Booze | December 13, 2022 6:33 am

We Tasted and Ranked 18 of the Best Christmas Beers

From cookie-inspired stouts to winter IPAs, these beers will make your holiday meal merry and bright

Christmas beers
You'd be lucky to find any of these beers under your tree.
Danica Killelea

It’s mid-December, which means it’s crunch time. There are gifts to be purchased, travel plans to be finalized and a seemingly never-ending to-do list to tackle before Christmas. You’d be forgiven, then, if securing the right beer for your holiday meal is pretty low on your priority list.

Fortunately, here at InsideHook, we’re big on Christmas beers, and we’ve put them all to the test to make your grocery shopping a breeze this Dec. 25. Looking for something dark and boozy that’ll have your guests feeling a little extra merry? We’ve got you. Prefer a more citrusy, subtle seasonal? Look no further. We rounded up as many Christmas beers and winter warmers we could get our hands on, and nine InsideHook staffers tasted them all, awarding each one a score out of a possible five points. We then tallied up the points to determine our final ranking. Check out which ones we’re hoping to find under our tree this year — and which ones had us saying “bah humbug” — below.

New Belgium

18. New Belgium Holiday Ale (18 points)

ABV: 7.5%

New Belgium’s winter seasonal is supposed to feature cranberry, orange, cinnamon and spice, but the majority of our tasters found it to be too thin. Most of them commented that the cranberry in particular was almost completely imperceptible, and one even went so far as to write that it “tastes a little bit like barf.” Still, despite all that, it won one taster over, who found it to be “heavy on the cranberry” and summed it up with “Papa like.”

Bronx Brewery

17. Bronx Brewery Jingle Jangle Christmas Ale (19.5 points)

ABV: 6.1%

This copper ale from Bronx Brewery is aged with amburana wood during conditioning, and while some of our tasters found it to be fairly middle-of-the-road (“not great, but not bad,” one wrote), others picked up on an odd aftertaste. One identified it as being slightly metallic-tasting, while another wrote that it “tastes like a radiator.”


16. Narragansett Holiday Ale (20 points)

ABV: 8.4%

If there’s one thing all of our tasters could agree on about this Rhode Island brewery’s annual holiday ale, it’s that it absolutely does not drink like it’s 8.4% ABV. Our resident beer novice wrote that “it tastes like a beer I could actually finish,” while the craft beer enthusiasts among us weren’t wild about its coriander flavor and felt it tasted more like your average macro brew. As one put it bluntly, “The strong ABV is hidden, but the mediocre taste comes through.”

Sycamore Brewing

ABV: 8.1%

Sycamore’s Christmas Cookie Winter Ale fared very well in our rankings (more on that below), but surprisingly, we had to dock its barrel-aged cousin a few points for not tasting especially barrel-aged. Most of our tasters could barely taste the barrel, with one describing it as “thin” and noting that “the barrel just comes across as light vanilla.” But of course, no two palates are alike, and another taster lamented the fact that — to his taste, at least — the barrel flavor was too strong. “Was a bit of a violent aftershock,” he wrote. “Bring back the halcyon days of the non-barrel!”

Breckenridge Brewery

14. Breckenridge Brewery Christmas Ale (22.5 points)

ABV: 7.1%

Breckenridge’s Christmas Ale is a chocolate-y, malty winter warmer that the majority of our tasters found to be inoffensive. That said, it didn’t do much to stand out from the pack, either. Five out of our nine tasters wrote that they found it to be too flat, and while a few praised it for being well-balanced, no one rated it higher than a 3.5 out of five.


13. Elysian BiFrost (23 points)

ABV: 8.3%

How you feel about Elysian’s winter seasonal will likely depend entirely on what your idea of a “Christmas beer” entails. If you’re looking for something more traditional, dark and spiced, this probably won’t do it for you. But if you’re open to holiday flavor profiles including something crisp and citrusy, you’ll likely be pleased. As such, our tasters were split pretty evenly down the middle on this one, with some lamenting its lack of more overtly festive flavors and others applauding the way its subtle taste “sneaks up on you.”

Brooklyn Brewery

12. Brooklyn Winter IPA (24.5 points)

ABV: 7.0%

Most of our tasters agreed that this red IPA from Brooklyn Brewery is a solid, pleasant beer, but they had a hard time picking up on what exactly makes it particularly wintery. There’s definitely a nice piney aroma on the nose, but the flavor of the beer itself is another story. “No discernible Christmas notes,” wrote one taster, while another admitted that it “has nothing to do with Christmas, but that’s fine.” If you’re looking for a more subtle seasonal brew this time of year, this one’s for you.

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11. Karbach Yule Shoot Your Eye Out (25 points)

ABV: 5.6%

Named for the holiday classic A Christmas Story, Yule Shoot Your Eye Out’s whimsical can design earned high praise from our tasters. (Who doesn’t love a leg lamp?) Of course, that didn’t factor at all into its actual point total, but it still put up a respectable showing. Words like “light” and “bright” were used by nearly every taster to describe it, and one who rated it especially highly praised it for being “sessionable, not too heavy” and “just bright enough.” In other words, it’s much safer than the BB gun Ralphie finds under his tree in the movie.


