The 15 Best Beers for Christmas, According to Professional Brewers
We asked the pros which beers they'd be thrilled to find under the tree this year
To say that shopping at this time of year is stressful would be a gross understatement under normal circumstances. Besides making sure you’ve checked off everyone on your Christmas list, you’ve got to make sure you’re all set with decorations, find a tree that doesn’t cost twice your monthly rent and stock up on all the ingredients you’ll need to bake some cookies or prepare a festive holiday meal. And this year, you still have to do all of that while you’re stuck at home coping with the horrors of a raging pandemic.
It makes sense, then, that finding the perfect beer to drink this Christmas might be pretty low on your priority list. You’re sick of shopping, and whether you’re making your purchases online from the safety of your home or while masked up and social distancing, you likely want to limit the amount of time and energy spent fretting over which Christmas brew you should pick up. With that in mind, we consulted the pros to take the pressure off you: we reached out to a handful of professional brewers to find out what their go-to beers to drink on Christmas are. Some offered up a single, all-time favorite, while others whittled it down to a few recommendations. (One even provided course-by-course pairings for your holiday feast.) Check them all out below.
Jeremy Kosmicki, Head Brewer at Founders Brewing Co.
Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA
Style: Fresh Hop IPA
I keep Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale stocked in my fridge the entire month of December every year. And what better thing to celebrate than Christmas Day? This will be the go-to beverage of the day, with its perfect balance of subtle malt sweetness and old-school hop kick. In an overwhelming sea of IPA options, Celebration Ale stands out as the perfect choice for the holiday.
Avery Night Warden
Style: Barrel-aged stout
As the day turns to night, I’ll be ready to take it up a notch and get into something dark and strong. This year I’ll be enjoying some Night Warden whiskey barrel-aged stout from our cousins over at Avery Brewing Company. They do a great job of barrel-aging, but often their offerings are close to 20% alcohol. This one clocks in at only 8.2% ABV, so it won’t put me to sleep quite yet, but still has all the flavors that I love in a barrel-aged stout.
Joel Shields, Brewmaster at Rogue Ales
Ninkasi Sleigh’r Winter Ale
For Christmas time, I love Ninkasi’s Sleigh’r Winter Ale. Ninkasi is based in Oregon near us, and I’ve been a fan of their beers for years. Their Winter Ale has a chocolatey malt flavor that warms you up on the coldest of winter days.
Victor Novak, Brewmaster at Golden Road Brewing
For Christmas, it depends on where I’m at. If I happen to be in Europe, say in France, Germany, or Belgium, I’m definitely looking for Liefmans Glühkriek. It’s a slightly sour, spiced cherry beer that really gets you in the holiday spirit. Think of it as the beer version of Glühwein, or mulled wine. You actually heat the opened bottle in a pot of water to around 130F, so it’s warm but not scalding hot. Bright cherries, with hints of cloves, cinnamon, and maybe allspice. Insanely good on a cold December night!
Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale
Style: Winter warmer
If I happen to be back East visiting friends in Philly, I still love Old Fezziwig by Sam Adams. It reminds me of snow days when I lived there in my 20s, hanging out with friends, and playing card games in a warm pub, not looking at our phones. What a concept!
Anchor Christmas Ale
Style: Winter warmer
When I’m in California, Anchor Christmas Ale always hits the spot.
Jason Santamaria, Co-founder at Second Self Beer Co.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
For Christmas, you can’t beat this beer. It is St. Bernardus’s quad with some holiday spices. It is always a treat I look forward to this time of year. I’m Cuban, and my larger family normally does a roasted pig for Christmas (though not this year) and I always bring a few of these to share because this beer stands up to the big rich flavors that go with it.
Natalie Carbary, Detroit Head Brewer at Founders Brewing Co.
Speciation Artisan Ales Prime Mover
Style: Rye-aged sour ale
You can’t go wrong with anything from Speciation during any time of year, but this barrel-aged sour is a beautifully balanced palate cleanser with the perfect amount of funk. Great with any course. The delicate citrus and ginger against wood would make for a great intermission between plates or compliment to a sweet spiced dessert.
Stephen Hale, Founding Brewer at Schlafly Beer
This category is a tricky one, since we all have our favorite beers, but I surmise that at this time of year, we’re all a bit full from holiday gluttony and might need a bit of a break. So, how about a trip down memory lane, to the creation of a Christmas beer in 1907? The Western Brewery held a contest for a “Special Christmas Brew,” and the winner was Stag, which is often a favorite amongst many in the Midwest. I’ll have several fabulous spiced, holiday-themed beers, but none have quite the same legacy as Stag. And, it’s quite refreshing after lavish holiday feasts.
Josh Knowlton, Brewmaster, Outpost Production Brewery, Devils Backbone Brewing Company
To pair with appetizers: Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza
Style: Belgian Strong Ale
A complex dark ale aged in oak barrels and wild fermented. Some caramel and stone fruit flavors blended with funk/tartness of wild fermentation. Great with any app.
To pair with main course: Troegs Mad Elf
Style: Belgian Strong Ale
A strong dark ale with cherries and honey. High ABV and flavors to match those big Christmas dinner plates. Notes of chocolate, cherries, honey and peppercorns.
To pair with dessert: Hardywood Gingerbread Stout
Style: Imperial Milk Stout
Perfect holiday brew. Rich and filling. This would pair well with any sweets.
Eric Warner, Head Brewmaster at Karbach Brewing Co.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Style: Barrel-aged Imperial Stout
While you won’t find me lined up to get the latest electronic gadget on Black Friday, you will see me elbowing through the crowds to get the latest Bourbon County Stout releases from Goose Island. Released each year on the day after Thanksgiving, what started as a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout has morphed into a diverse line up of BCS variants and strong, barrel-aged delights that change from year to year. A couple I’m looking forward to in particular this year is the “Carmella” (barrel-aged wheat wine with apple, cinnamon and caramel) and the Spumoni-inspired variant flavored with pistachio, cherry, vanilla, and Cacao nibs. ‘Tis the season!
Kevin McGee, Owner and CEO, Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Moonlight Brewing Death & Taxes
Style: San Francisco-style Black Lager
Death and Taxes has been a go-to of mine for ages. It’s a dark lager that brings a ton of flavor in a balanced and clean beer. As a Christmas beer I find it ideal because it has that dark beer flavor I crave in the winter, but it doesn’t weigh me down with either too much alcohol or a heavy finish so I can stay engaged through the holiday celebration marathons. There’s no way to go wrong with this beer.
Josh Waldman, Head Brewer at Elysian Brewing Company
Unibroue Quelque Chose
Style: Strong Cherry Beer
With so many winter beer traditions (Sierra Celebration, Anchor Christmas Ale, and Deschutes Jubelale to drop a few big names), the one I miss the most is Unibroue’s Quelque Chose, a strong, deep ruby-colored, cherry beer that lists a serving temperature of 122-158 F (well, 50-70 C, because they’re outside Montreal)! That’s right, it’s intended to be served warm. It had an intense aging process and really bold nose that has stuck with me for years. Maybe it’s revisionist nostalgia (things were better back in the day, right?), but thinking of the beer evokes a cemented sensory experience that brings me back in both time and place. Whoa, it was good.
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