberfest in December
The skinny: This winter ale has a flavor profile similar to most Oktoberfests. It’s got a strong malt character, and while it’s not too heavily spiced, you can pick up hints of toffee.
Anchor Christmas Ale
Perfect for: Lighting the tree
The skinny: This beloved beer is an annual tradition; it’s now in its 47th year, and each edition is slightly different than the previous year’s, but it always feels a little like drinking a Christmas tree — in the best possible way. That resinous pine flavor is a little less prevalent in the 2021 batch than in years past, and you’ll also pick up some notes of chocolate, cinnamon and clove, but it’s still delicious with a nice, dry finish.
Bell’s Christmas Ale
Perfect for: Warming up inside a nice, cozy lodge
The skinny: This Michigan brewery is perhaps better known for its summer seasonal, the massively popular Oberon wheat ale, but it’s just as good at winter beers. Their Christmas Ale is a rich, malty Scotch Ale with hints of caramel and a big warm finish perfect for those frigid December nights.
Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper
Perfect for: When you’ve been naughty
The skinny: This is a big, rich imperial stout that’s almost too smooth. (It’s very easy to accidentally drink way too much of this 10.0% ABV brew.) You’ll find strong chocolate and coffee flavors on this one, perfect for pairing with dessert.
Perfect for: Washing down that fruitcake
The skinny: This holiday red ale falls closer to the fruity end of the Christmas beer spectrum than it does the spicy one. It’s steeped with ginger and orange peel, and you’ll pick up hints of other stone fruit as well, along with some traces of caramel and a bready flavor.
Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve
Perfect for: Pairing with those rum balls your great-aunt brought over
The skinny: This holiday staple is different every year, and the 2021 edition is inspired by rum balls. It’s brewed with vanilla and rum-soaked oak chips, giving it the flavor of that old-timey Christmas treat.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
Perfect for: Pairing with your roast beast
The skinny: As one professional brewer told us last year, this popular Belgian quad pairs perfectly with a big main course on Christmas: “My larger family normally does a roasted pig for Christmas, and I always bring a few of these to share because this beer stands up to the big rich flavors that go with it.”
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