9. (tie) Shiner Holiday Cheer (26.5 points)

ABV: 5.4%

Generally speaking, when a brewer decides to incorporate a fruity flavor into a Christmas beer, it’s either cranberry or some sort of citrus. Shiner’s holiday offering, on the other hand, takes a bit of a big swing. It’s a Dunkelweizen brewed with peaches and pecans, and when it came to the former, our tasters either loved it or hated it. The main critique was that the stone fruit didn’t exactly evoke anything wintery. “Not sure how this has anything to do with Christmas,” wrote one, while another who gave it high marks admitted that, “I would drink it in the summer by the pool.”

Sam Adams

9. (tie) Sam Adams Holiday White Ale (26.5 points)

ABV: 5.8%

Most of our tasters found this holiday offering from Sam Adams to be crisp, citrusy and sessionable, but, like the Shiner beer it wound up tying with, some found it to be lacking a sufficient amount of traditional Christmas flavors. As one naysayer reminded us, “Christmas is no time for a wheat beer.”


8. Anchor Christmas Ale (28 points)

ABV: 7.2%

For many craft beer fans, Anchor Christmas Ale is the first brew that comes to mind when you hear “Christmas beer” — and rightfully so. It’s a classic, full of piney goodness both on the nose and in the beer itself. One taster suggested it’s perfect for “when you want to drink a Christmas tree,” while another simply summed it up as “Christmas in a bottle.”

St. Bernardus

7. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (28.5 points)

ABV: 10%

At 10% ABV, this dark, malty Belgian quad was the booziest beer we tasted, but as some of us noted, it absolutely doesn’t drink like it. It’s got some hints of chocolate, but the flavor our tasters picked up on most overwhelmingly was banana. Most found that it paired nicely with the cocoa flavors, but one taster in particular (who still rated the beer highly) picked up some different fruits: “Has some tropical notes, and I also get some orange,” she wrote.

Sycamore Brewing

ABV: 7.5%

It’s obvious from the get-go what a beer that calls itself Christmas Cookie is setting out to do, and all we can say about this one is “mission accomplished.” This winter ale tastes exactly like drinking a Christmas cookie. Our tasters for the most part picked up on a strong gingerbread flavor, though one claimed it tasted like apple cider. It elicited plenty of positive comments like “incredible” and “delish.” “Wow, tastes exactly like a Christmas cookie,” one taster wrote. “I love it.”


5. (tie) Bell’s Christmas Ale (29.5 points)

ABV: 7.5%

This traditional Scotch ale is another Christmas classic. This year’s edition is rich and malty with a hint of caramel, and it was a hit with most of our tasters, who pointed out how smooth and well-balanced it was. “Beautiful taste,” one wrote. “It’s doing it for me,” another admitted. Still, it wouldn’t be the holidays without some disagreement, and one Scrooge in particular found that it “has a bit of an armpit taste going on.”

Anderson Valley

4. Anderson Valley Winter Solstice (33 points)

ABV: 6.9%

This popular winter warmer proved why it’s such a perennial favorite in our tasting. “This smells almost savory, like stuffing with chestnuts and cinnamon,” one taster wrote. “This is so well-balanced and lovely, sophisticated but fun.” Even the beer novices among us praised its “nice, fresh taste” and pleasant spice profile. As one summed it up, “Flavorful, bold and smooth…no complaints here.”

Wicked Weed

3. Wicked Weed Milk & Cookies

ABV: 8.7%

Like the other cookie-inspired beer on this list, Wicked Weed’s Milk & Cookies accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It’s a milk stout brewed with golden raisins, cinnamon and vanilla, and it pours an interesting purple-ish color that also helps call to mind a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies left out for Santa. Most of our tasters loved the way the raisin cut some of the sweetness and prevented it from becoming cloying, while one questioned the choice of cookie flavor. (If you’re not a fan of oatmeal raisin — or raisins in general — you might want to try something else.)

Wicked Weed

2. Wicked Weed Dr. Dank Jack Frost

ABV: 8.0%

Wicked Weed’s other seasonal offering takes things in an entirely different direction, swapping cookie-inspired sweetness for the bold hoppiness of a double IPA. Dr. Dank Jack Frost is, in fact, as dank as its name suggests, simultaneously piney and citrusy with just the slightest hint of honey to balance it out and make it feel festive. It was universally beloved by our tasters, and the only thing that kept it from snagging the top spot was that it’s not glaringly Christmas-y. As one put it, “I’d drink this in July.”


1. BrewDog It’s A Beaut

ABV: 7.5%

BrewDog’s Christmas Vacation-inspired beer is a pecan and toffee stout, and it is, in fact, a beaut. The toffee in particular comes through loud and clear, making it the perfect thing to toss back while you’re having dessert. (As one taster wrote, “It’s sweet, but not too sweet.”) It even managed to convert a few of us who are typically wary of the style: “Not a stout guy,” wrote one. “This made me a believer.” It’s a Christmas miracle!